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Split decisions: How can companies attract talent while they're still cutting?

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Only one out of ten companies are confident top-performing employees will stick around as the economy improves. Yet, the cost-cutting continues.

A new survey released by Mercer reveals the conundrum currently being faced by many companies in the current economy. That is, they need to be able to attract and retain the best skills and talent to move their companies forward into the coming economic expansion, while keeping operations as lean and mean as possible.

As discussed here last week, a survey by Forbes and SAP found executives were nervous that all the cost-cutting that occurred over the past year has put their companies at risk of being on uncompetitive footing for the growth phase ahead.

Now, we see workforce planning efforts are also being shredded by the same forces. Mercer’s 2010 Human Capital Planning survey of 160 US-based organizations finds that many companies worry that all the cost-cutting that has been taking place will make it difficult to retain top performers. The survey finds that 27% of organizations are not at all confident that their current human resource programs adequately address the needs of their high-potential employees and, moreover, that these employees will stay with the organization as the economy improves.

Few organizations (16%) are very confident that their programs reflect the value of top performers, and even fewer (11%) are very confident that these employees will remain following an economic turnaround.

Yet, companies still keep cutting. The survey finds that nearly two-thirds plan to put greater emphasis on workforce costs (63%) over the coming year. About 60% say they still intend to ramp up efforts to keep high-potential employees on board.

In other words, companies are cutting workforce costs, while at the same time, trying to boost the quality of their workforces.  Talk about a fiscal balancing act.

More than half (51%) of the companies in the survey say that 2010 requires a different approach to workforce planning. As a result, we're more likely to see workforce planning being linked to business scenario techniques and data-driven analysis.

Jason Jeffay, principal in Mercer’s human capital consulting business, suggests companies get more innovative and creative in their efforts to attract talent. Such efforts can include detailed career paths, communication campaigns and improved performance management programs.

Mercer didn't mention this, but another key approach that will help retain talent as well as help the bottom line is to foster a greater culture of entrepreneurial thinking and innovation within organizations.  The coming economic revival will not mean organizations will simply glide up with a rising tide -- competition will be fiercer than ever. Smart workforce planning, accompanies by a smart culture of innovation, will help decide the winners as we enter the 2010s.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure