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Is your municipality ready to attract and retain top talent?

by Jodi Zigelstein-Yip
in Human Resources, Leadership, Management

The war for talent is on, and municipalities are feeling the pinch – as are others in the public and not-for-profit sectors. The pressing question on the minds of these leadership teams: Will the financial strength and ingenuity of large, for-profit corporations squeeze out the non-profits and leave municipalities scrambling for talent?

The pressure on municipalities to reduce costs while improving effectiveness and efficiency has boosted stress levels across the sector, especially when they already struggle to deliver the basic services required by their respective communities.

To compete in both the short- and long-term, municipalities need to embrace top-grading: the practice of creating the highest quality workforce by ensuring that talent acquisition and talent management practices focus on attracting, identifying, onboarding, developing, and retaining only top performers. Proven top-graders – and your organization may already be one – have the most effective talent attraction methods, use the most successful hiring methodologies, consistently deliver a culture of development, compensate their employees fairly, and provide coaching to foster career development.

In order for your municipality to attract and retain top talent, there are a number of key considerations, including:

  • the state of your employer branding strategy;
  • the robustness of your employee onboarding program;
  • the advanced level of your employee-development initiatives; and
  • the competitiveness of your total compensation package.

Now, let’s investigate each of these areas in greater detail.

Employer Branding – Why Would Talent Work Here?

Branding is standard practice for private corporations, perhaps to increase the sales of their products and/or services, or to ensure their brand becomes a household name.

Wouldn’t your municipality want to be viewed the same way? Wouldn’t it want to attract the best and brightest talent to help drive results and achieve a remarkable resident experience? Wouldn’t all not-for-profits want to be recognized as the place where people want to work and build careers?

Many leading municipalities now understand that an effective employer branding strategy means more than simply being present in the market, but instead means knowing what qualities will attract talent. Understanding what makes your municipality unique and what drives its workplace culture, values, and competencies is a critical first step in this process. Some key questions to ask your managers and senior leaders: Why would anyone want to work here? Perhaps more importantly, why would anyone want to continue to work here? It then comes down to understanding the type of talent you wish to attract. Build your strategy on what you know about this talent and what is going to draw them into your municipality. Then, use your internal talent to deeply embed your brand, your mission, your vision, and your values – and watch your employer brand grow exponentially.

Employee Onboarding – Ensuring High Productivity and Relationship Building

Welcoming new talent into your organization is always an event to be celebrated, because the time, energy, and effort to hire someone can be significant, not to mention costly. It goes without saying that when you hire a top performer with the attitude, skills, and knowledge to do an incredible job for your organization, you’ll surely want them to be as productive and successful as possible in a short period of time. Enter the need for effective employee onboarding. The trouble is that many municipalities still lean on traditional orientation programs that spur employee disengagement and reduce retention rates. We know these antiquated programs are ineffective, thanks to recent data showing that early employee turnover rates are at epidemic levels across many organizations. A survey by the Arlington, Virginia-based Wynhurst Group, for example, found that 22 percent of employee turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment.
Rather than the orientation strategies of yesteryear, we need alternatives that achieve the following two criteria.

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Engage and motivate new talent – Outdated orientation practices – featuring stacks of forms, reading materials, and endless PowerPoint presentations – need to go. Instead, municipalities should embrace the realities of our fast-paced, digital culture to generate meaningful first impressions among their hires. Consider leveraging social networking platforms such as Yammer, which help to foster an instant relationship with new employees.

Focus on communication – We assume that people will simply know their role and fit in. But, the onus is on leadership to provide the tools, resources, and training that new employees need – all while fostering strong communication that helps them build cross-organizational relationships. Regular check-ins should be scheduled by managers during the first 120 days of employment to provide opportunities to discuss challenges and paths for advancement, and build a stronger bond with management.
Creating a Culture of Development by Cultivating Self-Development

Today, more than ever, there’s an increasing need for employees to keep pace with the rapid changes experienced by their organizations; and, in the municipal context, to also keep pace with the changing needs and demands of their communities. Many employees, however, become disengaged because they lack a clear career-development path. The reason: their employers lack the resources to help nurture this level of development, while manager training tends to focus on meeting operational requirements, not helping talent to reach the next level in their careers.

To build a comprehensive employee development program, consider the following steps.

Encourage employees to seek out feedback – Municipalities need to provide employees with the necessary tools to seek feedback independently, both from their coworkers and managers. Then, equip them with techniques on how to be open to receive constructive criticism, so they can build capabilities to remain current and increase their competency internally.

Create unique learning experiences for talent – The more organizations encourage ongoing learning, the better their employees’ workplace performance will be. But, true development starts by creating innovative learning experiences that help develop employee capabilities. We all know the basic compliance training that needs to be delivered during the onboarding process, but beyond that consideration, we need to create learning experiences that are unique and encourage the transfer of learning. It all starts by:

  • assessing knowledge, skills, and ability gaps;
  • identifying an employee’s current and future career path;
  • focusing experiences on blended learning events, including on-the-job training as well as peer and structured learning; and
  • driving and sustaining career development once key milestones are achieved.

Offering Competitive Compensation to Attract and Retain Top Talent

In the war for talent, offering competitive compensation is a must-have first step to attracting and retaining the best and brightest. While studies show that people often leave organizations due to their working relationship with their direct manager and peers, or the non-challenging work being performed, we would be remiss if we didn’t consider compensation practices in this process.

Salary information is often held in secret across the marketplace, even though information obtained from reviewing external salary data helps organizations design and manage their compensation structures to ensure external competitiveness.

In the municipal sector, the worry stems not only from establishing internal compensation equity, but also competing with the private sector for top talent.

With that in mind, the key to ensuring your corporation is paying talent competitively is to benchmark often.

Depending on the region in which your municipality resides – and the level of competition for employees – it may be critical to benchmark salaries, benefits, and other forms of compensation on an annual basis. At a minimum, your organization should be comparing internal salaries to the market at least every two years. That means benchmarking not only within the not-for-profit sector, but across the private sector, as well.

To Retain and Succeed … Prepare to Compete

More than ever, we need to take a broader and more comprehensive view of attracting top talent, and to emphasize the importance of talent to the success of municipalities. That means acting proactively to ensure your organization is ready to do what it takes to compete in a challenging employment landscape. It will become increasingly harder to find and replace top talent, so the ability to attract, recruit, onboard, develop, and retain in unique and innovative ways is increasingly gaining momentum. The good news: remaining at the top of the talent game means later reaping the organizational rewards.  MW

as published in Municipal World, October 2015

Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Anita Sampson Binder’s article: Top 10 strategies for employee attraction & retention. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

Jodi Zigelstein-Yip, CHRP, CHRL is Director, HR Consulting Services, Williams HR Consulting. A 16-year leader and veteran in the HR community, Jodi plays a major role in her clients’ businesses to drive overall performance and growth while leading organizational strategy, leading organizational transformations, promoting operational effectiveness, and elevating team performance through innovative leadership development initiatives and development of high-potential talent.

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