10 innovative ways to attract top talent

Jack Dorsey Twitter chief

Ditch those space hoppers – tomorrow’s best employees will be putting self-determination and community before wacky, over-inflated office gimmicks, writes futurist Will Higham


Two crucial factors that will determine the success of any business concern its workforce: engagement and efficiency. It’s therefore vital to help new recruits pick up your firm’s processes and culture quickly. Twitter has realised this and designed its induction programme to make the “yes to desk” period as inspiring and productive as possible. On their first day, employees have breakfast with CEO Jack Dorsey (no pressure, then) before being shown around the offices.


Flexible working will be one of the keys to retaining talent in tomorrow’s intrapreneurial age, but the concept of working side by side in a central office has yet to go out of fashion.  Concerned about losing opportunities for collaboration, IBM rescinded its remote working programme last year, even though this had achieved £2m in cost savings.

Employers are learning about the importance of “presence”. A recent US study split call-centre staff into two groups, asking those in one to take coffee breaks together and those in the other to take their time out alone. The first group were found to be 20 per cent more productive. Innovative employers enable flexibility and focus while also encouraging their workers to have chance face-to-face encounters. Network Rail and Sky do this in their HQs, surrounding large communal atriums with smaller, more private, workspaces.


In this era of real-time updates, the annual performance review is becoming a time-consuming anachronism. Adobe has swapped traditional appraisals for a “little and often” approach – a popular move with millennials, who tend to appreciate frequent feedback. Cloud-based apps, meanwhile, can enable instant evaluation. Clydesdale Bank adopted these to become the first large British company to drop annual appraisals for continuing performance “conversations”.


People rightly talk about diversity in positive terms, but many are unaware of its link to financial success. A 2017 McKinsey study concluded that “companies with the most ethnically/culturally diverse boards worldwide are 43 per cent more likely to experience higher profits”. Why? Harvard Business Review suggests that reducing homogeneity at work makes employees more aware of their own potential biases. Working with people who think differently challenges us to seek better answers. Sodexo offers a prime example: the French multinational, led by a board with an equal number of men and women, is leading its sector on profitability.

Netflix office – recruiting top talent

Seats of power: Netflix has granted employees more authority to decide where and when they work


The new breed of tech-enabled “smart employees” crave greater control of their working day and increasingly see their employers as facilitators, rather than paternalistic providers. Netflix was one of the first firms to incorporate “encouraging independent decision-making” into its HR policy, giving employees greater say over how they manage their time.


Giving people freedom is, of course, different from letting them fend for themselves. Firms are becoming more aware of the importance of a healthy workforce and their supportive efforts in this respect are improving. The wisest ones will address both the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees. Cisco, for instance, offers its staff not only free sports facilities, but also financial counselling and mindfulness workshops.


Given the increasingly fast turnover of new technologies and methods, there’s less and less time to teach people the latest skills before these become obsolete. “Immersive learning”, using virtual and augmented reality, is one answer to this problem. The US Department of Defense, for instance, is using an immersive system featuring hardware from Samsung to train soldiers.


Worries about data insecurity have made employers hesitant about letting staff use their own tech for work purposes, but advances in encryption are easing this concern. Firms will increasingly use internal mobile apps that enable employees to use their own phones for social-style interactions. Lloyds Banking Group launched the Move app in March, enabling non-desk-based workers across branches to stay connected. There are already 10,000 users. People tend to be happy to use their own phones for work if it doesn’t eat into their data allowance, so the provision of fast, secure Wi-Fi connections will be the key to success.


Love them or loathe them, chatbots are coming. Thanks to platforms such as Alexa, we’re more comfortable with text and voice-based assistants. They’re feeling less “techy” and are great at scheduling. Intel’s virtual HR assistant answers questions on pay and benefits, while Overstock‘s Mila chatbot handles logistics when the US retailer’s call-centre staff are sick, offering sympathy to the employee and then contacting their manager to reassign work.


With competition for skills growing, it’s becoming ever more important – yet more difficult – to attract talent. Businesses spend millions on promoting their brands to consumers. But, to attract the best employees, tomorrow’s companies will consider their employer brands to be just as vital, particularly as sites such as Glassdoor become the jobseekers’ TripAdvisor. Siemens, for instance, has just hired a VP of employer branding to improve potential recruits’ opinion of the firm.

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About author

William Higham

William Higham

William Higham is the founder and CEO of consumer trends consultancy Next Big Thing.

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