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Talent Selection and Retention - Q & A from the SME Webinar

In Lumenii's expert seminar on talent selection and retention, Cindy Norcott, Benjamin Buckingham and Jaintheran Naidoo reflected on the challenges faced by SMEs in the local context, and shared their best practices to hire and retain top talent. 

With over 400 delegates at the live seminar, we had a lot of great interaction and questions shared, some of which were answered during the webinar. We've answered the questions below based on the following themes:

  • Attracting talent and building an employer brand

  • Measuring and selecting the right talent

  • Talent retention and engagement

  • Work environment and flexibility

Attracting Talent and Building an Employer Brand

Q: How can we build an employer brand? How is it measured?

Think of an employer brand like a marketing and PR strategy, but instead of it being aimed at customers, it's aimed at your existing employees and job applicants. The goal is to present your organisation as a great place to work. Building an employer brand is about articulating your mission, vision, values and culture, and then setting goals to realise your vision. An organisation can't only talk about culture and values, it needs to share these with employees and translate ideas into behaviour. Other components of your brand are those factors that make your organisation stand out from others. It is the story of your company and appeals to the emotions of candidates. It is your company's "unique selling points".

With regards to talent selection, it is important to understand what type of employee you're looking for, and also to articulate what it is that makes your organisation attractive to job seekers. These messages need to be communicated with job applicants and the wider public. 

Measuring employer branding is based on your general recruitment metrics. Your goal may be to increase the number of applicants, or increase the proportion of people who accept offers. Tracking these over time can give an indication of your employer branding ROI.

Q: What defines "employee value proposition" (EVP) in the eyes of potential hires?

In the eyes of job applicants, an employee value proposition is clear communication about what they can expect from the organisation, in terms of remuneration, benefits, culture, values, work environment and longer-term opportunities. It's not about making promises, but instead showcasing the unique benefits of working at your organisation, the same way you would showcase your product to customers. The critical thing about your employee value proposition is that the communication aligns with experiences "on the ground". Often, the first-hand experiences of current and past employees add to your employer brand, and ideally you want to strive for as much consistency as possible.

Q: Would you suggest a broad EVP or a business unit specific EVP?

The answer would depend on the nature of the company; does the business unit differ significantly from the broader company, in terms of culture, values or behaviours? If not, I would suggest a broad EVP. If yes, then I would consider a business unit specific EVP and specialised messaging that is underpinned by the broader messaging from the organisation. Keep in mind that an effective EVP can't be built without buy-in and championing of the larger business.

Q: How do we attract top performers to join our medium-sized company?

Building a high-value employer brand is key to attracting talent, especially if you are looking for scarce talent or if you can't compete financially with bigger companies. One strategy is to base hiring decisions on potential, and not past performance. This gives you the opportunity to bring new people on board and build performance internally. Another strategy is to work out what your company can offer that differentiates it from other organisations; it may be flexibility, a family atmosphere, extra benefits, long-term development and so on. Make sure you communicate this clearly to job applicants.

Measuring and Selecting the Right Talent

Q: We are preparing young people for entry level opportunities; what do SMME's struggle with when employing young talent?

From our experience, the first struggle we see is effectively identifying young talent with the right underlying makeup for the role. Companies focus too much on experience, which young talent lacks. Thus, unless they are measuring innate potential for the role (e.g., competencies, agility, motivators and cognitive ability), they are unable to identify which candidates will become great at the job.

The second struggle we see is in the employment phase itself. Many young employees have not yet acquired a built-in understanding of business etiquette, norms, and values, and thus need time to adjust. Simple things like prioritisation and time keeping are not necessarily skills that are as important during studies as at work. Thus, it is important to have a comprehensive induction phase, where young employees are given the opportunity to learn the basic expectations of being at the office, over and above the job requirements themselves.

Q: What is the ideal process to recruit and select the best?

  1. The first step is to determine the 4 - 8 key competencies of the role in question, as well as decide whether cognitive ability and agility are also characteristics that will determine role success.


  2. The best way to report on those characteristics is using an online assessment, as these results provide an objective perspective, and are by far the most accurate indicator.


  3. From an interview perspective, the most effective approach is conducting a competency-based interview (CBI). Click here to access our CBI guide for a management role, including a scoring guide.

It's worth noting that the correlation between CBIs and role success is 0.51, whereas psychometric tests correlate between 0.60 and 0.75.

