Growing demand ignites new talent war

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I hear it everywhere. And it hasn't been this loud in awhile.

From the latest surveys, people I meet at conferences, other recruiters, from corporate hiring officers at catalog, online, retail and business-to-business merchants, I'm being told what you already know: It's increasingly difficult to recruit highly qualified individuals to fill key positions. I'm talking mostly leadership roles - senior level, managerial positions - but the problem exists at lower levels as well.

Multichannel retailers are finding it hard filling key positions in nearly every functional area: general management, merchandising, marketing, e-commerce, IT, operations. Along with cutting costs without reducing offerings and services, finding first-rate, experienced talent has become a top management issue.

You know how tough it is to recruit people when the economy and job market are going well. And retaining top employees is difficult, too. However, you also should be aware of some trends that could test your leadership even more, in good times or bad. If these seven issues don't concern you now, they probably will later:

• You need a large employee and executive pool. Driving any multichannel retail business forward requires attracting and retaining the highest quality talent.

• If quality people won't come to you, then go to them. Many technology-related firms move their businesses to where the brainpower is. Yes, it's hard for Blair to get people to move to remote Warren, PA, population 10,000.

• It's not only harder, it's taking longer. The average executive search takes at least 180 days, from a previous time of 90 days. A recent CEO search that we did for a midsize catalog and Internet retailer took us nearly eight months. This, after an offer turned down by the first selected candidate, relaunching the search and discussions involving family relocation with the second chosen candidate.

• Work force shrinkage. College-educated young people are leaving high-cost-of-living areas because they can't afford housing there. But they're also unwilling to move to out-of-the-way, culture-starved towns, either.

• Competition. It's not just from other multichannel retailers. The competition for experienced, talented people has grown so intense that many companies in different industries are competing for the same people you are.

• Hire right the first time. Clarify your organization's values, crystallize its vision, identify its mission and define your talent needs. Late management guru Peter Drucker estimated that two-thirds of employee hiring decisions end up being mistakes.

• Retain the best, reduce turnover. Always work to create a positive, welcoming, inclusive work environment and culture. Promote from within. Offer competitive salaries, bonuses and perks.

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