If there were a single silver lining for business leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be the sudden rush of available talent.
The war for talent has been ongoing for years, as companies fight to attract the most qualified, capable, and hardworking employees to their offices. There’s a good reason for the melee, too -- one 2012 study of over 600,000 researchers, entertainers, politicians, and athletes found that high performers are 400 percent more productive than their average peers.
This performance gap often widens with job complexity. High performers in information- or interaction-intensive roles such as software development or management often see a productivity increase of over 800 percent.
The business impact is, as you might imagine, astronomical.
One McKinsey writer put it this way: “If you took 20 percent of the average talent working on the project and replaced it with great talent, how soon would you achieve the desired impact?”
“If these people were 400 percent more productive, it would take less than two years; if they were 800 percent more productive, it would take less than one. If a competitor used 20 percent more great talent in similar efforts, it would beat you to market even if it started a year or two later.”
In this perspective, it seems logical for HR teams to seek high-quality talent when it becomes available -- and in recent months, it has. However, no one could say that the circumstances around the shed are good. The economy has faltered amid the pandemic, and the core unemployment rate (i.e., all layoffs that aren’t classified as temporary) for workers with at least a college degree has risen by 1.7 percentage points since March. The idea of so many people being out of work is troubling, to say the least.
For some companies, hiring is off the table entirely; one Arizent survey conducted earlier this year reported that 86 percent of respondents have added no new employees since the US declared the pandemic an emergency in mid-March. The general shift away from hiring is consistent with past downturns, too. During the 2008 financial crisis, a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey found that the most frequent response from business leadership was to scale back recruiting.
What’s interesting is that while this knee-jerk response occurs across the board, many companies don’t need to go on a hiring freeze. One eMarketer survey published in late June found that B2B sectors such as tech, financial services, and energy have been relatively unperturbed by the pandemic. Another analysis from Forbes even suggests that the pandemic will be a “catalyst and accelerant” for certain sectors; these may include ecommerce, public cloud, cybersecurity, SaaS, media and gaming, healthcare technology, and collaboration technology.
For these neutral-to-positive-growth companies, giving in to a knee-jerk hiring freeze might be the exact wrong response. Winning the war for talent might be what businesses in these niches need to persist and thrive through the pandemic. To this point: the same BCG survey mentioned above found that survey participants rated “the selective hiring of high-performing employees from competitors” as one of the most effective responses to crises and noted it as the tactic with “the best impact on employee commitment.”
As Kevin Backman, host of the HR-centric podcast Background Check Radio, recently told reporters for Monster: “Companies that are hiring have a once in a generation opportunity to recruit and onboard talent [...] Through no fault of their own, talented candidates are now searching for either new positions or temporary ones to support themselves and their family.”
Talented employees need jobs; innovation-savvy companies need talent. The time to focus on hiring is now.
So, what can businesses do to make the most of the sudden talent rush? The answer depends on their individual needs. For some companies, it may be enough to simply ask company executives and HR leaders if there are any standout professionals that they wanted to headhunt over the last several years but, for whatever reason, couldn’t. With so much uncertainty in the market, those people may be open to pursuing new opportunities or simply looking for new employment at a more affordable rate.
If your business has been fortunate enough to grow during the pandemic, you may want to consider initializing a hiring push. Design a fully-remote interview process to make socially-distanced talent acquisition a breeze, and establish a task force to identify, screen, and reach high-potential candidates. Then, take a look at your current benefits offerings. Are they on-par with the rest of your industry? Do the perks you offer suit the needs and interests of a remote workforce? You may be able to retool your benefits packages to better suit top-tier talent.
Only through the innovation, adaptation, and dedication of their employees will companies persist through COVID-19. Companies have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win the war for talent -- the outcome will be determined by those who leverage it.