With many businesses planning to increase their head count in the next 12 months, employees are finding themselves in the driver's seat with unprecedented leverage when it comes to how and where they want to work. For employers, this shift in power has caused a whole new set of challenges, compounded by a critical worker shortage. In fact, according to my workplace's most recent Vistage CEO Confidence Index, 62 percent of CEOs recently said hiring challenges are impacting their ability to operate at full capacity,

The rapid adoption of a flexible, hybrid work model because of the pandemic has meant a reexamination of what's needed to retain and attract talent. Leadership is operating without a playbook rather than leveraging best practices and proven strategies; it's no mystery why many CEOs are struggling to design the workforce they need.

There are some important factors that can make or break an organization when it comes to navigating these uncharted waters. In much the same way colleges recruit athletes, businesses need to design a smart strategy that appeals to current and prospective employees on multiple levels to be competitive. While the Vistage report found that 51 percent of organizations are refining recruitment strategies to boost their position in the talent wars, there are some vital steps all businesses should take right now, including:

Offer career trajectory and focus on leadership development

People are hungry for a career with meaning and purpose rather than just a job where they punch the clock. Half of the businesses surveyed are focusing on developing their existing workforce, which is vital since leadership development is the most under-invested, under-utilized aspect of both retention and company culture. These actions create opportunities to free up talent to take on more strategic, meaningful roles as they develop their careers.

Offer a robust compensation and benefits plan, beyond salary

Salary is certainly one of the most competitive advantages, and 79 percent of business leaders have recently increased salaries, while 22 percent are offering hiring bonuses, according to Vistage's report.

Still, other factors should be considered to up the ante. Stock ownership plans, spot bonuses, comp days, and additional perks can boost employee loyalty and are now expected to be part of the compensation package by many employees. Robust health insurance, tuition reimbursement, and skill-building opportunities are other benefits important to today's workers.

Embrace a unique culture from the top down

People want to feel they belong and are valued at work, which is where unique company culture comes in. The only way to create an authentic culture is to root it in a company's mission, vision, and values and bring it to life through leadership.

Offer flexibility to foster motivation

While many are looking forward to collaborating in person with colleagues again soon, more workers want flexibility through a hybrid approach to work. CEOs need to decide what will work for their employees and their company going forward.   

To compete in these new talent wars, however, CEOs must do more than design smart, competitive strategies for hiring. They must also accelerate their decision-making. The rapid human capital disruption that was ushered in by the pandemic has not slowed.

Vistage reports that 38 percent of CEOs believe that employees are leaving their organizations for higher salaries, and 18 percent believe they are seeking better career/development opportunities. To win today's talent wars, company leaders must focus on key decision areas--and be prepared to move fast.

Win before the war

It is vital that businesses not give employees reasons to leave. Make sure employees feel heard and valued. Continuously sell the benefits of being a part of your organization, and let them know where the company is going and how they are critical to getting there. Do not give them a reason to answer a recruiter's call or make a call of their own.

Choose your battles

Identify key employees and proactively engage and connect with them. Whether it's through salary increases and spot bonuses, or strategic investment in their career trajectory, identifying whom you want for the long term (and, as important, those you don't) will ensure the strongest workforce.

Expect some losses

People, including the ones you know you need, will leave. CEOs need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Many will need to give up some control and empower managers to make more decisions about how their direct reports will work. There is no playbook for the rapid change the business world has seen, but when executives trust their managers, better and faster decisions can often be made. 

The next 12 to 18 months will likely see as much trial and error as the past 18 months. No one is going to nail their hiring and retention strategy right out of the gate, but by being open to learning from challenges and working with managers, leaders can make better decisions and ultimately create a winning strategy.