5 things you need to do to recruit and retain talent

- October 14, 2020 5 MIN READ
workplace meeting,
Photo: AdobeStock


There’s a whole industry dedicated to the human resources skill set, but it can be out of reach for many small businesses.

If you’re running a team of five, the costs of hiring a HR Manager can be hard to justify. Too often, the HR Manager is you – on top the million other things you have going on.

Having the right team in place, ensuring they are productive and retaining them is, and has always been, a key driver of commercial success. But the nature of the workforce and workplaces are changing – and it’s crucial you consider this when you’re sourcing and securing your team. 

HR and businesses practices are responding to this new world order to the extent many firms no longer have HR departments. Instead it’s ‘people and culture managers’ or ‘directors of talent’. The changing approaches to workforces may have missed many smaller firms without a dedicated HR function (or ‘culture’ specialists). 

Here are five attitudes employers need to adopt – fast – to get the best talent onboard and keep them close once they’re with you.


1. Expect and embrace that you’ll have to train, upskill and reskill your staff

On average, more than a third of our time at work is spent learning on the job. So why are we so surprised, frustrated or disappointed when applications come through and candidates don’t have direct experience across 100 per cent of the responsibilities in the ad? Perhaps once in a blue moon, you’ll find that “perfect package” but in reality, it’s unrealistic. 

It can also blind you to the fantastically diverse next generation of talent coming through who might only tick off 50-70% of the things you’re looking for.

Thinking more broadly on your threshold for entry doesn’t mean you’ll end up with a poorer quality of candidates. So long as the values and skills that are core to your business and the role are there, the rest can be learnt. If someone is a wonderful sales person with a positive attitude, you can train them up on your customer management software.

Or if someone has years of experience in your industry but is new to the world of digital – imagine what they’ll be capable of when you bring the two together.

As an employer, be proactive to on-the-job training, particularly at the younger end of the spectrum. Students are leaving schools and universities without a broad enough set of capabilities. There are significant skill gaps across digital expertise, problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. 

Set up your workplaces to allow the time and headspace for both formal and informal learning. This is an investment in time, money and energy however the return will be enormous if you have a team who feel their capability and skills are being developed.

Upskilling and reskilling doesn’t have to be prohibitive cost wise, there are an enormous and diverse range of free courses online, short courses through TAFE and other providers and formal internal and external mentoring is one the most powerful training tools available.

Don’t lose sight of the end result – a motivated and qualified team member, set up to deliver exactly what you need. 

2. Prioritise diversity – and challenge yourself on what you think it means

Studies have come up time and time again showing diverse teams create better brands, products and cultures. A wealth of voices, experiences and skill sets only stands to strengthen your business. 

We worked on a project with the people and talent team of a large bank. Our team consisted of diverse young people from all walks of life and backgrounds. One of the first discoveries in the project was that our team of young people were much more like the bank’s customer base than their existing staff team were. There was a complete misalignment between the customer and the staff and the people and talent team immediately began rethinking their hiring approach.

Ten years ago, improving the gender balance across senior leadership and certain industries was the focus of senior management. We’ve made some progress here in Australia, but there is still a long way to go. 

I encourage employers to think about diversity in the broadest terms possible. How can we create workplaces that include contributions from a wide range of ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, education levels and personality types?

Covid-19 has been an example of the way some previously excluded workers, such as those with caring responsibilities, a disability or other barriers to work have been able to participate and take advantage of new ways of working. Our society as a whole benefits from greater neurodiversity and cultural diversity. 


3. Reverse mentoring teaches you as much as traditional mentoring

I am a huge fan of reverse mentoring – that is, mentoring from someone who is your junior. 

I think anyone over 40 or 45 today will benefit from a mentor who is under 30. Speaking with your teenage children over dinner doesn’t count – it’s not the right type of exchange and it’s in the wrong setting. It is always crystal clear to me who in my age group has a young mentor and who doesn’t, you miss out on a whole set of critical insights and world views you wouldn’t have otherwise. 

I was fortunate to be surrounded by an abundance of creative and clever young people while I was CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians. During my nine years at FYA, I always had a younger shadow-CEO. It was an incredibly illuminating, rewarding and invaluable experience for both of us.  


4. Value an extensive career portfolio over perceived company loyalty

There’s a mentality that you can’t trust people who spend 1 to 2 years somewhere and then apply for a new role – that they’re the type to “jump ship”. 


This is an unfortunate, 20th century perspective that we need to abandon. The average 15 year old today is going to have 17 – 19  jobs across 5 different industries in their lifetime, and some of them simultaneously. How exciting! Imagine what they will learn on the way and eventually bring to your business.  


Supporting younger employees, particularly, to build and present a cohesive ‘career portfolio’ – a CV with varied experiences along with a demonstrated lifelong learning mindset – will be an important feature in the future world of work. A cohesive, well articulated ‘career portfolio’ will be as valid an approach to an employer as demonstrating perceived company loyalty. 


5. Remember, it’s never goodbye forever

Anyone who worked for me for a so-called short amount of time – under three or four years – has often reappeared in my life in some shape or form. Australia has such a small population and people frequently come back into your lives – returning again as an employee, a client, a consultant – or even as your boss! 

We need to take a more holistic view – the time and energy you spend on your people is an investment in what they can offer your business, but also what they contribute to the world at large.

The next generation of employees are looking for meaning and purpose in their work. For me, it’s a fantastic feeling to see someone go onto other roles more qualified, capable and skilled than when they arrived. And if you’re lucky, they’ll be back in your world one day soon.

Recognising that the new workforce has different approaches, attitudes and attributes is essential to help you find the best people, and keep them productive. An open mind will find that these fresh approaches, insights and capabilities can open a vast array of opportunities for your business.


* Jan Owen AM was the 2018 winner of the Pause ‘Do you know who I am?’ Award for her work with the Foundation for Young Australians.

The Pause Awards 2020 are now open for submission.