If there’s one issue that organizations today can agree is universally troubling, it is this: that good talent is hard to find and even harder to keep. The war on talent is intensifying and in the US today, there are approximately one million more open jobs than unemployed workers. Low unemployment and growing demand for skilled labor have created a labor market that favors the employee – candidates can shop around, choose an attractive position, and leave with little risk if the job doesn’t deliver on expectations.

Organizations that are truly successful today aren’t just finding people to fill roles and hoping they hang around. They understand that a superior talent strategy is at the heart of a successful business strategy. It requires finding the right people, in the right places, speaking to them in the right language, and creating the right culture. This “rightness” requires more effort than traditional hiring and staffing strategies, but it creates a talent mix that is stronger, longer-lasting, and is better equipped to contribute to organizational goals and success.

Many companies have embraced 21st-century business practices in technology, communication, production and beyond. So why are most still using an old-fashioned mentality and techniques to source their most important resource?

We believe effort in this area can create monumental changes, changes that no process improvement or investment or amount of strategizing can match in terms of impact. When commitment and focus are put toward creating a superior talent strategy and the right people begin to come on board, it permeates every aspect of an organization and pays incredible dividends.

There are four major stages to a superior talent strategy.

Establish the requirements for growth.

The first step in creating the right talent mix is to review organizational objectives and get a good understanding of the skills and experience required to deliver growth and execute the business strategy. Do you desire moving into a new territory but lack salespeople with regional or cultural sensitivities to the area? Are you sitting on a step-change product innovation because you lack the technical expertise to realize the vision? “Do get clear on what you need for tomorrow and then worry about where you find it and how you assess it,” says Jane Bilcock, ArchPoint practice leader in People & Change and managing director in Europe. “A gap analysis can be incredibly helpful at this stage. Establish where you want to go, where you are currently, and then identify the skills and experience required to go from here to there.”

Don’t get tripped up on roles at this point as they are currently defined. You may end up creating new roles or eliminating some based on the output of this exercise.

“There are more generations of people in the workplace today and leaders can capitalize on this diversity in attitude and motivation,” offers Jane. Team leaders and managers often view generational diversity as a hindrance, but this is short-sighted. It is undoubtedly easier to lead people who are similar. But innovation, better decision-making, and increased perspective happens when teams of different individuals come together. The greater the diversity of a team, the larger the pool of strengths that can be accessed.

When assessing your current talent mix, the most valuable attribute current employees can possess is learning agility. We aren’t saying that competency, skills, and experience are unimportant. But the ability to navigate change, acquire new skills, and show a consistent record of rising to a challenge is unparalleled in its value to an organization. Learning agility is the super-skill of all skills, and individuals that have it should be taken into consideration in the development of this upgraded talent mix.

“People’s definition of the best talent has really altered because of the exponential weight and scope of change. It’s a danger to neglect learning agility as a required skill because you may end up with someone who can do the job today but can’t do it tomorrow,” says Jane. “If you don’t hire for learning agility, you are leaving it up to your processes or happenstance to bring it out in people.” When searching for learning agility in new hires, a good old-fashioned interview can be structured in a way to show learning agility. Ask about a time the candidate solved a problem, handled a crisis, and proceeded with a task they weren’t 100% sure how to accomplish.

Create a culture where people want to work.

There are things that universally resonate with people as attractive when choosing a workplace. Recognition, supportive leadership, fair compensation, opportunities for growth – these are the requirements for creating an offering that attracts and retains great people and is the baseline for positive company culture.

For a more targeted approach, organizations can utilize an Employee Value Proposition (EVP) – a set of benefits employees receive in return for what they provide an organization. Your people give their time, effort, skills and experience to you every day. Besides compensation, what do they get in return?

“Do cool things that matter.” For Google, the EVP is in allowing employees to face and solve uniquely complex challenges with tangible impacts. They manage every aspect of the work experience to ensure people both perform to their standards and enjoy their work. Google even goes so far to offer software engineers 20% free time to work on projects they choose, which the company has found promotes innovation. “If your company appreciates the greater value of working for more than pay and benefits, you will be more effective in attracting sought-after talent that aligns with your company’s values and culture,” says Cindy Strohm, ArchPoint partner and former HR strategic partner for Transamerica.

It’s inevitable that an EVP will not resonate with everyone in an organization so in EVP development, remember to focus on what will attract people to the roles that matter most. If excellent customer service is highly important for example, an EVP that talks about creating connections with people, solving problems, and making a difference will help to home in on the people with the skills that will make the most impact.

