Ask any CEO about the key to staying competitive and talent will undoubtedly rank high on the list. But attracting and retaining the best workers is a moving target. That's according to Josh Bersin, principal at Deloitte Consulting, who recently surveyed more than 3,000 people in a variety of industries about challenges they're seeing in the labor market, HR technology, employee engagement and work-life balance. Here's a handful of questions you need to ask yourself if you want to attract and retain the smartest and most capable employees in 2015 and beyond.

1. What can you do differently to foster employee engagement?

A vast majority of survey respondents--87 percent--said getting employees to feel committed and motivated to contribute to an organization's success is their top issue. One big factor: Technology has changed the ethos of work so that people can always be reachable. "People work in very cross-functional teams. They have e-mails flooding their inboxes all day. They work at night. They work at home," he says. So, considering more than half of the workforce is younger than 35--an "always-on" population that wants fast career development--what can you be doing to mitigate burnout?

2. Are you grooming younger employees for leadership?

For the third year in a row survey respondents overwhelmingly expressed dissatisfaction with the capability of company leadership, indicating that their companies have not invested enough in building a strong pipeline of leaders. For one thing, doing so often involves hand-crafted training that's specific to an organization. In addition, molding leaders who understand global issues is another weak point for many companies. "What companies are finding right now is they need to train leaders through global experiences so they can deal with global issues, feel comfortable in global cultures and can deal with people in different countries," he says. "That's very big and only 8 percent of companies felt that they were good at that."

3. How can you use technology to fast-track your training?

In a world where sites like Khan Academy and YouTube let anyone learn anything in minutes, why does the business world insist on using a sloth-like approach to training and development? It's a major point of dissatisfaction with employees and leadership alike, this year jumping from eighth on Deloitte's survey to third. "One of the biggest drivers of engagement is having a job in which you will be better in your career when you leave than you were when you started," he says. "If the company doesn't have some sort of infrastructure and a good solution and a good environment for that, then it doesn't happen."

4. How can you re-skill your HR employees?

All these issues--employee engagement, the grooming of leadership and training--are issues that could evaporate if your HR function was at the top of its game. In Deloitte's survey, HR employees gave themselves an average rating of a C-minus, with non-HR employees rating them at a D. "In the companies I'm talking to, 30-40 percent of the new heads of HR are not coming from HR, they're coming from business," he says. "Innovative companies are doing things that are not out of the book. They have creative new ideas on how to manage people, develop a flexible work environment, have more fun and create a more dynamic experience in the office."

5. How much will you let younger workers shake things up?

Now that half of the workforce is made up of Millennials, the way companies are run will undoubtedly change because these workers are unlike the generations that preceded them. For one thing, they want to do work that matters in flat organizations wherein their bosses treat them as equals. Ideally, more of these younger people will become HR leaders. "They are more likely to propose radical new ideas like putting compensation plans online or sharing goals and feedback online, ideas which may seem a bit bold but ultimately improve transparency and alignment," he says. "Rather than have people in their 50s learn to think like people in their 20s and 30s, let's bring young people into the decision process and let them help us design new management and HR strategies."

Published on: Apr 29, 2015