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What do Burger King and Microsoft have in common?

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Microsoft and Burger King are very different companies. One a software giant, the other a fast food giant. But they both have a common HR problem.

Skilled workers - recruiting them, keeping them - is the issue that stays close to the top in the minds of executives at both of these companies. The shortage of quality people in the technology sector is well known globally. But becoming increasingly apparent, globally, is the belief that the shortage of quality people affects a far wider range of industries. It isn't necessarily that people don't have skills, but in a variation of a famous Eric Morcambe quote, they don't always have the right skills in the right combination.

"Well, OK, just make do with the best you can get." I hear you say. No! It's not that simple. Recruiting the wrong people affects the business - bigtime. Costs escalate because of increased errors or wrong decisions. Less initiatives are taken, and of those that are, more of them fail. Profits are affected and cash throughput suffers.

Wider implications follow, from poorer quality working relationships, negative working environments and sin of sins... more dissatisfied customers.

So what's the answer? Better pay scales? higher incomes available? Maybe, but it's unlikely to be the whole answer. Organisations need to address the needs of individuals in terms of current comfort, happiness and security.

Increasingly the correct balancing of those items - pay, comfort, happiness and security are going to be the central tenet of the package to both recruit and retain essential staff. Comfort and happiness may sound like nebulous things, and security in today's business world may seem a joke, but it is possible for comfort and happiness to come from personal growth and and a positive workplace and there is certainly a degree of assuredness and security experienced by an employee who has an idea of where their activities and developments are taking them.

One recent publication suggested the following possible ideas for HR Managers to consider:

Identify the top fifth of employees in your organisation and without abandoning the rest of the workforce give special attention for retention of the to 20%.

Regularly review management practices to ensure that workloads for key staff are both realistic and rewarding.

Keep upto date with the expectations of scarce talent. If you're not meeting their expectations somebody else will.

Examine incentive schemes linked to the work of the individual rather than across the organisation.

Develop recognised mentoring for scarce talent, but review the mentoring activities also.

Stock options - the golden handcuffs - can be a useful support, but it can also be a disincentive. Use stock options with care recognising that key people may well want an investment in the business to gain higher 'work ownership', but they may also see it as deferred pay which should be paid sooner!

Don't get hung up about introducing unusual benefits which help the feel good factor. Casual dress, flexitime, bright surroundings, good drinks faclities (forget the cheap coffee!), and even ideas such as the office pool table and the networked computer games only recognise the reality that people work better if they have short breaks at work to turn-off for a while.

Competition for work talent is going to 'hot-up' in many workplaces, Microsoft and Burger King are not alone. Start addressing your talent retention strategies soon or examine your closure plans.

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