Competing for Talent

The economy has created a new set of rules. Agencies must raise productivity by hiring the most skilled and talented people they can find. Although there have been many layoffs in the past few years, talented people are in great demand. To attract the best, organizations must rethink their strategies to effectively recruit, motivate and retain committed employees in this highly competitive environment.  

Today's high-performing employees are looking for more than compensation packages and benefits. And they are not looking in the classifieds but are seeking out employers who provide outstanding work environments and continual learning and advancement opportunities. Studies have shown that employees and potential employees rank career development as their No. 1 priority. Feeling valued, open communication and a fun workplace are also key factors in their selection criteria.    

Knowing what makes your agency unique and communicating that effectively can help build a workforce that is energized and committed to achieving the organization's goals. Agencies that align their recruiting strategy with their brand identity are able to establish a clear picture of what sets them apart. This approach is a good way for smaller companies to compete for talent. 

Uniqueness will vary from agency to agency, so to determine yours, consider:

What do employees think? Make a list of selling points for job applicants. Solicit feedback from your employees. Why do they like working there? What makes them feel good about their job and the agency? What do they like about their manager? One way to identify positive points is to conduct an employee satisfaction survey to learn employees' perceptions of the agency, its values, work environment and management, strengths and weaknesses. From this feedback, employers can develop policies and retention programs to address turnover, recruiting issues and employees' concerns. 

How is the agency perceived in the community? Agencies which are seen as both community leaders and industry experts are more successful in attracting talent. Applicants form impressions about companies from various sources: the agency's support of various local and civic organizations and causes, its reputation in the industry, and its reputation as an employer.

The community and national causes your agency supports communicate a great deal about the values of the organization. The more your agency is "out there" as a successful business and in giving back to the community, the more likely you are to attract candidates who are a good fit with your organization's culture and values. If you send your employees out into the community to attend conferences, user groups or other meetings, they can spread the word that your agency is a great place to work. 

Why do people turn down job offers?  In some cases it is compensation, but in many cases it's the negative interview process. Agencies known for their ability to attract and hire good employees go to great lengths to maintain an upbeat, positive relationship with all applicants, even those not hired. They treat applicants like their customers, provide them with feedback in a timely manner, and are always recruiting (selling), even during the job interview. 

Company culture. Company culture can be defined as the unique pattern of expectations, beliefs, values and attitudes about the company. While largely invisible and rarely discussed formally, a culture's values affect employees' ability to raise issues, solve problems, act on new opportunities, move in new and creative directions and perform to their potential. Culture is the driving force of the organization because it largely determines how motivated, cooperative and productive people are able to be.

To attract, motivate and retain talented employees and gain the competitive advantage, you will want build upon these principles: 

  • Understand that the culture is set and managed by the leadership. Leaders’ behaviors demonstrate the values they want to encourage.
  • Involve people in decisions that affect them. Allow employees at all levels to actively analyze and solve their own workplace problems.
  • Make sure everyone knows how his or her work fits into the big picture. Make sure that people can personally identify with the agency's vision and mission.
  • Hold monthly meetings to provide updates on plans and new developments and to address employees’ questions and concerns.
  • Recognize and reward desired behavior with ceremonies, bonuses and promotions.  Make recognition very public and personal.
  • Initiate a "360 degree" performance evaluation with self-evaluations and self-goal setting.
  • Involve each person in job discussions so that their career development can fulfill more of their personal needs, interest and goals.
  • Involve employees who will work with the new employee in the selection process.


About the Author
Mark Shlien

Mark Shlien

Mark Shlien is president of iPeople LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based executive search and recruiting firm for insurance professionals, insurance agencies, bank-owned agencies, brokers and insurance carriers. He can be reached at 202-544-7675 or


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