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How private companies can gain an edge in the war for talent

Paul Hendrikse GTA Leader, PwC Canada 11 January, 2022

A workplace culture that helps employees feel connected to their company, its purpose and one another is a key part of the solution.

The escalating competition for skilled and experienced employees is a challenge facing organizations of all sizes across the country. But as this war for talent intensifies, Canada’s private companies can use their agility and other intrinsic assets to gain an advantage in attracting and retaining high-calibre individuals.

Filling key roles with qualified individuals has been a particularly acute concern for many organizations in recent months. After navigating the pandemic’s turbulence, a wave of senior leaders are opting to retire earlier than expected. This is upending the succession plans of many businesses, leaving them without the necessary people to advance the organization’s strategies.

Tackling this challenge requires retaining and elevating top-performing employees from within your organization as well as attracting high-calibre external talent. In both cases, fostering a workplace culture that helps employees feel connected to their company, its purpose and one another is a key part of the solution—and an area that plays to the inherent strengths of private businesses.

Connecting work with purpose

Many entrepreneurs, family business owners and other private company leaders are uniquely motivated in their work and driven by a sense of purpose. In a tight labour market, this is a distinct advantage.

We’ve seen that a large majority of people want to perform work that matters. In PwC’s Hopes and Fears 2021 global survey, 75% of respondents said they want to work for an organization that makes a positive contribution to society. And this isn’t just about attracting younger talent—it’s an issue that matters across generations.

Private companies are well-positioned to instill a shared sense of purpose in their employees and show them why their work matters. With less hierarchy to navigate, senior leaders can authentically communicate with employees at different levels of their business and help them understand the contributions they are making to their organization, clients and other stakeholders.

Culture as a differentiator

If purpose is what guides the direction of an organization, its culture—those common behaviours, traits and enablers—is what powers its journey. Both are powerful tools in attracting and retaining the right employees and are assets that often favour smaller organizations.

In our recent Global Culture Survey 2021—Canadian outlook, 63% of respondents working at companies with fewer than 1,000 employees said their organization has a distinctive culture that sets them apart from competitors. But that figure drops to 46% among larger organizations.

To help make this work to their benefit, it’s often beneficial for leaders of private businesses to reflect on the culture they’d like to foster within their organization. This can involve asking yourself questions such as:

  • what do I want my culture to be?
  • how do I want my employees to feel when they're working?
  • am I engaging and energizing staff to work and lead in new ways?
  • does our organization foster employee-led innovation?

An important follow-up step is to ask the same questions to employees within your organization to understand their perspectives as well as find areas of overlap and divergence. This exercise can build trust within your organization and identify elements of your organization’s culture that could stand to evolve, be elevated or de-emphasized. Using their nimbleness to their advantage, private companies can experiment with new initiatives and react quickly to their evolving workforce priorities.

Turning challenges into opportunities

It’s not uncommon for leaders of private businesses to perceive they’re at a disadvantage on some fronts when competing for top talent. But behind many of these challenges are opportunities for private firms to use their agility to gain a competitive edge.

It’s true, for example, that some private businesses may not have the same instant brand recognition of a large multinational firm among prospective job applicants. But they’re often more firmly established in the communities in which they operate. Local sponsorships, regional marketing campaigns and other outreach activities can—when executed successfully—establish meaningful connections with prospective candidates and be a powerful employee attraction tool.

Similarly, it doesn’t take a multimillion-dollar training budget to foster a development culture that embraces everyday innovation. With the right digital upskilling strategy, private companies can empower their people to obtain the knowledge and skills needed for new and transformed roles—as well as gain a differentiated employee experience.

Building a more sustainable business

Armed with these competitive advantages in the war for talent, leaders of private companies have an opportunity to create the foundation of a more sustainable organization.

Success isn’t just about attracting high-quality candidates or staffing key roles with the right people. Businesses with the right workforce strategy will ultimately find themselves with a diverse leadership team armed with a range of professional experiences, both from within and outside the organization. They’ll look at the business in different ways, keenly understand its risks, identify opportunities and ultimately execute its strategic priorities from a position of strength.

Interested in discussing your brand strategies, approach to digital upskilling or how you can build your workforce of the future? Reach out to start a conversation.

Contact us

Sabrina Fitzgerald

Sabrina Fitzgerald

National Private Leader and National Capital Region Leader, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 613 755 5904

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