January 14, 2022 – The upheaval that began on March 11, 2020, resulted in dramatic ripple effects in all industries – including, of course, those that ensure a safe, secure and abundant food system. Supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, implementation of safety equipment and protocols, and stay-at-home orders upended standard operating procedures and forced on-the-spot decision making, according to a new report by Kincannon & Reed. Endless Zoom calls, dealing with on-edge customers and consumers, and helping teams simply manage life through it all – fear, confusion, anger, frustration – made for an environment that business leaders have never seen before. It’s enough to make a person throw in the towel. And many have.
At every level of business, talented employees are self-reflecting, reassessing their priorities, and walking out the door in what HR professionals have deemed the ‘Great Resignation.’ Scott A. Scanlon, CEO of Hunt Scanlon Media, calls it the ‘Great Escape.’ Others, of course, are taking advantage of early retirement as part of the normal employment work cycle. In fact, roughly two million more people than expected have joined the ranks of the retired during the pandemic, according to the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.
So, how should company leaders manage an unexpected exodus? How can they attract new talent while also retaining the great leaders?
Arlington, VA-based Kincannon & Reed’s Carolyn Schubert, managing director, and Jim Gerardot, managing partner, say leaders should consider five key points as they navigate this constantly evolving environment:
1. Prepare Talent for Leadership
“Many senior leaders retire for various reasons,” said Ms. Schubert. “It’s a double whammy for an industry that has also been a victim of the Great Resignation. The problem is the industry hasn’t done a very good job of succession planning and preparing others within their ranks to take on leadership roles. Companies need to put a solid succession plan in place to train, keep and promote talent.”
Carolyn Schubert brings nearly 20 years of experience in the recruitment of board members, CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, general counsel, and other senior-level executives across a broad range of industries. Her background includes leadership positions with Egon Zehnder, serving the firm’s global board & CEO practice.
“This also means senior leaders need to step up their two-way communication to fully understand employee career goals and expectations, and to ensure direct reports are comfortable coming to management to express their wishes, opinions and concerns,” she added.
Mr. Geradot said this is a time of greater fear and mistrust of companies; employees often say they’re afraid to share with superiors what they’re thinking. “Taking the initiative to have the sometimes-difficult conversations shows true leadership, builds trust with employees and can ultimately help avoid being blindsided with two-weeks’ notice,” he said. “It goes well beyond a survey from human resources assessing performance. It’s about leaders developing and maintaining relationships and being comfortable asking employees if they have what they need to be successful, what’s important to them in their day-to-day work, what are the non-negotiables and what are the barriers to success.”
2. Treat Recruits Like CEOs
Ms. Schubert says the fact that there simply aren’t a lot of people changing jobs has created a talent war. “To attract and retain the best of the best, you must be forthcoming with candidates and let them know what’s possible beyond the job you’re recruiting for,” she said. “Act like you’re recruiting for a CEO job because the candidate you’re interviewing could be your next one.”
“During the recruiting process, share your financials, strategic vision and long-term goals; give candidates an opportunity to interact with board members,” said Ms. Schubert. “Make them feel important and let them know they’ll be a part of the organization in a larger way.”
3. Show Them the Money
With a tighter labor pool, you’ll likely have to pay more for talent “Particularly in the food and agriculture industries, there are certain jobs that can’t be done remotely,” said Ms. Schubert. “As a result, extra compensation will likely be needed to entice candidates to relocate.”
“Across the food value chain, employees have learned they are in the driver’s seat, and those who are strong leaders with both experience and potential are in high demand,” Ms. Schubert said. “Compensation is only one factor that entices prospective candidates; everything else being even, these candidates know they can demand more in today’s market.”
Mr. Geradot says that today’s candidates are looking at total compensation – short and long term. “They are seeking and comparing specifics on benefit packages, relocation incentives, signing bonuses, as well as long-term incentives – all considerations when looking to attract top candidates in today’s market,” he said.
4. Be Transparent
“Be fully transparent about company culture, structure, and benefits, and the future,” said Mr. Geradot. “The current war for talent means the brightest prospects are inundated with opportunities, so they’re being selective and doing their homework to better understand a company before they step foot in the door (or log onto Zoom) for an interview.”
Jim Gerardot has always had a passion for people, entrepreneurial ventures, innovation, and the leadership it takes to build an organization. After a 28-year career in the global animal health and nutrition industry, where he held senior leadership positions with organizations such as Merck, Merial, Pfizer, Bayer and Novus International, he had the opportunity to lead start-up organizations before joining Kincannon & Reed.
“The new reality is that from the moment you have that first contact, you must be fully transparent about what your company is – and isn’t – because candidates will likely know more than you realize,” he said. “Being upfront is your opportunity to be competitive. I’ve seen companies leave out important details, and as a result, lose good candidates during both the recruiting and onboarding processes.”
5. Prepare to Sell Yourself
There was a time when companies, particularly legacy companies, had the attitude: “The top candidates will want to work for us,” said Mr. Geradot. But that’s not the case anymore.
“Instead of potential employees having to sell companies on the value they can bring, the tables have turned,” he said. “Companies are in the hot seat – having to prove themselves – and start-ups seem to have a leg up on speaking to culture, values, purpose, and perks.”
Mr. Geradot says that a CEO at a long-established company recently expressed discomfort and frustration with having to sell employees on what the company had to offer. “I advised that in order to recruit the best talent, he’d need to get very comfortable with it,” said Mr. Geradot.
Ms. Schubert said that when she started recruiting, the hottest talent was found at places like General Motors, Proctor & Gamble and General Electric. “Today, candidates aren’t thinking about careers in the same way they did even 15 years ago,” she said. “There are a lot more options in food and agriculture for key leadership roles at companies that come in all shapes and sizes.”
“While change has forever been the constant for leaders in food and agriculture, this is a different and dynamic environment for recruitment and retention,” said Ms. Schubert. “Business leaders who uncover the unique needs of candidates, while also engaging current employees to understand the drivers causing them to consider an exit, are the most likely to succeed.”
Kincannon & Reed is an executive search firm exclusively focused on food, agribusiness, and the related life sciences. Founded in 1981, the company serves clients throughout the world from locations in the Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. The firm’s mission statement: “We recruit leaders for organizations that feed the world and keep it healthy.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media