Insights

Competing for the Future: Recruiting and retaining talent in a changing world

By Mike Parra

Business leaders don’t have to read the latest headlines to know that the struggle to hire and retain employees has approached a crisis point in recent months. Consider this: despite still-high unemployment numbers, almost 90% of 1,200 U.S. businesses surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported massive challenges filling open positions this summer, and almost three quarters said they experienced a decrease in applications for hard-to-fill positions. 

While there are many reasons behind the growing labor dilemma, it’s clear that COVID-19 has dramatically shifted the way people work, as well as their expectations and options for future employment. 

Let’s take a closer look at what your organization can do to adapt:

A new kind of competition

The changing labor environment means that in the coming years, your organization will likely compete like never before. In this new landscape, you will be battling not just for customers, but for talent, and your rivals will span industries as well as geographic locations. That’s because workers today increasingly develop skills that translate across business sectors, and pandemic-driven remote and hybrid work options have rewritten the rules about where people live and work. As a result, recruitment strategies should shift to include potential applicants in a range of different industries, with experience that may not fit your previous standards. Depending upon your business requirements, your organization should also be searching regionally, nationally, and even globally to fill certain functions through collaborative remote technology.

Organizational improvement for outward growth

While your company will need comprehensive recruitment outreach plans to locate new talent, strengthening internal systems and organizational objectives is just as important. Retaining the people you have and attracting new employees means that your business must offer a strong value proposition to them. By leading with purpose and embedding environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices into the core of your operations, your company sends a message not just to consumers, but to employees, that you care for their well-being holistically and the future of their communities. Research backs this up: employees are three times more likely to stay at a purpose-driven organization and they are more engaged in their work. Developing a clear social mission, such as sustainability, is not only the right thing to do, it creates powerful connections between companies and their people, and it generates a clear reason for new talent to join and grow with your business.

Onboarding done right

A strong program for integrating new employees into your organization is more important now than ever before. You want your new employees to have a sense of belonging, to understand their role in your company, and move quickly into their new roles. Your onboarding process should include a mix of professional development programs, online tools, face-to-face meetings, and question and answer sessions, so that new hires feel welcomed from day one and supported beyond that. While an orientation program may last a day, onboarding should continue well into the tenure of your new employees, ensuring their long-term success and loyalty.

Employee engagement wins the day

Engaged and motivated employees can make all the difference, and so it’s critical to celebrate, recognize, and appreciate your people often. Thoughtful, comprehensive recognition, and incentive programs inspire commitment and loyalty, while also sending a clear message to potential new employees that they will be respected and rewarded. At DHL, for instance, we’ve made our Employee Appreciation Week and our regular recognition programs central to our business. Remember, your current team members can be some of your most valuable advocates and recruiters, getting the word out through social channels that yours is a great place to work.

Training and development for a new era

A truly rewarding environment is one where people see the potential for growth and advancement – a compelling future drives retention and engagement. Professional development opportunities not only help your employees succeed in their jobs today but help to position them for future upward movement within your organization. While it boosts your teams, professional development also helps ensure strong succession planning and leadership continuity, allowing you to fill future positions from within. Surveys consistently show that a lack of career growth opportunities is a top reason why employees leave their jobs. To succeed in the competition for talent, you need highly competitive professional growth strategies and leaders who are authentically interested in the development and advancement of their team members.


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Investing for tomorrow

Even in economic downtimes, companies need to put people first. To do this, your organization should establish a financial and structural plan that provides some room to weather difficult conditions. At DHL, for instance, we did not furlough or layoff any employees during the most difficult months of the pandemic, although business dramatically slowed in March and April 2020 because of the unknown. Standing by your people not only in the good times but also in the bad times sends a visible message to employees that we truly care about them and their families and do not see them as mere numbers.

Investing for the future also means investing in your leadership and culture, in good and bad times. Your leadership teams need to adapt to the changing expectations of younger workers, with an emphasis on leading by example with compassion and transparency. Your top staff need to show dignity and be able to demonstrate an understanding of everything your employees may be experiencing. Leadership should be able to help employees make connections within the community, and they should help them grow not just professionally but as people. By truly living this authentically throughout the business, this “people first” approach will become part of your Employee Value Proposition.

Enhanced benefits

In addition to flexible work environments, employees are also increasingly looking to their employers to offer additional benefits. Business leaders should consider non-traditional offerings such as financial guidance programs, health assistance beyond insurance, and robust wellness programs. Additionally, the holistic well-being (mental, personal, physical, and emotional) of employees should be a priority for employers and should be reflected in the benefits. These can include employee assistance programs, mental health counseling, and more. 

For companies around the globe, the dynamics of work have likely been forever altered by the pandemic. With new expectations and opportunities, employees are re-evaluating their priorities. Business leaders would be wise to do the same. 


Published: September 2021


Images: DHL


Mike Parra

CEO, DHL Express Americas

With over three decades of transportation and logistics experience, Mike Parra leads the second largest region within the DHL Express network, the Americas, as CEO. His strategic direction of 56 highly-diverse countries and territories encompassing approximately 27,000 employees has contributed to the organization’s enormous success in growth, quality and employee satisfaction. As a member of the DHL Express Global Management Board, he also has direct oversight for the company’s best-in-class training and development program (Certified International Specialist), as well as its portfolio of global sponsorships. Mike exhibits his passion for social responsibility by building housing for needy families, biking for MS, and being active within his church.


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