The Talent Crunch: How to Find and Keep the Best Workers in a Tight Labor Market

Increasingly, firms recognize that the best investment for revenue growth is human capital. That’s true at HBM Holdings, where we view talent as a primary differentiator. Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Amy Fields shared her perspective on that topic recently at Intergrowth 2018  — discover her insights for effectively recruiting, developing, and retaining talent.


Finding and keeping the right talent is never easy, but it’s even more challenging in a tight labor market. When surveyed 1,000 employers a few months ago, 61 percent of respondents said they plan to hire more people in 2018 than the previous year. The Labor Department’s April report reflects that, placing the unemployment rate at 3.9 percent — the lowest rate since 2000. It’s a regional trend too, with several states reporting record-low unemployment rates this year. As a result, firms struggle with a shortage of qualified workers for running operations, particularly at leadership levels — but also throughout the organizational chart, starting with unskilled labor. Fortunately, there are steps firms can take to successfully hire and keep talent during a tight labor market.

Improve due diligence for talent:  Use a combination of assessment tools (in-person assessment and data analysis) to determine not only candidates’ skill sets but also qualities that fit your organization’s culture. Enlist all generations within the workforce to accomplish this. At HBM, our focus on cultural fit helps keep turnover low. For CEO and general manager roles, HBM assesses not only qualities such as strategic mindset and complex decision-making but also emotional intelligence and the ability to foster strong teams.

Do the first day (and year) right: Strong onboarding programs will capture employees’ engagement early. Think about the message you are sending on day one; don’t just hand them an HR handbook and show them the break room.  Great candidates will have plenty of other work opportunities, so create a compelling, unified sales pitch for why they should choose you, and find ways to reinforce that constantly during the first year (starting with the first day).

Develop a clear plan for talent development: If you’re hiring the best talent, they’ll want to keep improving. That means they’ll quickly become frustrated if they don’t see ample opportunity to innovate and contribute. HBM has an accelerated program that hires MBA graduates for two years of corporate development work and portfolio company consulting projects. After that, they’re assigned to a portfolio company, with the goal of becoming a general manager or high-level leader in five to seven years. To retain great employees, firms need to provide a path for growth throughout all levels of an organization.

Keep engagement high during the deal and after: Remember that communication voids will quickly get filled with misinformation, so communicate regularly and clearly to the workforce during all stages of the deal. Listen to the employees who remain and be open to learning from them — and also be willing to infuse new talent where it makes sense.

Hire slow, fire fast. To achieve low turnover, it’s important to hire the right candidates, and proper vetting takes time. Firms that congratulate themselves on a speedy hiring process often find it’s a fast track to wasted time and money when they discover their new employee is a poor fit. When you find someone you know is the right person, make the call and be expeditious in bringing them into the organization. However, simply filling jobs to meet an arbitrary time to fill metric is not usually a winning talent approach. Recruiting is a sales process. Defining and articulating your message crisply is important to making the right talent match.  Don’t look for employees who fit an exact set of skills — look for long-term versatile team members.

But the biggest hiring mistake firms make is usually not choosing the wrong candidate;  instead, it’s their reluctance to take action after realizing the new employee needs to go. When you realize you have a mismatch, make the change.