The importance of purpose and company culture in attracting and retaining top talent

09 Jul 2020

The importance of purpose and company culture in attracting and retaining top talent

Whilst research confirms that attracting and retaining top talent remains a CEO’s top priority in 2020, what draws that top talent is equally clear.

In The Conference Board’s annual C-Suite Challenge survey, CEOs ranked ‘attracting and retaining top talent’ as their number one business priority for 2020.

But what is that top talent looking for exactly?

In our continuous work with clients and candidates, we recognise that top candidates are most attracted to organisations that have a culture based on purpose, people and progress.

In addition, candidates are looking to work for and with the best leaders. In a world of continuous disruption, the Odgers Berndtson Leadership Confidence Index 2020 found that this means leaders with the strength and agility of mind-set to adapt constantly, to drive growth, and to find the right balance of agility and resilience to stay on course.

Finally, top candidates are looking to join an organisation with a forward-looking business strategy and business model. Given the amount of disruption and the pace of change every organisation is currently experiencing, it’s no surprise candidates are focusing on this aspect of any potential employer.

“Companies with a strong culture attract the “better” employees. They like the challenges of their work, get along well with their colleagues and enjoy the atmosphere in the workplace.”, mentions Silvia Eggenweiler, Partner in the LifeSciences and Consumer Products and Service Practice, “Culture gives employees a driving goal and purpose for what they do.”

Attracting talent with a strong organisational culture

For their 2020 report, the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants asked executives from a variety of industries whether they thought their organisation’s culture provided a competitive advantage in attracting talent.

Executives in the professional services sector felt the most optimistic about that question with 97% saying they felt either positive or neutral about the statement.

The industrial, manufacturing and energy sectors were close behind with 92% of executives feeling either positive or neutral about the statement.

The sectors with the most negative responses to the statement were technology (20%) and government, education and non-profit organisations (26%).

Overall, only 64% of the executives surveyed across all sectors felt positively that their organisation’s culture provided a competitive advantage in attracting talent.

Evidently, there is still room for organisations, especially those in the technology, government, education and non-profit sectors, to strengthen their cultures with an eye to improving their employee value propositions.

Communicating clearly with candidates about an organisation’s culture is also important. If a candidate cannot get a sense of the culture of the organisation, they will have a tough time visualising themselves as part of the leadership team.

Retaining talent with a strong organisational culture

Organisational culture also plays a pivotal role in retaining talent and can provide a competitive advantage.

Roche, for example, proclaims that the three values of integrity, courage and passion are central to everything they do. Microsoft has created a culture based on accountability and inclusiveness, which it believes provide the conditions necessary to spur innovation and produce high-quality output. Similarly, EY notes that its ‘North Star’ guiding purpose is to build a better working world.

Identifying and consistently communicating an organisation’s core values helps create a cohesive sense of purpose that informs decision-making in all parts of the business.

Organisations should also seek to measure their performance in terms of employee engagement and satisfaction through regular global employee surveys. This is because, when it comes to talent retention, it’s critical that what’s communicated about the organisation’s purpose reflects the true culture of the organisation on the inside. If it’s mostly window dressing, top talent will quickly become disillusioned and move on.

Gabriele Stahl, Head of Consumer Products & Services Practice, says: “What counts here is the leadership skills of management. And they must act as role models if they want to change the culture of a company.”

Unlocking talent in the corona environment

It was true before coronavirus struck and it remains true: top talent is in high demand.

What has changed, given the current environment, is some candidates’ willingness to leave their current post. Some executives feel they must remain loyal to their teams in times of crisis so, even if they had been actively looking for a change before the pandemic hit, they may feel now that it’s not the right time.

Some candidates are also worried about the risks that may come with starting a new role in the current environment. Or they are tempted by an offer, but if an international move is involved, they may be worried about relocating themselves and their families during a lockdown.

On the other hand, some candidates are ready for a new challenge and this crisis may have only strengthened their resolve to seek greener pastures.

If a candidate works for an organisation that this crisis has revealed to be less innovative and less change-oriented than a competitor, that may be providing the incentive they need to take the next step in their career.

While the basic ingredients needed in order to attract top talent haven’t changed, there is perhaps slightly more emphasis now on having the kind of forward-thinking business strategy and business model that are needed to ride out a global crisis.

“Nevertheless, cultural claims of how an organisation treats clients, employees and affiliates has to be measured by the character, mind-set and behaviour of the individuals working in that environment. People matter and how they behave determines the economical success of a company.”, adds Michael Proft, Partner in the Business Professional Services and Technology Practice.

In addition, organisations should think about how to create, and communicate, that they have a strong culture that prioritises purpose, people and progress.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact that is still being counted, but for far-sighted CEOs and the Boards looking beyond the crisis, attracting and retaining talent remains an enduring priority to build a better and more resilient future.