Expert Insights

Total attraction – business buzzword or clarity at last?

As companies compete to attract the brightest talent with specialist skills, is it time to take ‘total attraction’ seriously? Having helped shape the attraction strategies of many bluechip companies, Dan Atkinson argues the case.

Back in the 1990s, management consultants McKinsey & Company published a widely read paper called The War for Talent. The phrase became a buzzword for the recruitment industry, as senior leaders battled it out to attract the best executives.

While there’s still a battle for hotshot boardroom players today, many companies are finding it increasingly difficult to attract a wider range of employees, many with specialist skills in areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Faced with this challenge, businesses are having to up their game in the recruitment stakes: it’s no longer just about offering the best pay and promotion prospects, it’s about total attraction.

Developing your culture

“Organisations competing for the most in-demand workers need to regard attraction, retention and optimisation as central to their business model,” says Dan Atkinson, founder of HR research company Accite. “Total attraction is about joining together all those aspects that make your company attractive to work for. It’s about creating and promoting the right culture.”

He says it can be built of many elements, which could include:

  • Having clearly defined values
  • Having a well-defined employer brand
  • Celebrating the success of your people and organisation, even in tough times
  • Communicating the success of the organisation both internally and externally
  • An effective and rewarding appraisal system
  • An effectively managed employee-referral system
  • Regular team events, social activities and charity events
  • Carrying out and acting on employee surveys
  • Offering flexible working hours
  • Offering little extras such as free fresh fruit in the office

“Lots of companies are doing things like these already, but the key is to have a coherent strategy that’s embedded into the fabric of your organisation,” adds Dan.

Joined-up thinking

“The biggest mistakes I see are companies launching individual initiatives that fizzle out. Perhaps middle management changes or there isn’t the impetus from higher up to keep them going. This can be really damaging. For instance a company might start a referral system, but then someone gets treated badly or they never hear from the company again. This leaves a bad impression on the employee who referred their friend and the person who went through the application process.

Ultimately, what you want are employees who are enthused and engaged, and to project an environment – through PR, your website, social media etc – that’s aspirational to outside talent.

“Ultimately, what you want are employees who are enthused and engaged, and to project an environment – through PR, your website, social media etc – that’s aspirational to outside talent.

“When companies want to move towards total attraction it’s very important to listen to staff, carry out focus groups and one-on-one interviews. Talk to the people you want to hire – what’s their perception of you? Give them feedback, leave them with a great impression of you, even if you don’t hire them. In today’s world with so much social media, you need a pool of brand ambassadors to endorse you.”

Employee driven

But is setting all this up time-consuming? “It shouldn’t be all HR who do this,” he adds. “Get employees involved. We’re seeing more and more companies with ‘culture committees’; employees who organise social events and other activities and drive this stuff. Creating a better culture where people feel appreciated and treated well doesn’t have to be expensive.

“Companies can’t just expect people to be happy to be offered a job. After all, why should sought-after talent with the pick of companies choose to spend most of their waking life sitting in your business? You have to offer the total package.”

A total attraction strategy allows you to:

  • Create a positive, engaged and aspirational environment
  • Maintain the culture and attractiveness of your organisation
  • Compete effectively for the brightest talent

Dan Atkinson

Dan Atkinson has worked in global talent attraction since 1996. His knowledge, insight and intelligence has helped informed the attraction strategies of companies including Shell, BP, Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group and DHL.

Williams Bain

Williams Bain is an exclusive hybrid interim and change management provider. We’re trusted by some of the UK’s largest organisations to support the implementation of complex strategies that accelerate results and lead to definitive, positive and measurable change.