Four executives gather at a conference table to discuss talent optimization strategies.

4 surprising talent optimization ideas

Employee benefits

In volatile market conditions, these fresh suggestions can help build and retain high-performing teams

Feeling stressed about talent? You’re not alone. Talent optimization, including all the activities needed to acquire and retain top talent, is particularly challenging for businesses right now, U.S. executives say.

For instance, in The Conference Board’s C-Suite Outlook 2023, CEOs surveyed ranked labor shortages as one of the top six external factors or issues that would have a high impact on their businesses in 2023.Disclosure 1 Similarly, respondents in Protiviti and North Carolina State University’s Executive Perspectives on Top Risks for 2023 and 2032 named the tightening talent market as limiting their ability to reach their operational goals in 2023.Disclosure 2

That’s the challenging news. The inspiring news is that rapid shifts in the work environment, digital transformation strategies[BM1] , and even well-timed expansion moves all give you an opening to rethink and revitalize your talent strategies.

Idea 1: Assess your internal processes.

First, work with your HR team to create a comprehensive analysis of your current processes for recruiting, onboarding, developing, and engaging your employees. Gather the data on the time and money you’re putting into these activities, and what the results are. What’s your turnover rate? Is it similar to or different from the businesses you’re competing against for talent?

Be sure to include feedback from current employees. They’re acutely aware of challenges and can provide valuable insight into the root cause of high turnover, low productivity, and similar issues. One way to get this feedback is through a validated engagement or employee experience study.

Or hold conversations with employees that you frame as “stay interviews.” Your current employees are a better source of insight than your departing ones, counsels Will Sutton, president and director of Truist Leadership Institute. “A lot of employers no longer even do exit interviews because they don’t typically produce very good information or actionable feedback. Most employees don’t want to burn bridges should their new employment opportunity not work out.”

Idea 2: Infuse a sense of purpose into your organization.

Providing a better work environment is a competitive advantage when hiring new employees and keeping valued existing ones.

“We’ve entered a forever labor shortage.Disclosure 3 As baby boomers retire, there just aren’t enough younger workers to apply for those openings,” says Sutton. “Once you get the right people in the door, work really hard to create a place that’s special—where they want to stay. Backfilling them is just going to get more and more difficult and more and more expensive.”

Many business leaders believe that all they need to outperform their competitors when it comes to hiring is to offer an enticing salary and benefits package. While modern workers do place a significant focus on compensation, they also want more from their workplace.

A study by research and consulting firm Gartner discovered that employees crave a deep connection and a sense of purpose within their organization. In fact, 82% of respondents said they wanted to be seen as an individual by their company.Disclosure 4 But fewer than half said their organizations treated them that way.

Research from Truist Leadership Institute also emphasizes the importance of purpose. Of approximately 1,300 U.S. employees Truist Leadership Institute surveyed, 59% said purpose should be at least as important as profit to their employer. In addition, up to 78% agreed or strongly agreed that they often think about their purpose in life.Disclosure 5

Leaders can activate organizational purpose in their own business with these key steps from Truist Leadership Institute:

  • Be clear on what your organization’s purpose is and how it fits with your mission or vision statement.
  • Identify key people to help effectively communicate purpose throughout the enterprise.
  • Create a safe space for everyone in the organization to explore and share their purpose.
  • Discuss with others how purpose factors into your daily work, behavior, and decisions so that others can look to you for guidance on putting purpose into practice.

Idea 3: Invest in development.

Spending on training and development may be a different line item than costs for acquisition and retention, but it’s all connected, explains Cheryl Flink, director of research at Truist Leadership Institute. “Various research indicates that investing in employee growth and development has become a critical acquisition and retention tool for both new and existing employees,” she says.


A Pew Research poll found that 63% of employees quit due to a lack of career advancement.

Source: Pew Research Institute, March 9, 2022.

A Pew Research poll found that 63% of employees quit due to a lack of career advancement.6 It’s important to have development plans in place so that your talent has a clearer vision of their potential at your company.

Flink notes that only about a third of learning should come from coursework and developmental relationships combined. The majority (70%) happens through challenging experiences and stretch assignments.

“It’s important that corporations not only offer growth and development opportunities, but they must also give employees the time and latitude to participate,” says Flink. “The hours required for learning and development cannot be done on the back of a 10-hour workday.”

For a candidate who wants to be on a path to group leader, regional manager, VP, SVP, or even CEO, talk during the recruitment process about the challenging assignments employees get that prepare them to lead and succeed. Then follow through with it on the job. “This strategy not only helps with talent acquisition but builds the talent pipeline,” Flink says.

Sutton agrees. “You attract people because you’re out there recruiting and talking about the development and opportunity you offer. You retain people because they experience that. And your culture begins to develop an employer brand that people want to come to.”

“It’s important that corporations not only offer growth and development opportunities, but they must also give employees the time and latitude to participate,” says Flink. “The hours required for learning and development cannot be done on the back of a 10-hour workday.”
Cheryl Flink Director of Research, Truist Leadership Institute

Idea 4: Foster connection from the top down.

What candidates and employees think of CEOs and the rest of the leadership team has an impact on recruiting and retaining talent.

Why? Flink explains that it’s about all eyes being on an organization’s top leader. Executive connectedness is Truist Leadership Institute’s name for the sentiment that employees form based on perceptions of an executive’s trustworthiness, their demonstration of caring, and their ability to communicate.

Flink and her team’s recent research revealed that employees who are more connected to their executives rate 30% higher on engagement with their role and 26% higher on likelihood of staying at the organization.7

Leaders can begin to foster executive connectedness with these tips from Truist Leadership Institute:

  • Demonstrate that well-being matters by modeling it yourself. Use vacation time, show humility during challenging times, and take time to get to know people on a personal level.
  • Show your trustworthiness by always keeping your word. And make it clear that you value new solutions and different viewpoints.
  • Communicate regularly with your team about updates to the business. And be as transparent as possible about how those changes might affect employees.

To learn more about executive connectedness, read our Purple PaperSM on the topic.

Looking for new ways to improve your talent strategy?

To explore the growth strategies that work best in today’s economy, download the Truist Purple PaperSM “Transforming macroeconomic uncertainty into opportunity,” or contact your Truist relationship manager.