HUMAN RESOURCES: Staffing strategies for uncertain times

Good news: The recession has officially been over for 10 months in Canada and the economy is growing again. Bad news: There are still serious threats to the economic recovery (the European credit crunch and rising Canadian interest rates, for example) and there remains great uncertainty that the recovery will continue along smoothly.

Despite these uncertain times, many companies are in a position to hire again, filling the ranks of those previously let go or adding new team members to complete new projects. What is the best staffing strategy to follow in these turbulent times? Do a lot of hiring now while there is still top talent up for grabs, hire just a few people or keep things on hold to see where the economy goes? Here’s a toolbox of tactics to deploy based on your unique situation.

1) Reward the survivors with cold, hard cash: With many employers forced to cut back on benefits and freeze wages during the recession, as things slowly pick up, it is time to reward the survivors. These are the people who did not get laid off and took on the tasks of those let go to pick up the slack. With inflation at a mere 1% to 2% right now, consider pay increases for your stellar survivors in the range of 3% to 5%. On average, with a merit increase budget of 3%, you can give a small handful of high achievers an increase of 4% to 5%, while most get 3% and the underperformers get 0% to 2%. This gesture will tell your most valuable team members that you value them, you recognize that they stepped up to the plate during hard times and that good times are coming back. It might also assist in retaining people as other employers start to hire and try to lure away your stars.

2) Assess your needs: As always, good workforce planning is critical to determine how many people you need to hire in the next three, six or 12 months. To determine your hiring demand, look to sales forecasts, revenue targets, goals, objectives and business needs generated by new account activity. Warning: Be realistic! While it is tempting to hire more staff now since there is still good talent available, if you over-hire, you may be letting people go again if things drop. While this is negative for those just hired, it is also demoralizing for the ???survivors??? to have to live through another round of layoffs.

3) Cautious optimism: With a positive sales forecast in place that you are confident of, it may be best to take a cautious approach. This hybrid strategy involves doing limited hiring and increasing pay for the survivors who are likely getting tired and deserving of a ???thank you.??? This hybrid strategy also requires smart internal communication to both existing and new employees. The message needs to be positive (???We are looking good, feeling confident in our recovery???) but firm (???We must still make every effort to control costs and work smarter???). This approach to communication reinforces the good while making sure staff continue to run a tight ship. A good format to deliver this kind of message is a town-hall meeting that will give your staff the opportunity to ask questions face to face. Remember, you can’t build trust using e-mail.

4) Get the word out: During the recession, many people who were employed in stable positions stayed put. During a recession is not the time to move to a new role when you do not know the new company’s track record. People who were afraid to look for new opportunities during the recession are now starting to look again. To get their attention, you need to get the word out. Have you landed a new key account, are you expanding into a new market, or are your sales increasing? Using blogs, press releases or other media, get the word out that you are expanding and hiring again. You want potential applicants to feel the buzz, know that you are in growth mode again and that you will be a stable opportunity for them to consider making a move.

5) Fill the pipeline: In past columns I have used the term ???bringing potential hires into your orbit??? so your talent pipeline is full when you need to hire. This task is more important than ever during recovery periods. With a cautiously optimistic approach to hiring in place and now that you have the word out, people will start to inquire about opportunities. Of course, for immediate vacancies, job postings on your website can do the trick. Another job advertising approach is to create ???Expressions of Interest??? (EOIs). EOIs allow you to say, ???Due to expansion into new markets, over the next three to six months we will be expanding our sales team. We are currently seeking expressions of interest from candidates who are looking to make an exciting career move in the coming months.??? EOIs tell job seekers you are serious about your growth but you are playing it smart, which builds respect and trust. With your EOIs posted on your website or blog, you will begin testing the waters, see who is still available in the labour pool and begin to build your pipeline of talent so that when that big order comes in sooner than planned, you already have a talent pool to draw from.

Derek Gagn? is president of Vancouver-based Talent Edge Solutions, which helps clients develop integrated talent and knowledge management strategies to retain and increase the performance of top talent. His column on human resources appears exclusively in PROFIT-Xtra.