Attracting and retaining digital talent – Q&A with experts

What can you do to attract and retain the highly skilled talent that businesses need today? Here we share insights from the panel discussion at the Korn Ferry Pay Forum in Sydney.

Data wranglers. Digital engagement managers. Content Curators. They may sound like off-the-wall job titles, but roles like these are emerging across many industries to meet the digital strategies of organisations. Traditional digital roles used to be the domain of designers, developers, and data scientists but today in an increasingly digital environment most roles have a digital orientation. Every business needs digital talent.

Attracting and retaining this highly skilled talent often presents challenges for many organisations and their HR teams:

  • When new digital challenges emerge, market supply and demand gaps result in professionals with the associated skill commanding often prohibitive pay premium for 18-24 months.
  • They are often clustered in high cost, competitive geographies.
  • The same job (e.g., programmer) may require different skillsets (e.g., Java vs COBOL) with different market values.
  • Companywide incentive plans may not appropriately recognise and incentivise project oriented digital staff.
  • Emerging jobs are difficult to externally benchmark and internally value as they are evolving.
What can HR leaders and practitioners do to ensure their companies have the digital talent they need to achieve their goals?

HR touches all parts of the organisation and its people and is well positioned to help shape the future of organisations. In the recent Korn Ferry Pay Forum in Australia, our experts and their guests shared their experience in creating an environment where all digital talent flourishes. This includes breaking down barriers and silos between HR functions, going beyond traditional rewards as well as using rewards creatively to attract and retain the right talent.

Here we share the transcript of the panel discussion at the Korn Ferry Pay Forum in Sydney:

  • Andrew Lafontaine, Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry (moderator)
  • Nick Hava, Executive Manager, Remuneration and Benefits, People and Culture, Quantium
  • Cynthia Cottrell, Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry
Andrew Lafontaine: Traditionally in HR everyone was working in their verticals: recruitment, learning, pay, talent, engagement, etc. From your experiences, has that changed? Are organisations really trying to get an integrated talent management strategy, or are the verticals still alive and well?

Nick Hava: I think what we've experienced at Quantium for a long time was pretty much a siloed environment. Some of the key talent around the digital analytical world was always something that the verticals really protected. But what we've been seeing over the last 12 months is that key talent being actually spread across the organisation and working on different projects and giving people the opportunity to work in media or work in insurance or health, to really expand their knowledge. What we're hearing from the millennials these days is that they appreciate the opportunity to learn across the organisation and to gain that depth and breadth of understanding of the business, which has been really great. The other thing that we've been really focused on is giving key talent the opportunity to go and work internationally as well, and this has really been working well.

Cynthia Cottrell: I think could add to that. At IBM I worked within our corporate HR division and with a number of clients who found that, as the business was starting to break down its silos and going to agile in particular, that meant that HR needed to follow in suit. So, if you are trying, for example, to move talent between businesses and to give exposure and experience across a range of jobs and roles, HR needed to be able to coalesce around that as well. For example, I’ve worked with clients to roll out agile HR, enabling HR to operate the same as the business - we get into scrums, we pull rewards and learning and culture together and become a team for that particular task, whether that be encouraging millennials to go and partner with senior members and engineers within our software divisions, or moving talent overseas and getting that experience from other cultures. So, I think as businesses continue to scale agile and continue to break down their silos, HR is certainly challenged. And those who are doing well will follow suit and I think in fact break those silos naturally.

Andrew Lafontaine: That leads really nicely into the next question. I think we've all seen, over our careers, however long you've worked in HR, that organisations have struggled to get some correlation between how people see development as part of their overall employment and total compensation. And in this very low growth, wage growth environment that we're in, showing this correlation becomes even more important. Has there been a shift? Is development now seen as part of overall compensation?

Nick Hava: It's an interesting area and a lot of organisations always have the right intentions around driving development in their businesses. And where I've seen it sort of fail is: you've got to have the right investment in place initially, and then you've got to make sure that you've got the manager capability to drive those development discussions. And once you've got those two pieces in place, then, it's about how you have those ongoing conversations with individuals about what their development looks like. How does their career aspirations align to the company strategy? How do you make sure that you're driving their aspirations long term? And especially millennials these days - most of the millennials, if you can keep them for more than two or three years, you're doing a really good job. So how do you align to their needs and give them things like opportunities to go and work internationally and that opportunity to grow as an individual? Addressing this definitely helps.

Cynthia Cottrell: Sure, and I think just to follow on that point, a recent study stated that millennials, the majority of them, cite learning, continuous learning, as the top benefit that they seek, even over and above compensation. So, career development makes a lot of sense in today's world. In the fourth industrial revolution, with technology such as AI, cognitive and data, the shelf life of skills is about five years. And millennials know that. So, that ability, that creativity that this room can bring to the talent management arm of their organisation, to think about how you package a continuous learning benefit as part of an overall value proposition is very powerful and it clearly addresses the millennial need for wanting to have that as part of their experience at the company.

Andrew Lafontaine: Now to the last question: What are those other non-monetary rewards that organisations are using to attract and retain digital staff? But let me give you the context of digital staff here because I think that's where a lot of people naturally go to: the tech roles. But when we think about digital disruption we need to think about it in two ways. Yes, there's the technology: AI, robotics, data, cloud, all of those things, and there are roles that are absolutely impacted by that. But there's a whole bunch of other business roles: who's thinking about breaking the business model so we keep pace with our competitors? Who's thinking about the goods and services or new ways of working? There's a whole bunch of critical roles that aren't technical or digital roles.

Cynthia Cottrell: Yes and I think to add to that, we need to talk about the role of HR in this room and our colleagues in talent management. I think it does go back to that agile mentality that needs to coalesce around the needs of the organisation as they arise or, even better, before they arise. So being able to grow into a business and understand that, and, using the data and analytics that are available to us today to do that. It allows us to think differently about how we personalise the rewards. I think that it is really the nirvana of the day for all of us, to really think about how we personalise that experience. And that's everything: that's the way we retain them, that’s the way that we give them experiences, that’s the way that we develop our employees. I think that when we get that equation right, the answers, the possibilities are potentially endless because if you think about what an individual desires and is motivated by that's going to be quite different from everyone else. Not just for the role they're in but for the project that they're on. So thinking about things in terms of the work itself as opposed to the permanence of a role is also really important when we think about other ways of motivating and rewarding our people. Based on my experiences at IBM, we worked on multiple ways to leverage data about what drives and motivates employees – particularly digital talent – that would contributes to their thought leadership, their capital as a consultant and as a brand.

Nick Hava: Within Quantium we're really investing is data analytics and looking at getting the best talent from universities around our graduate programme as well as building that talent throughout their journey. At Quantium, we introduced a programme called Leadership Acceleration Programme and that's taking that top talent from the graduate programme and getting them to start working on real critical pieces of work that enhances their leadership skills. But at the same time, they're working on really strategic projects for the company. The program has seen success rates since its inception. We are taking some of our key talent and given them opportunities to work on strategic projects in the U.S as well and really driving their personal development along the way.