Q: Selecting talent is every company's intention with each hire, but company culture fit is equally important. What is the best way to judge this when hiring?

A conducive fit between an individual and company culture is essential, especially regarding retention.

The first step is a clear view of the company's culture. There is always a difference between "desired culture" and "actual culture." The best way to determine the actual culture is by conducting a culture survey.

An online assessment can be used during selection to measure the culture-fit between an individual and the company. These results would reflect on an individual's key motivators and drivers, and whether they are aligned with the role and the broader culture. The alternative is to conduct a culture-fit interview, where you can ask questions around an individual's ideal work environment, what inspires them, and their preferred teamwork and communication style.

Q: What are the risks of employing dynamic staff for your team, knowing their vision is much bigger than this position yet they are there to be interviewed for the role?

The risk of employing someone "overqualified" or "highly agile" for a lower level or more stagnant role will depend on three main criteria:

  1. Whether there is any potential for upward movement for the individual in the organisation

  2. How well their needs are met, over and above the role itself, 

  3. What the costs of filling the gap are when they move on, compared to the value they create in the role.

We are proponents of hiring overqualified people, as they bring significant value to the organisation, over and above the operational requirements of their role. The reality is that they are making themselves available to do the work, so you will benefit from the extra value they create.

The ways to manage the risks are to see if there is a path for their growth in the organisation, or if not, see what needs of theirs can be met that aren't directly related to the role - e.g., flexibility, opportunities for learning, etc. There is always a risk of them moving on for a better job; however, the more their needs can be met in their current role, the more likely they will stay.

Q: How does one interview for integrity?

Integrity, on the one hand, is so important and, on the other hand, can easily be misunderstood. The most effective approach is conducting a competency-based interview (CBI) that includes Integrity as a competency. Here are two examples of questions that you could ask:

  • Have you ever made a mistake that nobody found out about? How did you handle that?

  • Have you ever had others cross a line that you didn't approve of? What happened and how did you address it?

You can also click here for an example of a CBI guide for a management role, including a scoring guide.

Q: Does one prioritise skill or attitude when employing for the lower management tier?

All too often, we are called in to help companies fix situations where great specialist staff have been inappropriately promoted to leadership. This creates a double-edged scenario: the loss of a great specialist and the appointment of a poor leader.

Attitude is significantly more important than skill (by attitude, I mean the underlying personality traits, predisposition competencies, and agilities related to the management role). Promotions from an operational level to a management level require the employee to acquire new skills, so current skills are less important than the ability to learn new skills.

The most effective approach is to look for performance in the current role and potential (i.e., attitude) for the management role. A mix of current performance and future potential is the most effective way to ensure future success.

Talent Retention and Engagement

Q: What are your thoughts about “quiet quitting” amidst this Great Resignation period?

Quiet quitting is definitely a term we are seeing everywhere at the moment.

The two concepts are most definitely linked in that they both arise from long-term disengagement. This can be as a result of people not feeling fulfilled in their positions, feeling like their efforts are not being unrecognised and stress. There is no one clear solution to dealing with this, but we would recommend that you hire effectively by making sure people are well-matched with the requirements of their position and are motivated by the environment you offer.

Furthermore, employees need to buy-in to the direction of the organisation and have clear deliverables. There needs to be a focus on mental health and work-life balance, and you need to ensure that your management is accurately tuned in to their employees and can manage them effectively and positively.

Q: Could you discuss concepts/ways to retain low-level, unskilled staff without using monetary incentives?

It is important to bear in mind that not all of us are motivated through monetary reward. Provided that basic needs are being met, other strategies to keep staff engaged may be explored. It is probably a good idea to begin by examining the employee value proposition and culture of the organisation. To what extent does the organisation demonstrate how it values employees? Are there explicit career paths, succession plans or other opportunities for personal growth? While it may not be possible to achieve 100% retention at this level, these interventions also build the employer brand.

Stay interviews or exit interviews could help you to determine what these staff members are most motivated by, and allow the organisation to explore if they are able to offer any of these benefits.

Q: What are the non-financial benefits to keeping your best young talent, whose desire to move on to new narratives is high?

