VoiceOver users please use the tab key when navigating expanded menus

The talent challenge: how to win them, how to keep them


“Bad hires cost a company between 30 – 100 per cent of the employee’s salary, so take the time to hire the right people to begin with.”


In KPMG’s recently released fifth edition of “Keeping us up at night”, 473 CEOs identified five issues of concern now – and five years from now. Talent acquisition, retention and upskilling or reskilling to operate in a more digitised future topped the priorities.


Finding and keeping the right people is not a new issue. In fact, it has been the number one issue the 1,200+ small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) chief executives who have attended Australian Centre for Business Growth Programs have been worried about for some time!


There’s no doubt it's the elephant in the room! So - how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!


  • Bite 1: You need to find and select people who are a good fit with your company's values and have the knowledge, skills and potential to be great performers.
  • Bite 2: You and your managers need to enable your employees to perform at a high level and achieve your company’s goals.
  • Bite 3: The CEO and other managers need to identify employees who are not performing, figure out why, and address the issues.


Bite 1: Recruiting and selecting great people. How do you get this right?


Key to this challenge is clarity around the position.


A.   Job requirements – what tasks do you need the person to do? What outcomes are desired? How much responsibility should they have? Is this an entry position, middle management or executive level? To whom will the person report?


B.   Position description (PD) - begin with a paragraph about your company and what it does, add a paragraph about your values, a description of the various functions and activities related to the position, the education or experience required to do the job (must have) and the desirable requirements (nice to have) for the job.


C.   Create an ad - use the PD to create a job ad and send it to places where you are likely to find people who’d be interested in the job. Post on your own website, LinkedIn, Seek, industry jobs boards, send e-mails to colleagues who might know potential candidates, ask your employees to send it to people they think would be a good candidate. For executive level positions, you might want to consider using a recruiter. Regardless of the level of the position, you have better luck if you go to where the pools of the desired talent are likely to be.


D.   Decide which candidates to interview - agree on the set of criteria to use when reviewing the applications. For example, whether they followed instructions when filling out the application, spelled words correctly, submitted the application on time – and most importantly - met the requirements of the job.


E.    Interview top candidates - have at least two people and preferably three for interviews and more for an executive level position. Decide who will ask which questions and think whether there’s a performance test you can give candidates ahead of time which will provide insights into their approach to the job. For example, ask sales prospects to come 30 minutes before their interview. After they arrive, we ask them to identify three companies they think would be good candidates for our program, why, what features and benefits they would sell, what objections they’d expect, and how they’d respond to those objections. Such a test provides insights into each candidate.


F.    Rank order the candidates and do reference checks – start with the top candidate. If the references check out, offer the job and negotiate the salary, benefits, date for starting, etc. If, the references don’t check out, the negotiations break down, or the candidate says no – move on to the next candidate, and do reference checks, negotiations, etc.


As one of the CEOs in our program asked: “so you’re telling me I shouldn’t take someone into my office, have a half hour conversation with them and hire them?” Correct. While what we have outlined may seem like a lot of steps, taking the time to get the right person is the critical first step to retaining them.


Bad hires cost a company between 30 – 100 per cent of the employee’s salary, so take the time to hire the right people to begin with.


Join the next ANZ Business Growth program webinar.


Register to attend the next webinar Finding, Leading and Managing Employees for Growth with Dr Jana Matthews and CEOs from the ANZ Business Growth program.


The ANZ Business Growth Program includes free webinars which are open to all Australian businesses.


Bite 2: Understand what you as CEO and your executive team members need to do to enable employees to perform at a high level.


It all begins the first minute of the first day – when new employees walk through the door. Are you prepared for them? Is their desk ready with a functioning computer and phone? Who greets them and takes them to their desk? Do you have other employees scheduled to meet with them, describe what they do, show them the ropes – even take them to lunch? Have you scheduled time in your diary to meet with your new hire and talk about the mission, values and vision of the company?


It’s very important employers understand what employees need, want and value – especially now when the unemployment rate is low and talent is so hard to find.


Here’s what employees want:


  • Clear expectations – tell them what you expect, what to do, achieve, accomplish and in what timeframe.
  • Communication – share your vision, the values, the plan and the roadmap to get there. Tell them the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Recognition – Know whom your new hire is and recognise their accomplishments.
  • Responsibility – Provide them with increasing levels of responsibility. Delegate more as people prove they can handle additional responsibilities but do not delegate without providing the context and giving feedback.
  • Independence – Avoid micro-managing or delegating the same task to several people. Support innovation if someone fails, help them learn from the experience.
  • Growth – Provide opportunities for development and watch people whose performance is below expectation as often good employees cover for underperforming ones.


Bite #3: What do you do with non-performers?


You need to have performance reviews and provide performance feedback to everyone. Take the time to determine whether employees are performing above expectations, as expected or below expectations.


It’s critically important to specify your expectations and then double-check your employee’s understanding of your expectations. I’ve seen many instances where employees were underperforming because they did not understand what was expected of them. As Peter Drucker noted, “communication occurs in the mind of the listener. If they don’t understand, it’s your problem.” It’s the responsibility of executives and managers to communicate effectively so employees clearly understand what you want them to do.


On the other hand, if you have told an employee, that is they know but they cannot or will not perform at the level you need or want or expect, or they are not behaving according to the company’s values, then the onus is on them, and you need to have that “difficult conversation”. You need to make your expectations very clear, identify the problems with their behaviour or job performance, clarify what the organisation and other employees expect them to do – and then develop a performance improvement plan, with timelines, deadlines and consequences if the employee does not perform to expectations. “Some improvement” is not good enough because the whole company depends on everyone doing a great job.


And if you must replace an employee, then communicate that change to the other employees. You can talk in terms of their job performance or their fit with the company’s values – for example Mary has left to find a job that’s a better fit for her skillset.


Dr Jana Matthews is ANZ Chair in Business Growth and Director at the Australian Centre for Business Growth at UniSA Business

Related Articles:

Marketing and sales…in that order!

Many businesses jump straight to sales to generate revenue - missing the crucial step of a marketing strategy. Dr Jana Matthews explains why market research and a solid plan ensures the best chance of success.

It’s not the ‘Big Quit’. It’s the ‘Big Life Assessment’!

Key takeaways for businesses to retain employees and meet expectations resulting from ‘The great Australian Life Assessment’.

The story of Story Bridge Hotel

The Story Bridge may be one of Brisbane’s most notable landmarks but it had to change course to accommodate the pub that sits beneath it. Literally.