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Talent Management in the Age of Sequestration

Posted on January 16, 2015
mlollarWritten by mlollar | Email author

As economic cycles go, the last 18 months have been a time of change for any company doing business with the federal government.  Budgets have been cut across the board and it often feels as though the government is trying to get the same services for a fraction of the cost.  For those of us working in Talent Acquisition or Human Resources, the pressure to do more with less has never been greater.  Helios recently spoke at a Maryland Tech Council roundtable on attracting, retaining, and engaging a high performing workforce.  The topic of our conversation turned to the “new normal” for government contractors competing in a lowest price technically acceptable environment, and it was clear the extent to which this struck a chord with attendees.  Whether your business is feeling squeezed by a downturn in federal spending or other factors, here are Helios’ best tips to ensure that you can still recruit and retain the employees you need to be successful.

Understand Your Market Position in Terms of Pay and Benefits

One of the most challenging aspects of the current climate for government contractors is that contract rates have been reduced, while the work requirements have stayed the same.  Essentially, we need to find people who are equally qualified, but willing to do the work for less; quite a dilemma!  The first thing you need to do as a Human Resources function is understand your competitive environment in terms of talent acquisition.  Think of it as a SWOT analysis.  Which companies do you compete with for talent?  Other government contractors will be similarly pinched for base pay but if you’re competing against companies whose business is commercial, you might have a much bigger problem on your hands.  Salary benchmarking is always a great tool to help candidates and employees understand how their pay ranks against those with similar qualifications.  Helios has an arsenal of salary surveys available to us that allow for data precision down to the industry.  You should also think about some intangible aspects of your work environment and sell them as benefits.  For example, would candidates be drawn to a company whose clients have an interesting or challenging mission?  Is your company growing and possibly offering equity stakes to those who get in on the ground level?

Once you’ve done your environmental scan and have a realistic assessment of what it’s like to work for your company, it’s critical that you communicate this honestly to candidates.  Low pay will always drive turnover, but so will unfulfilled expectations.  Do not promise yearly bonuses if you can’t deliver.  Don’t tell a candidate that you have a direct career path to management if that’s not really feasible.  These white lies may achieve a short term goal of closing candidates but your company’s reputation will be negatively affected in the long run so it’s always best to act with integrity.

Emphasize Total Rewards and Intangibles

One of the constant refrains we hear from everyone in the federal contracting community is that salaries are way down.  If you’re in the position of hiring and keeping high performers engaged, this can seem like an insurmountable obstacle.  But don’t forget that base pay is just one part of total compensation!  Our current economic climate gives us a great opportunity to emphasize total rewards.  You can do this by assembling formal total reward statements or just by including relevant material in your candidate documents.  I have one small business client who pays 100% of the cost of employee only healthcare coverage.  For some employees, this amounts to more than $500 per month!  However, it’s up to you as the employer to communicate what you’re doing.  Keep in mind that opportunities for professional development, stretch assignments, or even community service can be viewed as benefits.  If you’re overly focused on how little you’re able to offer in base pay, your candidates will pick up on that and will follow suit so remember to promote all of the benefits of working for your company.

Check In Regularly

Many companies conduct exit interviews when employees leave the organization.  These conversations are a great way to get honest feedback on the employee experience and to track any trends, positive or negative.  But you don’t have to wait until employees leave!  Stay interviews have been around for years and now is a great time to put them to use.  Do not be afraid to sit down with key employees and simply ask if they are happy.  You might be surprised by what you hear.  Even if your conversation focuses on dissatisfaction with pay, you are much better off knowing when you’re at risk of losing key employees because you have time to secession plan and to put in place knowledge management measures.

As we continue to do more with less, HR needs to rise to the challenge of keeping employees engaged and productive.  While many of the above strategies are great to use when your business is struggling, they can be just as beneficial when profits are up.  At the end of the day, managing human capital well can help improve any business, regardless of the external economy.

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