There are many benefits, provided that the talent you want to retain are a good fit for their roles and the organisation as a whole. If not, you need to consider the relative value of retaining them vs. bringing on new talent. Some of these non-financial benefits include:

  1. Time saving from not having to hire new talent.

  2. Retention of on-the-job experience.

  3. The creation and maintenance of institutional knowledge.

  4. Helping to build the organisation's culture over time.

  5. Building strong colleague and stakeholder relationships, and more.

Q: Is there such a thing as long-term loyalty with millennials?

We take the view that loyalty is not what is expected from employees, but that we need to consider what they offer the organisation and what the organisation offers them as a transactional relationship. Individuals with scarce skills are in a strong position to move on and find new opportunities, and thus the organisation needs to make it worth their while to stay, where possible. In return, these individuals need to contribute to the organisation's performance and future sustainability.

Q: Do ESOPs (employee share ownership) work?

A few delegates have expressed interest in employee share and option plans.

ESOPs can be a part of the retention solution. Offering employees the benefit of equity upside tends to increase the alignment of their goals with the company's goals. Also, as the company grows, the ability to create wealth from future value is very attractive.

However, offering an employee shares and options is not a replacement for a good fit. When ESOPs are provided, and there is good alignment between the employee and the company, these factors complement each other and create a high level of engagement. On the other hand, if there is a poor fit, then ESOPs risk causing employees to feel trapped in a situation in which they are not happy, which can create disengagement.

Questions about Work Environment and Flexibility

Q: Since returning to the office full-time after remote working, many staff members are experiencing financial constraints that they attribute to transport (petrol) costs. We are now seeing some staff members saying that they simply cannot afford to come to the office daily for the whole month. We may be forced to enter into disciplinary discussions with these staff members. How are businesses dealing with this sort of issue? 

Daunting fuel costs and other expenses are concerning, and it is understandable that this causes frustration for both employees and employers.

Suggestions could be to meet employees halfway and to allow work from home days 1-2 times a week for positions where this is possible. Not showing an understanding of employee concerns is likely to impact on turnover. It is worth taking the time to show an understanding by sharing the burden and being honest about what the company is going through.

Companies have also seen success by offering stipends for transport or offering certain meals to employees for work days. Furthermore, a few hours off are also likely to motivate staff and reduce costs. In the end, the most important thing is to ensure a conducive work environment. It is important to ensure that employees feel equipped to work well and acknowledged for their effort. Underperformance should be dealt with as this impacts on "good employee" perceptions.

Q: How can we as HR professionals communicate the importance of flexible work for candidates to the C-suit during a time where many companies want to move back to the office?

When communicating with Executives, it always important to highlight the return on investment for them. Work can be considered flexible in relation to hours, location or type of work. The benefits are clear and include more motivated and engaged staff, less paid overtime, less absenteeism, better work-life balance, improved health and wellbeing, greater job satisfaction, better retention, reduced company costs and access to better talent when recruiting.

When communicating with executives, it would be useful to be armed with engagement/culture survey results, absenteeism rates and costs, turnover rates and costs, productivity and performance figures and of course a literature review. Furthermore, consider potential concerns that leaders may have and ensure that you have a response prepared i.e., how these employees would be managed.

Q: What are candidates saying about the 4 day work week?

Our understanding is that the four-day work week is currently still being trialed. In some countries like the Netherlands, this structure is a lot more common. Preliminary outputs are positive, with employees being paid for outputs rather than hours. These findings also show that it has a great impact on engagement, motivation and work-life balance but it is unlikely to work for all types of organisations and roles.

In South Africa, we have not noticed any candidates currently considering this when making employment decisions, but it is a concept to keep an eye on. We believe that in the future it is likely to be a method for attracting and retaining employees.

Q: How do you balance the principle of fairness when some employees prefer to work from home, and are able to do so, with those that wish to also work hybrid but their roles don't allow them to work from home? 

It is important to communicate the requirements of these positions clearly to employees. It's also important to be transparent about who is afforded this opportunity as well as the requirements for those individuals. We recommend setting up a policy outlining eligibility, requirements, performance standards etc. Nonetheless, some employees may still feel as though they are losing out or being sidelined despite the critical need for them to be present. It may be worthwhile considering some initiatives which are only available to those at the office, such as lunch or stipends for traveling.


Lumenii Talent Partners

Lumenii's team of expert psychologists regularly collaborate to share their ideas and knowledge. The latest case studies, thought leadership, and research.


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