• Talent Management

Research between MU & RWTH Aachen: Talent Management Strategies in COVID-19 times

By Luke Robbins Matthias Loidold

During late 2020, the Leadership Advisory and Executive Search firm Mercuri Urval, in partnership with RWTH Aachen University undertook a qualitative study together. We investigated how organisations in the Chemical & Life Sciences industry implemented, reviewed, renewed or adapted their talent management strategies as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The aim was to recognise the impact of these strategies on talent retention or talent attraction. The main findings are listed in the following paragraphs.

The goal was to find out which strategies currently posed a greater risk, but also which ones may have proven to be positive or innovative instead.

A solid foundation is essential to  the development and success of any organization and can be accomplished through the effective and careful management of an organization’s human capital (Mupepi et al., 2017).

Of interest throughout the study was the difference of opinion around the availability of talent. Impressions of the candidate availability varied across the research with half of the respondents believing there was more readily available qualified talent than before the crisis and the other half indicating that they felt there was no increase in talent.

International travel was obviously eliminated, and in some cases, no local talent was available to fulfil required duties

Companies that were cost-cutting indicated an unwillingness to invest in any talent attraction or talent retention strategies and those companies that were willing, often faced challenged setting themselves up digitally.

Key findings around strategies used during the crisis:

Talent Attraction

Internal vs External talent attraction strategies remained largely unchanged despite slight adaptation. 

  • Companies continued to focus on the continuous development of employees with regard to future management positions.
  • Maintaining Employer Branding was a key priority for leadership attraction however strategies during the crisis shifted to the digital environment with a consistent and attractive image of the company as an employer on different channels presented.
  • Advertising mediums and frequency of advertisements remained largely unchanged.
  • Localisation caused the largest impact with travel restrictions in place resulting in organisations not having appropriate leaders or expertise in regions as required at times. Many organisations interviewed shifted future strategy to have more local talent on the ground or virtual solutions implemented. Recruitment strategy shifted to a regional approach in many cases.
  • Executive Search remained a favoured strategy especially across the senior management level to reach complex and rarely found talent depending on the perception of talent availability and financial resources.
  • Direct networking activities were highly favoured by all participants as the most cost-effective solution from leadership through to university graduates. Due to the crisis however, physical networking opportunities have been limited shifting entirely to digital social media platforms.

Talent Retention

  • Work-life balance was a key topic utilising a range of strategies as a result of the increase in remote working at short notice with a view to the implementation of long-term strategies. Introduction of ‘virtual coffee breaks’, mental health offerings and online sports programmes were also implemented.
  • Employer branding strategy was classified as being fundamentally important by the companies in terms of talent retention. The creation or maintenance of a sense of togetherness, employee empowerment and a corporate philosophy that employees can identify with was essential.
  • The strategy of Success Marketing was used in companies not only as a retention strategy but also as a non-monetary motivator for employees. Celebrating successes on a high scale and employee honours were increased, often utilising virtual town hall meetings. Some companies reported having internal reward systems to reward performance over tenure.
  • Many companies had implemented or were in progress to implement digital transformation strategies prior to the pandemic and those who had progressed further were at an advantage. A critical point was the selection of a good communication tool across all interviewees. It was recognised that digital transformation is not a finite topic that constantly requires evolution.
  • Compensation models were as yet, not recorded as being impacted by the crisis other than the introduction of non-monetary incentives.
  • Learning and Development strategies differed according to the respondents with some companies using the opportunity presented by ‘downtime’ to upskill and enhance the learning and development of their employees while those lacking digital capability found their learning and development programmes stagnated.
Corona functioned as an enabler and accelerator - Interview Partner

As a result, many of the respondents hypothesised that globalisation, as we knew it before COVID-19, will never be the same again. The companies that operate internationally indicated a desire to focus regionally in future. Many of the respondents are having great difficulty in ensuring international cooperation if they only retain employees in Europe.

In line with the assumptions, it became apparent that companies were not prepared for the crisis. With the exception of one respondent, the companies reacted adaptively to the situation and were as expected, moderately successful in their implementation.

The Chemical & Life Sciences sector was less affected by the pandemic than other sectors globally however it was determined that for future preparedness the key focus areas remain on remote working and digitalisation, the adaptation of strategies, employer branding, talent development and local recruitment strategies.

Would you like to know more about the details of this research? Contact Luke Robbins or Matthias Loidold.