Key Trends in Hiring and Retaining Talent

While many businesses have taken major hits due to the pandemic, one area seeing remarkable growth is e-commerce. Some e-commerce-only businesses are not only surviving but are thriving in these uncertain times, according to Mandy Gilbert, founder and CEO of Toronto-based Creative Niche.

Gilbert was recently featured in the Back to Business edition of YPO Presents, hosted by YPO CEO Scott Mordell. As part of the event, Gilbert shared insights on the post-pandemic business outlook and how she is navigating the road ahead. Her company provides talent acquisition and workforce management solutions to multinational corporations as well as major advertising, digital and public relations agencies. Gilbert is also a speaker, investor, author and YPO member.

Not yet “business as usual” in Canada

Gilbert sees Canada still in the “business continuity” stage with some indicators that the country is moving toward recovery – but with marked differences from before the pandemic, especially in talent acquisition. Some organizations have let go of their contract workforces while keeping full-time positions, but the majority have reduced their number of employees.

Gilbert expects to see a lot of, what she calls, “fractional freelance” and more strategic contract workforces going forward. She says that the pandemic has given senior leaders opportunities to reassess their leadership teams and in doing so, they have realized that they are not set up the way they need to be for whatever the future brings.

“We are seeing some strategic kind of restructuring happening at a senior level, bringing a different talent in and for different roles that will set them up for a more innovative and flexible culture and business environment,” she says. While the last few weeks have been marked by upticks in both full-time and freelance positions, it is far from a bounce back, she says.

A digital transformation

Many different sectors and companies have had to go through rapid digital transformation in order to sustain themselves. “There’s going to be a lot of growth area for consulting firms that have big digital arms that are focused in digital transformation,” says Gilbert. While companies have been using makeshift solutions in the short-term, they know that in the future, they’re going to have to reinvest, do deeper dives and make sure that their transformation plans have the kind of sustainability needed in such a volatile market, she says.

Talent acquisition: Embracing the gig economy

There has been a move toward more of a gig economy sooner than was anticipated, says Gilbert who expects to see entrepreneurs experiencing accelerated growth as well. Mobile business-to-consumer workforces are part of the future, she says. For example, instead of opening the practices they had before, hairstylists, chiropractors and swim instructors are going to go to the consumer, the consumer’s site, the consumer’s house. “We can expect to see mobile workforces and platforms that serve those offerings doing well in the future,” she says.

E-commerce in the spotlight

Gilbert says she is seeing huge growth in e-commerce with some of the more innovative businesses experiencing extreme growth. “They just can’t hire fast enough, and they’re building out their marketing team, their e-com team, and they’re killing it,” she says.

A lot of the companies she is seeing are purely e-commerce and have no desire to go out and build brick-and-mortar businesses. This is a trend she expects to continue. Where it used to just be a certain generation buying online, it is now multi-generational, and people are addicted to online shopping. “They’re getting served ads, and all they have to do is just click a button if they want something shipped to their house.”

“We can expect to see mobile workforces and platforms that serve those offerings doing well in the future.” Mandy Gilbert, Founder & CEO Creative Niche 

Back to work. Not exactly.

Gilbert anticipates a return to how things were being a challenge. She expects to see a significantly reduced workforce showing up because they are not financially motivated to do it. In addition, people are potentially putting themselves at risk. Companies would do well to survey their staff, says Gilbert.

“It’s an opportunity to understand why they’re not coming to work, because we might make the assumption that it’s because they’re making more money on a program versus the risk factor.” As a business leader, ask yourself what you can do by leveraging social media, communicating frequently  and using online tools to calm their worry and acknowledge it, but also to understand their realities. In some cases, people are taking care of their senior citizen loved ones, and they’re worried about that.

Accelerated learning opportunities for leaders

Gilbert sees one of the positives coming out of COVID-19 is accelerated learning opportunities. While no one has a crystal ball, Gilbert says she sees the future as blended, “where some things will normalize and go back to the way they were in some way, shape and form, and some things might stay, and there just might be some ongoing uncertainty in our future.”

One answer to this is “future-proofing” your business, says Gilbert. “It’s a great muscle to strengthen in order for your business to be sustainable, whether it be a huge pandemic that we’re facing, or if there is a Black Swan coming after your sector, whatever it might be.”

Many of the concerns and questions Gilbert has been hearing focus on what employment and talent acquisition will look like in the future. Should we move to 100% virtual if we can, or should we have a blended model, and what works for the business? Gilbert says there are risks that need to be considered in going or staying 100% virtual.

“At the end of the day, we’re humans, and if we want to attract great people and retain them, well, they’re going to go where they have a clearer vision for growth, feeling connectedness and being part of something that’s big and meaningful,” she says. For those companies that go all virtual, they are going to have to work very, very hard at replacing that human interaction, she says.

Advice to leaders

Number one, says Gilbert, is to reconnect with all of your key employees and “triage them, triage their engagement, their happiness.” When things finally pick up again, Gilbert expects to see a lot of PTSD and potentially people wanting a new start with a clean slate. So, for those key staff who you don’t want to lose no matter what, you need to have conversations with them, get them excited about their futures, align them with new goals, invest in their learning and development, do something creative to make them feel special and valued.

Leaders sometimes think they are the only ones carrying the pressure and weight, but in actuality, so are your teams, says Gilbert. “When this [crisis] is through, I would imagine we’re going to go back to a really active job market again and key performers, no matter what the economic climate is like, are always wanted.”

It has been a long few months, and leaders will also want to check themselves to make sure that they aren’t bringing stress and anxieties or blaming and shaming and pointing fingers. Instead, you want to make sure “you’re pulling people together and collaborating, and you’re doing that with empathy and compassion, and you’re getting people excited about their future within your company,” says Gilbert.

Hear more from Creative Niche CEO Mandy Gilbert, Chesterford Group CEO James Lipscombe and YPO CEO Scott Mordell about the challenges of getting back to business in a post-pandemic world. 

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