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Q: As a longtime North Bay company, we are fortunate to be emerging from the economic downturn with a stronger than ever business position and we need to expand our management team in anticipate of rapid growth. With all the downsizing of the last few years, we assumed we would have our pick of top, highly experienced candidates yet we’re struggling to attract the right people who are willing to relocate. What should we be doing?

A: Even though it appears to be an employers’ market right now, finding and keeping the specific talent your company needs is more challenging than ever. One reason for this comes down to basic supply and demand. Despite persistently high unemployment, there is growing shortage of talent because more baby boomers are leaving the workforce as our overall population ages. So your company not only is facing a smaller pool of top management talent, but in this economic environment, the experienced professionals you are looking for most likely are not out there searching for a new position. They are busy making sure they succeed in their current roles.

You can look to the next generation of talent but just know that they are definitely a new breed of professionals. They seek different kinds of opportunities and challenges. They want to be integral team members in innovative, creative companies. They expect a healthy work culture and pleasant work environment with flexibility to work from home and spend more time with their families. Because having personal lives is important to them, this generation demands work-life balance.

They also regard themselves as valuable commodities, making professional development a high priority to them. They need to see potential and opportunities for growth. They want to know that you have plans to develop their careers. Does your company provide education and training? When you consider the fact that much of the knowledge, skills, and experience that companies like yours will need in the future probably does not exist yet, you can see why the demand for talent is high yet “inventory” is low.

You mentioned that your business is expanding. Do you have a plan to build the workforce you will need to achieve that growth? Strategic workforce planning is vital to building competitive advantage right now yet most organizations still do not plan ahead for their talent needs.

Instead, your company has a significant opportunity to make a vital difference in the present and future success of your organization. Take the time to evaluate past, current, and future gaps and then create a roadmap for strategic hires based on your business growth plans looking ahead one, three, and five years. This is what strategic workforce planning entails and it’s all about having the workforce you will need to execute your company’s strategy.

Another major consideration is compensation. How does your company’s management compensation compare to your competitors in major metropolitan areas? I’ve discussed this before in previous columns because unfortunately, over my years of assisting North Bay companies with their talent acquisition, I’ve seen our region develop a poor reputation due to offering compensation packages that are consistently 20 to 30 percent below the greater Bay Area.

Why is that? The cost of living certainly is not any cheaper here -- particularly for housing. One major justification for lower compensation in the North Bay seems to be that those of us who live and work here regard our quality of life as an incredible benefit in itself. And so it is. But the value of this is very difficult to convey to someone who has never been here, much less lived here. If you’re serious about attracting top talent, the Wine Country lifestyle is simply not a sufficient reason for offering lower compensation. The current “war for talent” demands more strategic positioning. To find -- and keep -- the top talent your company needs before your competition does, your compensation package needs to be better than the South Bay because, as far as the talent you are seeking is concerned, you are basically asking them to relocate to an island.

I know spending more in the current climate might be tough to swallow. But consider the fact that hiring for a critical $150,000-per-year management position actually costs your company $200,000, and if the person doesn’t work out, those costs can climb as high as $500,000. In other words, hiring is a key business investment and can be a potentially risky one.

 Without strategic workforce planning and aggressively competitive compensation, North Bay companies like yours will continue to struggle with finding and retaining the talent you need to grow your business. Why not make your company so attractive that talent actually does begin to come looking for you? •••

Jennifer Laxton is the President of ESA Consulting, located in Santa Rosa www.esa.com. ESA is a consulting company providing talent acquisition, workforce planning and career coaching services. You can reach her at 707-217-4535 or jklaxton@esa.com.