Over the past decade, the war for talent has been ever present. This is no different when times are challenging – every organisation needs the right people to adapt to unanticipated change and ensure business continuity.

Although it may seem sensible to focus on the payroll burden if revenue takes a hit, this short-term reaction may leave your organisation vulnerable. When the market comes back, having talent in the pipeline will be a strategic advantage. 

Gladdy He, a Senior Client Partner based in Shanghai, believes recruitment is a ‘survival imperative’ at this time. “Companies have always been looking out for the best talent,” she says. “People who can drive innovation, who are adaptive leaders and can communicate effectively - those are the people you need if your organisation is to survive and thrive in a time of crisis.”

This could also be an opportunity to make changes that may not have been possible before. As long as your company has the cash flow to keep operating, this is a unique window of opportunity to upgrade your talent pool. It also sends a positive signal to the market. In times of uncertainty, confidence in your brand and its financial strength and strategy could be more attractive than the salary package for new hires. It’s human nature, a flight to safety.

In Korn Ferry’s recent flash survey, conducted across China-based organisations in February 2020, 56% of HR managers said they plan to postpone their recruitment plans as a result of the COVID19 epidemic. If fewer opportunities are around, a proactive recruitment plan has more chance of success.

Here are five ways to make that happen. 

Get the basics right

Word of mouth matters with recruitment, and in times of crisis people ask for recommendations to make the right decision. People are looking for employers they can trust, and there is a reputational risk if you fail to act with compassion during this time, so make sure your people know they are your first priority.

Freeing time in the operational rhythm may also give you a chance to onboard people in a more structured way. The role of HR may become increasingly important as the linchpin during the crisis response period, and afterwards. By co-ordinating all parts of the business, HR managers can think about how resources can best be allocated to make things happen more effectively.

Differentiate between short-term setback and long-term change

Some industries are experiencing severe disruption to demand – such as travel, hospitality and logistics. Others are seeing new opportunities emerge as people change consumption habits – think eCommerce, food delivery and virtual working applications. 

Specific opportunities in your sector will shape the talent you need now, and in the longer term. “For example, if you want to develop virtual banking capabilities, you need to get that in place now – before the market comes back. If you leave it too late, everyone will be chasing that talent,” suggests Jimmy Ho, Korn Ferry’s Office Managing Director based in Hong Kong.

For organisations that need to make hard decisions about staff numbers due to cash flow challenges, Gladdy He suggests doing whatever you can to retain your top talent. “Give them leave of absence, paid or unpaid. We’re seeing some companies offer to coshare the risk by paying 60% of salaries for the first month, even though there is no work, and then tapering that down until they can bring those people back on board and get operations back up and running again.”

Size up your people

Use a scientific data approach to analyse every profile in the organisation to work out where your high potential talent is, and what new opportunities you could give them. “We work closely with clients to assess their bench strength and succession programs, and help them make more objective hiring and firing decisions,” notes Gladdy He. “If you have that data in place now, you’ll be ready to act when it becomes necessary.” She says her team is also busy sharing broader perspectives and benchmarking data from across the APAC region – helping clients develop competitive yet cost-effective compensation packages in the current climate, for example.

Consider new alternatives

Some organisations are now willing to take a risk on putting younger talent into their pipeline. Look for those with high learning agility who can also adapt easily to the virtual working styles which have now become necessary. This might be a ‘leap of faith’ for organisations that have relied on a top heavy, experienced senior management layer in the past.  

You can also consider different recruitment processes and structures. Do you really need to meet a candidate face to face, or can you carry out virtual assessments?

Recruit for resilience

The types of capabilities you are looking for may also be different to a year ago. People need to be able to communicate effectively and authentically across digital channels, and manage their productivity remotely. Organisations are looking for people who can create new opportunities, rather than stay stuck in old ways of thinking. A positive mentality could become more important than experience. “People who know how to deal with crisis, who don’t panic, who show care and can see their way to the future – these are the people you need when the next wave of disruption happens,” says Gladdy He.

Recruitment is essentially a way to build new capabilities and enable strategic changes to business models and culture. Whether the recovery is U-shaped or V-shaped, you will need good people in place.

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