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Kira Talent chief executive Craig Morantz, second from right, checks in with his engineering team including, from left, Jay Lee, Aaron Alfred and Brett Willemsen, in their office in Toronto on Thursday. (Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail)
Kira Talent chief executive Craig Morantz, second from right, checks in with his engineering team including, from left, Jay Lee, Aaron Alfred and Brett Willemsen, in their office in Toronto on Thursday. (Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail)

Keeping your employees by treating them as clients Add to ...

Craig Morantz, chief executive officer of video-software startup Kira Talent, values his cadre of energetic, entrepreneurial employees. And he doesn’t want to lose them, too soon, to the siren call of Silicon Valley or to bigger firms promising bigger career opportunities.

So, for starters, all 30 employees at the Toronto-based company are eligible for at least five weeks of vacation a year. There’s a health-benefits spending plan, flexible work arrangements, a personal-learning budget and individual career-development plans.

“People aren’t lifers any more,” Mr. Morantz said in an interview. Five years is a more realistic goal for employee retention in today’s labour market, “so why ignore that?”

“We put a special focus on career planning. We want every employee to have [a three- to five-year] career plan,” he said. “It might be around lateral moves within the company, it may be around promotions within the company, or it may be helping them find their next spot outside the company.”

Mr. Morantz is by no means the only CEO concerned about talent retention.

The Conference Board of Canada says 58 per cent of 383 large and mid-sized organizations it surveyed in 2016 reported difficulty recruiting and retaining staff. With an average voluntary turnover rate of 7.8 per cent in 2016 and with 9 per cent of the work force expected to retire within the next five years, many organizations are becoming more pro-active with their retention strategies.

Turnover is costly, said Mr. Morantz, who estimates that when an employee quits, it typically takes six months before his or her replacement is operating “at the same value and level.”

A new global survey by human-resources consulting firm Willis Towers Watson found that, when it comes to attracting and retaining employees, employers “understand the importance of competitive base pay, career advancement and challenging work,” but they don’t place enough emphasis on employment security.

Increasingly, employees want to work for organizations that will provide them with the professional development and training they need to keep their skills relevant and marketable throughout their working lives, the firm found in its survey of 31,000 employees and 2,000 organizations that collectively employ more than 21 million people around the world.

Kira Talent’s highly successful niche product is an interactive video platform that allows postsecondary institutions to gain a better feel for applicants as they respond to questions posed by admission committees. The technology is now used by more than 150 universities around the world – including Yale, INSEAD business school in France, the Rotman School of Management and the faculty of engineering at the University of Toronto among others – to supplement the traditional written applications.

“Over the past four and a half years, our people have always been a big part of our product; their persistence and curiosity is the driving force behind what we do … [they] are the faces and voices our clients have come to know and trust,” Mr. Morantz wrote in a recent blog post on the Kira site.

It’s stimulating and challenging work, he said. Still, when employees ask for more in the way of career development, he listens. One employee, for instance, wants eventually to be a CEO, so Mr. Morantz is considering how he might help: “Let’s spend time in your career planning on how to read the financials, let me send you to a leadership course at Columbia.”

If an engineer on staff wants to use his personal learning fund to study coding, that’s okay, but if he wants it to enroll in an “improv course,” that’s fine, too.

Human-resources specialists say even in fields where it currently appears to be “an employer’s market” – the Alberta oil patch, for instance, where recovering companies have a deep pool of highly qualified candidates looking for work – it pays to plan for the long term.

“You’ve hired ’em, now how do you keep ’em?” Leah Fochuk, a Calgary-based consulting-services manager with recruiting firm Salopek & Associates Ltd., wrote in a paper recently published by the Human Resources Institute of Alberta.

“Companies should be asking themselves, ‘If the economy suddenly took a turn for the better, would my top talent stick around or are they just waiting for the dust to settle so they can move on to the next best thing?’”

In Toronto, with the hot demand for people skilled in software development, sales and marketing, Mr. Morantz said: “We are focused on retention, but we are also very focused on building a bench; recruiting should be happening 12 months a year.

“There are people I want [to recruit] who have said, ‘No, not now,’ so we literally market to them. We invite them to our office to lunch, we give them updates on what is happening at Kira, we treat prospective employees like prospective clients.”

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