An EVP can work for organizations, but the most important thing to remember is to be clear on your organizational purpose. “Nobody is excited about making trainers, but Adidas employees are excited about inventing the future of sports. It’s really about a purpose and that’s so much more than just an EVP,” says Jane.

The organizational purpose and actual company culture must align for the retention and attraction of new candidates. “Leaders should always ask themselves if the external brand and image projected externally is reflected in the culture. If this message is in conflict, challenges in attracting talent will persist,” says Kris Breuer, ArchPoint practice area leader in People & Change and former SVP of HR for Dollar Tree, Inc. “If what the employee buys is different once they cross your lease-line, word-of-mouth and social media will have a strong message of warning for other potential candidates.”

Meet potential candidates where they are.

Once your desired mix is established, start seeking out potential candidates. Meet them where they are, considering the diverse mediums used based on demographic differences. Which candidates will use LinkedIn to find job openings? Which ones will use job boards? LinkedIn recently published a Talent Solutions report that found 70% of the global workforce are not actively looking for new jobs but are open to new opportunities. For recruiters, this means continuous efforts in building an “employer brand,” derivative of the company culture, purpose, and EVP.

There has been incredible innovation in the field of artificial intelligence recruitment technology in the past few years. McDonald’s recently announced it would accept job applications using Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, in an attempt to provide young people a way to apply for jobs using a familiar platform. A candidate can initiate the process by answering a few basic questions out loud and then receive a text with a link to complete the application online. Resume screening software company, Ideal, filters resumes and grades potential candidates on an A-D scale. Considering that recruiters spend 23 hours on average screening resumes for a position and incur human biases in the selection process, proponents of AI-assisted recruiting argue the use of the technology helps organizers hire faster with greater results. The use of technology in this capacity can be a tough pill to swallow because it removes some of the human aspects of finding great people, but it is a field that is quickly gaining momentum.

Successful companies recognize the impact of engaging the entire organization in the commitment to attract top talent, and it’s more than just a cultural impact. Employee referrals were rated above all other methods for generating the best ROI in a survey by CareerBuilder. Recruiter.com reported that referral programs can save companies $3K or more per hire. But truly innovative referral programs go beyond just recommending potential candidates. They can involve setting department or position-specific talent strategies with managers and employees and incentivizing goals being met.

Salesforce is well-known for building an incredible employee brand. In addition to supporting their EVP with paid volunteer time and mindfulness rooms, the company has paid approximately $5.5M in referral bonuses to their employees. Their unique referral program organizes “Recruitment Happy Hours” where employees invite the friends and colleagues they would like to refer, providing an opportunity for recruiters to meet candidates and enjoy making connections in a relaxed environment over a few cocktails.

Properly assess candidates for fit.

Fit is the most important element for recruiters to consider in potential candidates. Can this person contribute to and thrive in our organization?

Hiring for values fit leads to lower turnover and a stronger culture. Hiring for fit also requires a clear definition and representation of the culture and organizational purpose, and recruiters should be able to articulate and accurately represent these to potential candidates. Perspective on potential candidates can and should be gotten from multiple angles – hard data from standardized assessments, recruiter experience, and the opinion of other key team members who have a good understanding of what it takes to fit into the organization.

There are various ways to assess candidates for values fit, one being standardized assessments. “I applied for a job at a very busy, trendy clothing store out of college. After my interview, they said they liked me, but that I had to pass a standardized assessment as a final step before hiring. The test was more about what I wanted out of my work and how I felt about fashion than my previous experience or personality traits. They didn’t want someone coming in and messing up the ‘mo-jo’ of the store, despite my fashion degree and experience in retail,” says Blaze Petersen, ArchPoint consultant. “It led to a really positive work environment, one where I stayed for a while.”

There are many standardized pre-employment assessments in the market. We have also seen clients have success with assessments developed in-house. We assisted one particular client in building a behavior-based interviewing tool for assessing prospective candidates and current employees for desired behaviors, including learning agility. The client identified four competencies that were inherent to employee and company success, and we developed questions that would elicit whether candidates had aptitude in those competencies. Hosting potential candidates in-office, spending time with them outside the office, and following through on reference checks are other ways to assess fit.

It’s important to remember that assessing for fit does not mean building a homogeneous workforce. Values fit is different from culture fit, which has fallen out of favor with companies over the past few years as organizations strive for diversity and inclusion. Culture fit naturally is biased toward a certain type of worker, even if it unconsciously so. Values fit gets to the root of what motivates a person, and why they will want to wake up every morning and go to work for you.