Survey: Successful Companies Have an Employee-Focused Culture

It’s not often that you get a worldwide look at how organizations assess and handle talent, but the new Global Assessment Trends Report from SHL (a global maker of talent measurement solutions) does just that.

And unlike so many research reports I get, this one is really, really detailed. If you download a free copy (give them a little information and you can get it free here), you’ll find a huge amount of in-depth information that will take some time to dig through and process, but to my eye, it seems worthwhile — especially because it represents finds from more than 170 companies and nearly 500 HR professionals worldwide.

The key finding? Well, there are lots of them, but what jumped out at me from the Executive Summary was pretty simple and direct:

Companies that will have continued success despite ever-changing economic conditions have a culture that focuses on employees (emphasis added), as this culture shows through to customers. Well-run organizations with a clear understanding of their internal talent may adapt and thrive better than their competitors. This depends on their ability to capitalize on the knowledge, skills and abilities of their respective workforces and recruit to supplement their current talent pool.

Effective talent management starts with People Intelligence – a deep understanding of the skills, behaviors and potential within an organization and how they align to current and future business objectives. We also see an increased appetite for talent analytics, which enables organizations to compare their talent with that of other organizations (by industry, country or globally).”

The report concentrates on three areas: the HR focus and landscape in 2012, the nature of assessment use in organizations, and the use of technology in HR processes. There’s a lot in this survey, but here are some of the highlights.

Key findings

  • A disconnect exists between talent decisions and business outcomes. While the majority of those surveyed (more than 80 percent of respondents) recognize the connection between talent decisions and broader business goals, less than half actually collected quantifiable metrics to assess impact and inform large-scale business initiatives and outcomes.
  • There seems to be an increased emphasis on engagement and leadership. A majority of respondents indicated that engagement/retention (56 percent) and leadership development (55 percent) were top priorities for 2012, with nearly 70 percent of respondents indicating their organizations had formal, or both formal and informal processes in place for such initiatives.
  • Organizations seem to be losing their focus on career development. Despite the focus on engagement in 2012 and the finding that more than half of companies indicated focusing more on internal talent than hiring externally, just over a third of HR professionals cited career development as a top priority. Likewise, fewer HR professionals today are using it as a retention strategy, and fewer are offering a formal way for employees to find new careers internally.
  • Assessment use continues to grow. Increasing numbers of companies (now more than 70 percent) use assessments for internal and external hiring decisions, with a focus on current behaviors and potential vs. past performance and experience.
  • Social media is a powerful recruitment tool. More companies are finding new ways to use social media for recruiting and hiring, and acceptance for this usage is steadily growing – with positive perceptions up 10 percentage points from last year alone.
  • Metrics are seen as important, but few consistently use them. Most respondents indicated using assessments to impact overall productivity of their workforce, but a little more than half indicated collecting metrics to assess impact.

“Obvious in theory … difficult in practice”

“Our Trends Report has shown that as the economy continues its recovery, organizations are recognizing that their attraction and retention of top talent is what will propel them to the top of their newly reformed market landscapes,” said David Leigh, CEO of SHL, in a press release announcing the results of the survey.

He added: “This may seem obvious in theory, but it’s proving to be difficult in practice. While these organizations aspire to make the best business decisions based on key talent measurement data, many lack the ability to do it effectively. So there is a tremendous opportunity for companies worldwide to put their People Intelligence to work to create positive, profitable business outcomes.”

Yes, David Leigh’s comments are right on the money. I haven’t heard of an organization yet that didn’t at least pay lip service to the notion that talent is important, but for many, that’s all it is — talk. His insight that businesses struggle when it comes to effectively putting there talent and people management strategies into place is dead on, because all too many haven’t REALLY been committed to doing it, especially given the ongoing economic environment.

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The executive summary of the survey makes this point as well:

With turmoil continuing in key economies and even protests against some corporations around the world, companies must engage their workforces and recruit the best talent in an increasingly competitive market while maintaining a positive corporate image. Companies are realizing the potential for a talent exodus and are seeing the advantages of building talent in-house. The focus on talent has never been greater.”

Talent REALLY does matter

SHL’s 2012 Global Assessment Trends Report is based on data from an online survey of 481 HR professionals representing organizations who work with SHL and/or its affiliates. The survey was conducted in November-December 2011. Most respondents indicated their companies are headquartered in Europe, Africa or the Middle East. Approximately 23 percent indicated their companies are headquartered in the U.S., while the remaining companies are headquartered in China, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, South Africa and other locations. Respondents represented a variety of company sizes and industries.

I’m not terribly surprised by this latest survey, but it continues to reinforce an underlying principle of HR and management: talent really does matter, and if your organization isn’t doing everything possible to attract, hire, nurture, and retain the best talent possible, you are going to get run over by the smart companies who are.

Yes, it sounds simple, but that also begs this question: if it is, why aren’t more organizations really, truly doing it? That’s probably something to ask on the NEXT survey.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


3 Comments on “Survey: Successful Companies Have an Employee-Focused Culture

  1. I completely agree with you, John. If companies are not attempting to retain their top talent and reward employees for a job well done, they are truly missing the boat. Employees that feel their work is appreciated and their input is valued will almost always work harder than employees that don’t. Regardless of a company’s size, if they want to be profitable and continue to grow, they need to invest in their employees.

  2. Vision + Talent + Reward = Success.  If you have a company and leadership with a vision, and you hire the right people, treat them with dignity and respect and reward them appropriately, then you will have success all day long.  Assessments can play a key role in identifying the right talent upfront.  And rewards can take many forms, from compensation to career development.  Too many companies don’t hire the right people and then tolerate mismatches for way too long.  If your employees are not passionate and committed how do you expect your customers to be?

  3. John, thanks for quantifying one of the “intangibles” that leaders face in growing a business. In case a misfit makes it through your hiring process and presents a retention risk to your staff, try these 5 tips: 

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