Focus: People Management - How to... improve staff recruitment and retention

It's a competitive job market out there, so finding and keeping staff can be a tricky task. Amanda Tincknell has some guidelines.

Amanda Tincknell is chief executive of the Cranfield Trust (www.cranfield trust.org), which provides free consultancy to the voluntary sector through commercial sector volunteers. This article draws on recent case work.

Recruitment and retention of key staff can be a time-consuming and expensive problem, making operations difficult to maintain.

It's hard to tackle the symptoms without understanding the root causes.

Carrying out a study of your existing staff should allow you to understand the reasons why people enjoy - or don't enjoy - working for your organisation.

A study such as this will raise problems, but it's an opportunity to consult your staff and take steps to retain them.

Understand your existing staff and what works for them: they may value longer holidays rather than pay increases, or working unusual hours to fit in family and other commitments. Carry out exit interviews and use the recruitment process to capture information on why people are attracted to working for you. Don't do the study once only - set up a regular consultation process.

Build on the information you have to put in place a recruitment process that emphasises the factors your staff value - use these to differentiate your organisation.

CASE STUDY 1: IMPROVING COMMUNICATION

A mental health charity employing more than 1,500 staff nationally faced strong competition for the small pool of staff with the qualifications it requires. After a staff survey, issues were addressed, a regular feedback programme was set up, and work was carried out on the organisation's recruitment communications to emphasise its values and flexibility as an employer.

All vacancies are now advertised internally on the intranet and in the house magazine, and an incentive scheme for staff in areas of high turnover has been introduced.

CASE STUDY 2: INDUCTION AND NETWORKING

A large, multi-site organisation supporting people with learning disabilities and with a regional structure recruits about 250 new staff every year.

It realised that its recruitment and induction procedures varied from site to site and undertook an evaluation.

The organisation put together tailored induction programmes for different roles. People joining the organisation reported a clear picture of their relationship to overall activities, plus good communication and networking amongst 'communities' of similar job-holders, allowing them to share information.

- This article is intended as a guide and is not a substitute for specific professional advice. The Cranfield Trust is not responsible for errors or omissions.

FIVE STEPS TO REDUCING STAFF TURNOVER

- Plan recruitment carefully. It may be time to review job specifications.

THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT YOUR PERSON SPECIFICATION

- Be creative in publicising the job, especially internally and by using your existing staff as a network. Perhaps you need an incentive scheme

- Decide what recruitment process you will use - most people use interviews, which are known to be poor predictors of future performance. Set a framework for the interview process and stick to it. Make sure interviewees get a good picture of how you work. More than one person should interview the candidates

- Check you have sufficient information on candidates to allow you to judge their suitability. Check qualifications and be clear on what references are required

- Good induction gets new staff up and running quickly and can reduce staff turnover (up to a fifth of staff leave within six months). Different jobs will need different induction activities - don't assume that everyone can go through the same process.

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