Walk the talk: align values, culture and purpose to attract and retain A-players

Tallinn, Estonia – The labour market in the Baltics is currently very active. The economy is growing, and companies are expanding or consolidating—leading to the creation of new structures, roles and responsibility areas. The FMCG sector is characterised—both in the Baltics and globally—by:
Increasing pursuit of innovation— by adopting new strategies across various divisions and channels, and also by boosting reputation to attract top talent to the management teams.
Searching for partnerships with players in different geographies, as well as developing specialized products to open new markets, reach new consumers and drive sales.
Implementation of technology to drive efficiency in all sectors, from production to customer experience and engagement.
In my work, I interview many top-level managers and work closely with company owners and board members in the FMCG industry. In this article, I’d like to share some key findings observing the expectations of both parties and market realities.  
One tendency I increasingly notice among candidates is that they are seeking jobs with meaning and purpose, and the right work-life balance. At management level, an attractive compensation package is no longer enough. Conversely, companies in the FMCG sector are seeking to hire top level candidates with diversified skills that will enable them to tackle current market challenges and leverage opportunities and are working hard to attract them—adding more vacation days, home office options and many other “soft benefits” onto attractive compensation packages. 
Is this enough to attract the A-players? What do they need, and what factors are important for them if they are to make a career change?
Companies are starting to realise, albeit very slowly, that for some time it has been an employee’s market, not an employer’s market. This means that an organisation needs to work on developing the right organisational culture, values and mission to attract the calibre of talent they want in their team. An average person is no longer sufficient, especially at the top level. The future of the company depends on top managers who have the ability to take a company to the next level, and a mediocre manager cannot do this. The image below demonstrates the impact of quality talent on business performance, especially at the senior level where the job becomes very complex.
There are several things that companies can do in order to recruit the type of talent they want and ensure productivity. 
Firstly, pay attention to the way a candidate’s values align with that of the organisation and its culture. In the current employee market where a desirable candidate may have several job offers, company values become one of the key differentiators that will enable the candidate to ultimately choose your offer over others. 
Secondly, give employees a sense of purpose, with meaningful and challenging problems to solve in order to pique their interest. Companies affect a wide base of stakeholders and have responsibilities extending beyond generating profit for the shareholders—this is demonstrated by trends such as consumer demand for transparency and authenticity that have appeared due to shareholder activists and industry startups/disruptors. Creating a culture that empowers employees will benefit your reputation and ability to attract high-potential talent. 
Thirdly, diversify your search. These days we see disruption everywhere in the FMCG sector, in business models, pricing models, distribution, consumer path to product, etc. What companies need to do is to cast a wider net and look at other industries, attracting talent that has fresh solutions and new ways of thinking. This will also give them an opportunity to see how other organisations position themselves to acquire the right type of talent. 
In my experience, one common mistake is to ruin the motivation of a potential new hire by waiting too long to give the candidate the final decision, stretching out the decision-making and showing that you are not that interested in them. This is no longer the employer’s market and a strong candidate will not wait for you when exciting challenges are waiting in the current workplace and elsewhere. You are not the only company competing for this candidate, especially if their current employer will lose out significantly by failing to retain them! What I have noticed is that when an employer shows interest in a candidate and goes through the decision-making process as quickly and transparently as possible, the candidate is likely to happily accept the offer, bringing the uncertainty to an end. As an employer, if you haven’t changed your mindset yet, you need to do this. 
The FMCG market is tough, especially in some specific categories where the market is not developing as expected, or where it is not always easy to grow the business in a profitable way.  It is a true pleasure to interview candidates and talk with business leaders whose eyes still sparkle despite very challenging and competitive market conditions. I am always pleased to hear them talk about opportunities, adapting their businesses to changed environment and having long term view on how to win in such market. Conversely, there are always those who complain how difficult things are. We do expect some consolidations and more challenges ahead, but how this reflects on your business is up to you. In every tough situation, there is always space to do business differently. It requires courage to take risks, and to hire people from outside your industry who have a different outlook on the business and can help you handle or eliminate the problems you are facing. From the perspective of candidates, it is also refreshing to seek opportunities and new challenges outside of their industry, as working in the same industry for years bears the risks of locking your mind out of identifying innovative ideas and opportunities. Industries are changing rapidly, and businesses are disrupted by the digital economy. In order to be innovative and know what to do next, both companies and candidates need to work harder and improve competencies. 
Nowadays, the top competencies that companies are looking for are: change management, proactiveness, courage to take risks, ability to identify opportunities—and innovation, innovation, innovation! 
The candidates who really make a difference are the ones who take challenges heads-on. In some cases, they are even ready to take a cut in their current income (provided that the reduced pay is still fair) because they really want the challenge and are not satisfied with the status quo. In such cases, it may be unwise for the current company to simply offer more money in order to retain talent considering a better offer. In a sense, you are already too late, and even if the candidate accepts your counter-offer and stays, they will not be entirely satisfied and will start looking around again within the next quarter or so. To reiterate what I said earlier, as a company you need to create a culture and conditions that will enable your managers to effectively deal with interesting challenges, so that they are not even tempted to leave. It is also important to  note that making a counter-offer to an employee a higher salary does not guarantee improved results—you have simply paid out more money with no reason to expect anything extra in return. At the stage where your employee is considering jumping ship, it’s probably best for both of you to accept this. The only thing left for you to do at this stage is to analyse why the person is leaving, in order to prevent similar talent losses in the future. Maintain a state of constant communication with your people to ensure that you both have the same level of expectations and can meet them. 
Today’s highly competitive and rapidly changing market environment makes it very challenging to achieve profitable growth. Companies therefore need to reconsider their strategies, especially when it comes to recruiting and retaining quality talent. Companies who win and get the best talent are able to put themselves in the candidates’ shoes in order to see the world from this perspective and create attractive offers. Top managers in the near future—and in some cases now—will require a diverse mix of technical, digital, soft and social skills. To capture the attention of such people and ensure efficient use of their talent once they are hired, companies will need to create the right strategies and processes. 

Kairi Raudmets is the Country Manager for Estonia at Pedersen & Partners. Ms. Raudmets brings to the firm more than two decades of in-depth functional sales and marketing expertise in the FMCG and Travel & Leisure industries. Prior to joining Pedersen & Partners, Ms. Raudmets spent 11 years with global food products manufacturer Mars – creating, recruiting, leading, and developing multicultural and often remote sales and marketing teams in the Baltics. She managed business in Estonia, drove customer and category management in the Baltics and contributed to the regional business growth as a member of the leadership team. Ms. Raudmets started as a Key Account Manager, was promoted to Country Sales Manager for Estonia and eventually became the Customer Marketing Manager for the Baltics. Her professional career began in the Travel & Leisure industry, where she held roles with travel services providers and an international hotel chain.

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