In a tough recruitment market, how do consultants attract, choose and retain the best people?

Iain Parker

Consultants live in challenging times when it comes to recruiting great people. I regularly hear people commenting on how difficult they are finding it - so why is that?

Attracting people

The first step is to attract people, to allow you to be on the radar of prospective job seekers. A strong brand, founded on great work and respect from the industry go some way to help. What people say about you in the market place and how you are viewed by industry influencers is, therefore, an important factor. Having a great client base and working with leading project teams delivering the best schemes in the market will obviously get people’s attention. This is all great stuff but prospective employment candidates are also very keen to understand other important points: progression opportunities, learning and development programmes, working environment, commitment to social responsibility, how effort and contribution will be measured and rewarded, ability to influence business plans, transparancy, trust in the management and a general understanding of “what would it be like to work there?” All of which means attracting people is multi-faceted and a narrow approach is unlikely to cut it with the talent pool.

Choosing people

Making the right selection is an interesting part of the process and, depending upon the outlook of the employer, could perhaps range from “will this person turn up on time” through to “do I see this person as a future business leader”?

Perhaps the acid test is when an employer is faced with a notice of departure, and finds himself attempting to react with a counter offer

There is, of course, a balance for most of us but one of the over-riding factors should be to what extent do people want to work with you and why. People that share the same values, culture and approach to work are more likely to be the best recruits for you. How many blue T-shirted people at Apple do you think joined just because they wanted a job, versus those who don’t even consider their job to actually constitute work? My bet is that the vast majority are there because they love it! And the client service that goes with that (not to mention the financial performance of the organisation) is first class. It perhaps follows then that companies currently attracting and recruiting people are, in reality, appealing to more of the masses by way of a common outlook on those key topics of values, culture and approach - with all of those other important matters of attraction (progression, learning and development, working environment, transparancy, etc) also on offer.

Retaining people

The simple answer here is that if you have managed to attract and recruit people based on all the good stuff communicated at interview stage, then just deliver on it!

Whilst that is a very good starting point, over time there needs to be more. The power of open, continuous communication and consultation with everyone in the organisation is huge, as it is in any relationship. This consultation often brings adjustments, and these are essential in the same way they are in adapting business strategy to external influences.

Perhaps the acid test is when an employer is faced with a notice of departure, and finds himself attempting to react with a counter offer: salary increase, promises of promotion, guaranteed bonuses, personal mentoring and anything else that can salvage the situation. If it reaches this point then there is a self-acceptance that “we had it wrong”. Attention then turns to the individual who has a decision to make - placing their trust in staying and potentially finding themself in a similar position again in the future, or time for a fresh challenge with the new organisation …

Iain Parker is a founding partner of Alinea Consulting