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How SMEs can win the art of talent war with Sun Tzu’s principles

How SMEs can win the art of talent war with Sun Tzu’s principles

In the many conversations I’ve had, the perpetual issue of manpower shortage doesn’t seem to quite escape the chatter. The effects are especially pronounced in the F&B, retail and services industries and have been the case ever since the progressive tightening of foreign manpower back in 2009, with the ripples really being felt the few years following after. Companies, especially SME employers have been bearing most of the brunt of this squeeze. Many found themselves in a sudden flux when reality set in as the imminent business challenge became the competition for talents instead of customers. Some businesses stop expansion plans and some even close shop because of these changes, or so they claimed. As we know, the policies have been set and the direction is not changing anytime soon. The earlier we embrace these changes, the quicker we start doing what needs to be done to meet these people challenges.

This exigent situation brings to mind Sun Tzu’s apt quote “Every battle is won before it is fought”. No wonder employers like Proctor & Gamble, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and the likes enjoy one of the highest job applications. They must have won first! From the millennial workers to those belonging to the baby boomer era, an employment with these well-known companies is sure to bring a sense of pride. As we reflect, there is much to learn here as suggested by Sun Tzu’s quote above. The emphasis here is to recognize that the talent war is already waging. Just head down to any career fairs and you will witness the recruitment scene abuzz with employers giving out their recruitment brochures and wrestling to stand out with their beautifully decorated career booths. Look deeper and you may even notice the high take up rates of career booths in the recent years. In order to survive and be victorious, businesses must review their recruitment strategies. Don’t even think for a second that it would be easier trying to recruit from the open job market. From experience, there are many ways that efforts taken to create a compelling employer brand can still bear fruits down the road. No magic here and yes sure, we know we are not some big international brand but I think there is still hope for local SMEs.

  1.  APPEAL emotionally. What makes your company or brand special? What’s your story? How do potential candidates know you are the right choice for them? Did you reach out to their hearts? What are the values driving your organization and what are some of your initiatives towards corporate social responsibility? For the rational readers out there and myself inclusive, we may not buy the whole emotional story but science has shown that choices are often more emotional than rational. Give those career aspirants out there a compelling reason to choose you.
  2. ENGAGE talents on every possible platform before they get swarmed with the wide array of job choices out there in the market. Career-chat sessions, collaboration on school projects, school career fairs and so on. Hey! Why not invite students into your stores or offices for a real job preview. The many students I have interacted with have no idea what working is really like, much less the role or position you are recruiting. When I say engage, I really mean physically engage. Is there any job activity that the students can physically participate in during these sessions? Make it fun for them, slides presentation is no longer enough, you have to let them feel it. Yes been there, done that and on hindsight, I looked back and wonder how tough it must have been for the students who were struggling to keep their eyes opened and ears peeled. Science has proven that physical activity increases happiness and when happiness is the feeling associated with your brand, give yourself a pat cause you are doing something right. They may not even remember the job titles you have told them, but you bet they will remember that happy feeling when they interacted with you.
  3. INFLUENCE talents before they even enter the workforce. Make use of every opportunity to interact and share your story. What impression do you want to leave behind for every interaction you have with a possible job candidate? Leave a positive impression and maybe even a souvenir, if budget permits. Sway them with a touching corporate video that gives insights to the people and lives behind your company. With the national SkillsFuture movement, there are many programmes and initiatives you can tap on such as free trainings and study awards that you can readily employ to help you coax potential job candidates. Realize that you have already created a need by influencing and this gives you an edge against other employers.
  4. OFFER a career please, not just a job! They need a vision, what is your career pathway like? What options are there for them? What’s progression and promotion like? Are there sufficient flexibility like lateral career tracks? How vested is your company in employees, do you take a real interest in the personal development of each and every gem? Don’t tell them what they will be doing daily, let them know what they are working towards! Candidates want to know what’s in it for them as much as employer wants to recruit the most outstanding talent out there. Yes it is a two way street, seems simple but often forgotten when recruitment becomes another mundane task to tick off for the HR. Review the ways we are conducting interviews, which are often the candidate’s first point of contact with your brand.
  5. UTIILIZE free resources and tap on the many outreach platforms available online. We all know social media isn’t just a marketing tool for your products, it is a great tool to reach out to the jobseekers out there. Post pictures of employees at work and share your corporate video. Gone are the days of print ad and for those who are still on this platform, it is high time to review your ROI.

Surely, I don’t have all the answers but I feel this could be something to chew on for both businesses as well as HR professionals who are facing manpower challenges. Perhaps nothing new here but hopefully this article serves as good timely reminder of the areas we should be focusing on in these times of talent scarcity. On reflection, as humans and organizations keep looking forward to smarter technology, greater productivity, higher intelligence and the never ending search to ameliorate our business, sometimes the answer is simple and can be found in the age-old written words. Of course winning the talent war is only one step, there are many other factors like retention and training to up your ante in employer branding. Let’s be realistic shall we but we shall save that for the next time. 

In good faith,

NG F.L. Joanne

P.S. For those who managed to decipher the vowel code, congratulations! You have good observation skills. Let’s just call this the AEIOU of employer branding.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn  

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