HR Strategies Counter: A Tight Employment Market: The Employment Market Is as Tight as It Has Been in More Than a Decade. Key People Are Hard to Find, Tough to Attract and Difficult to Retain, Particularly If They Feel Under-Valued. in Difficult Employment Conditions Smart Human Resource Management Strategies Can Deliver Real Competitive Advantages

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Ask yourself, would you consider marketing a product or service in a competitive market place without a well-defined marketing strategy? Why then, would you consider employing and managing people in a tough employment market without an equally well-defined human resource strategy?

The simple answer, according to Christchurch-based Pivot director Philippa Youngman is, you wouldn't. "A well-conceived HR strategy is critical any time but particularly when the employment market is tight," she says. When organisations can't immediately source the individuals they need it is critical to keep "ideal" people and, if you do find the ones you want, "you need to understand what motivates them, what their value proposition is and how your organisation can deliver to that value proposition", adds Youngman.

Frances Tweedy and Cheryl Wright, partners in Auckland consultancy Human Resource Associates, agree. An effective HR strategy makes it more likely people will choose to join an organisation and then, when employees start checking their future options, they stay because the organisation meets their needs, they add.

Good HR strategies focus on five key elements according to Tweedy and Wright. They include:

* Aligning the strategy with the mission, purpose and strategic aims of the organisation;

* Ensuring that the strategy supports and helps people live the organisational values through appropriate and timely education, feedback and rewards. This creates and sustains the organisation's desired culture;

* Focusing on high performance by defining the capabilities associated with it, setting expectations that people will perform and recognising and rewarding high performance. Don't reward mediocrity or tolerate sub-standard performance;

* Defining and targeting identified talent groups and developing tactics to attract and retain people with critical skills, knowledge and attitudes;

* Fostering team members within an overall organisation development plan that provides for individual growth across the organisation without having to climb a stepped hierarchy.

Youngman suggests good HR strategies also identify the financial and business indicators that measure the effectiveness of the strategy. "There must be a clear link between business success and the people activities of the organisation," she says. "HR [management] is not about just putting people in seats and paying them what the organisation can afford."

According to Tweedy and Wright, strategy alignment ensures the people component implicit in the mission, purpose and strategic aims of the organisation is both visible and considered. It also ensures consistency in the way the organisation tries to achieve results by effectively enabling people to "participate and contribute".

And values are important because they define the acceptable behaviour to create a culture that supports achievement. "The more aligned an individual's personal values are with the organisation's values, the more likely it is that they will be satisfied with their job," they explain.

Focusing on high performance rather than mediocrity enables the required key competencies to be established within the desired culture. And the way in which people are recognised and rewarded with an emphasis on expecting high performance should be consistent with the culture. The way this is developed should appeal to the people who are key to the organisation's success.

In a tight labour market organisations must be clear about the needs of the talent group and HR strategies establish policies and practices that appeal to this group. For example, in targeting young and mobile people there might be specific provisions that focus on allowing overseas experience and extended leave secondments, suggests Tweedy. Another example is a strategy to retain older employees who are sandwiched between teenage children and elderly parents enabling flexibility of working hours or opportunities to work from home. …

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