Australian employers advised to 'declare war' on recession

by HCA20 May 2009

Jason Cartwright - LINK Recruitment

With unemployment levels predicted to rise to alarming levels by 2010-2011, Australian business leaders are advised to build a 'combat ready' workforce to survive.

The War for Talent or Battle for Survival? White Paper by recruitment firm, LINK Recruitment, was created to help businesses survive workforce dilemmas created by the global financial crisis.

It outlines the talent management challenge businesses will encounter in 2009 and advises them to create a 'combat ready' workforce that will help them battle through the economic downturn.

The White Paper is based on research by LINK Recruitment including a survey conducted on over 450 Australian companies.

"During times of recession, many businesses can fall into the trap of battening down the hatches in the hope they will be able to ride out the tough times," said Jason Cartwright, LINK Recruitment general manager client services.

"By creating a combat ready workforce, arming staff and managers with the right skills and support, businesses, particularly those in counter cyclical industries, can survive and even prosper during the economic slump."

Indeed, it appears most organisations have learnt valuable lessons from previous downturns and are positioning themselves to excel once the current recession ends. "Most clients we're working with at the moment have a strong view that they should still be looking at L&D and developing their employees, and are looking at alternatives to redundancies. Others are just getting their heads down, making day to day decisions just trying to survive," said Tim Powell, the lead for the talent and organisation performance practice at Accenture

In the survey, 72% of employers agreed that the economic downturn offered one of the best opportunities to recruit top talent in over a decade. Despite this, more than 70% said their organisation was not planning to recruit more permanent or temporary staff in 2009.

Cartwright warned that the pressure to cut costs will result in some organisations being unable to take advantage of the long-awaited shifts in labour supply.

"However, those in counter cyclical sectors with good medium term growth expectations, and those looking to take market share from competitors, cannot afford to miss this rare opportunity to attract top talent from local and international markets," he added.

Powell said the 'good times' had made many business leaders complacent, but he stressed that now is the time to be thinking long-term as the face of the Australian workforce has changed as a result of the global economic slump.

"Cash has not been the concern for a number of years and the performance metrics and measures have not been conducted in a coordinated way. Typically organisations have thrown money at the problem but now that things are out of kilter, they need to be looked at closely. Once a workforce plan is in place and there is a strategy around human capital and human capital development - what that means for recruitment, for the learning programs, for the links between rewards and performance – it's a more astute way making decisions."

LINK Recruitment's top 7 tips for creating a combat ready workforce:

1. Refocus the mission
Tough times are a great opportunity to review your talent strategy and refocus staff on your core mission. Think strategically about how to staff critical management and front line roles that impact innovation, revenue and customer satisfaction, even if job cuts are unavoidable in other areas.

2. Review basic training
After a decade of boom markets, update your tactics for recruiting talent in a downturn. Rapid changes in labour supply will make recruitment complex and challenging. Rigorous evaluation, selection and onboarding processes are crucial in this market.

3. Armour the troops
Equip staff with the survival skills they need to do battle in difficult conditions over a sustained period. Empowering staff to develop personal and professional resilience will be critical to increase productivity and boost morale.

4. Lead from the front
Get down in the trenches with your troops. Be honest and walk the talk. In these conditions there's no such thing as too much communication. Top performers will share the burden in good times and bad. Recruit their support and don't compromise the culture.

5. Discipline and reward
While focused on survival, don't forget about troop motivation and morale. You may not be able to do as much to incentivise teams, but don't drop the ball completely. Ask for results and link rewards to future revenue and profitability goals. Negotiate creatively with new and existing employees.

6. Deploy reinforcements
Managing new staff, candidate networks and advertising response in this market will be challenging, emotional and time consuming. Outsourcing to a trusted partner enables you to benefit from their experience, spread operational risk and scale costs.

7. Dig in
A team that is well selected, equipped, motivated and led will overcome most obstacles, but it will take tenacity to dig in against recessionary forces. Keep an eye on the macro trends that will affect you beyond the recession and take steps to capitalise on opportunities and mitigate risks.


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