Experiences Matter in Asia’s Battle for the Best Talent

At the crack of dawn, I woke up every Saturday with a single mission: find a job to fulfill my dream of working and living in Germany.

Back in 1992, this was not a simple task. I had to drive 50 miles to Manchester Airport, run to the nearest newsstand, and pray that a copy of the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung with the “Jobs” section still intact was still available. Then, I would apply to each job by mailing a paper resume and cover letter, hoping that the prospective employer would one day call me on my landline or reply back in kind with a letter by post.

Compared to that early experience, it’s interesting how much recruiting has changed in the last 25 years. Nowadays, high-potential job candidates are no longer searching through thousands of job postings to find the right position. Instead, recruiters are the ones who are actively mining thousands of candidate profiles amid a 40% shortage of skilled applicants.

For small and midsize businesses in Asia, this war for talent is quite challenging. On one end of the field, they are fighting deep-pocketed enterprises operating with vast recruiting networks and offering top salaries and benefits. And on the other side, exciting startups are waving their battle flag of enticing lucrative stock options and cutting-edge work.

How can small and midsize businesses ever get the talent they need to grow and survive?

It’s Time to Move From the Local Talent Pool to an Ocean Of Potential

Small and medium businesses generate immense economic growth and innovation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) region. In fact, they account for approximately 97% of all companies in this area, employing over half of today’s workforce and contributing 20%–50% of their national GDP. But despite exhibiting such economic power, they struggle with providing job stability, mature processes, and desired remuneration to potential candidates.

Sun Zi’s book Art of War reminds us to “know yourself and know your enemy, and you will never be defeated.” Recruiters need to stop frequenting their traditional pond of talent that is running dry as large enterprises and quick-growing startups earn the attention of high-potential candidates. Instead, Asia’s small and midsize businesses need to stand up against the competition by fishing in an international sea of candidates.

To attract and engage the right people at the right time and faster than their competitors, growing businesses should consider three fundamental strategies.

1. Get on the digital radar of high-potential talent: With more than two-thirds of the region’s population actively using mobile devices to access digital and social channels, small and midsize businesses need to take advantage of networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WeChat so that viable candidates can find them with ease. Social profiles should also link to a simple, yet elegant, career site that reflects the authenticity of the employer brand and values.

2. Build a nurturing environment for new hires and existing talent: The more digital our world becomes, the tighter the link between workforce engagement and recruitment. Because employees share their experiences anonymously on a variety of social channels, it is critical to create a workplace culture that is positive, nurturing, and meaningful.

To deliver such an environment, recruiters, HR professionals, and hiring managers should focus on attracting and developing candidates with beliefs and values that reflect those of the business. Aligning people with a specific organizational value or mission ignites a passion for bringing that vision to life that drives future success.

3. Deliver a consistent customer experience: Much of what job candidates know about a brand is based on their experience as customers. Although impressive service can be a key enabler of survival and growth, it can also drive a loyal customer base that new hires and existing employees find attractive and motivational. Through continuous coaching, learning, and actionable feedback, managers can help employees deliver such an experience 24×7 across all channels.

Small and Midsize Businesses Can Triumph in the Battle for the Right Talent

Traditionally, small and midsize businesses struggle with embracing change and using technology and innovation to address it. However, this mindset is not compatible with a talent pool that is leading highly digital lifestyles.

Small and midsize businesses in Asia can take advantage of its flatter hierarchical structure and close-knit, familial culture to help make digital transformation palatable for everyone from the shop floor to the boardroom. By taking small steps, the company can gradually use technology to automate repetitive processes, accelerate decision-making, and increase operational efficiency. This approach not only helps reduce costs, but it also lays the foundation for recruiting, developing, and retaining a workforce that can help the brand thrive over the long term.

Find out how small and midsize businesses are digitalizing HR with cloud-based models to create a competitive edge in the digital economy. Read the Forbes Insights briefing report “Competing for Talent in the Digital Age” sponsored by SAP SuccessFactors.

Andy Watson is head of SAP SuccessFactors, Asia Pacific Japan