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To hire and retain employees, start by revamping your systems


“We hire for potential.” “We need a better HR team.” “We just need the right curriculum.”

Despite the simplicity of those statements, maintaining a hiring, retention, and talent development system is complicated in practice, according to a panel of industry experts at the recent 2022 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.

As companies figure out the best way to hire and develop talent, “the easy answer is that ‘it's every manager's job to develop their people,’” said MIT Sloan senior lecturer George Westerman, who moderated the panel. “We know that's an absolutely horrible answer because the managers don't do it.”

With the Great Resignation and digital transformation ongoing, there’s even more of an urgency for IT leaders to re-examine and rethink hiring and skills practices, and to strengthen and develop their teams. Here are some takeaways on how leaders at McKinsey & Co., Mercer, and Zoetis are doing that.

Start with a skills inventory

Managers wringing their hands over the millions of people leaving their jobs in the last two years might want to look inward.

“How much of the Great Resignation is basically self-inflicted?” asked Melissa Swift, transformation solutions leader for Mercer U.S. and Canada.

Existing job descriptions could be expanded to attract a wider variety of people able to do the work, she suggested.

“We’ve smushed jobs down so small,” she said. “It looks like not a lot of people can do them, but [that] may or may not be the case.”

If you want to give those jobs some breathing room, start with a skills inventory. Figure out which skills are relevant to the role you’re trying to fill and the tasks that need to be done.

“You may be hiring and in fact paying a lot for skills that you don’t need or don’t use,” Swift said.

Once you’ve conducted that inventory, figure out who has those relevant skills and what their proficiency level is. These skilled workers could come from a variety of backgrounds. As examples of organizations that tap nontraditional talent populations for skills, Swift cited Amazon’s Technical Academy for high school graduates and the Johns Hopkins hospital system that hires formerly incarcerated people.

Apply design thinking to your hiring processes

But a skills inventory and expanded talent pipeline can only get managers so far when it comes to hiring. Suman Thareja, a partner with McKinsey & Co., suggested that hiring processes get the design thinking treatment — a problem-solving process that explores a wide range of possible solutions and extensive prototyping and testing.

For Thareja it’s less about the talent pool and more: “How you go about getting people into the organization,” she said.

“Using design thinking is a way to say, ‘How can I reimagine the process of recruiting and hiring in a candidate-centric way that's delightful,” Thareja said.

Ask yourself: How long does it take to go from that first interaction to an offer? How do you make the process fun and engaging, so that people want to come work for you?

“We live in an experience-based world,” Thareja said. “How you get your taxes paid, how you order your Starbucks, to how you order anything on Amazon. Why does hiring people — or why does having to go through finding a job — have to feel like a root canal, where it’s complicated and it’s painful?”

Because of steep competition in hiring, particularly for tech engineers, a more efficient hiring process can work to an organization’s competitive advantage.

Don’t forget about employees once they’ve been hired

Wafaa Mamilli suggested companies need to spend time thinking beyond just recruitment and hiring.

“We talk a lot about hiring instead of thinking about workforce planning and thinking about talent management,” said Mamilli, executive vice president and chief information and digital officer at Zoetis, an animal health company. “We tend to forget about the people we have that we still need to develop and retain.”

Consider your new employee experience and how a peer coach or work buddy might help with onboarding. And for established employees, think about ways they can upskill or expand their talents.

At Zoetis, the organization launched a program aimed at improving digital fluency — skills such as understanding data science analytics, for example — across the enterprise. Many of the employees who enrolled in the courses ended up coming from outside the IT area.

“I now believe that there is that readiness and thirst in part of the organization to be upskilled in areas that they don't have now,” Mamilli said.

Managers must model buy-in for learning and development

Upskilling and training are necessary for an organization’s digital transformation, and that can’t be focused only on underperformers or new employees.

“I think organizations spend a lot of time understanding the skills of a person when they're about to hire them,” Thareja said. “Once they're in, unfortunately they get a little bit forgotten until it's time for them to become a people leader. At that point, they get lumped into maybe the leadership journey, or building soft skills.”

McKinsey has recently started guilds within the organization for things like agile, design, and engineering, and giving out badges to employees when they’ve reached a bar set by guild leaders. This can include a hands-on way of demonstrating a skill in something an employee does at work, or learning a skill and teaching it to others.

But whether it’s a badge or guild or something like a more traditional apprenticeship, buy-in is necessary from managers.

If leaders start to role model and demonstrate their interest in fostering a culture of learning and continuous skills development — such as discussing it in one-on-one meetings and in performance reviews — “it becomes something that managers get measured on or the individual gets measured on,” Thareja said. “Then it becomes systematic.”

Read: Practical ways to tackle manufacturing’s labor crunch

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