Strategies to attract and retain talent, and why it is important to hire people of different profiles and abilities

By Karen Loon

In recent times, business executives have been voicing the same challenges their organisations face: finding qualified talent, retaining them and finally, maximising their potential for the companies’, and their own, benefit.

You may consider this old news. After all, hiring and retaining talent has always been an uphill task for organisations, and the issue has had more than its fair share of air-time in Singapore. Today, however, this challenge is more intense than ever before, in large part due to the increasingly greater uncertainties arising from disruptive trends such as changes in the regulatory environment, and enhanced competition from non-traditional rivals which threaten growth. An example in the banking space is Alipay, which within nine months of entering the asset management business, allowed Alibaba to become the world’s fourth largest money market fund with more than US$80 billion in holdings and more than 80 million customers, all from a standing start.

As organisations and businesses operate in a rapidly-evolving environment that shows no signs of slowing, it is crucial to remain nimble and responsive. Talents must therefore be diverse and adaptable, and organisations must be able to alter the mix depending on business needs.

To increase adaptability, employers need to consider alternative sources of talent. This includes tapping into new geographies and sectors as well as investing in existing employees to equip them with the necessary skills, and motivating them to adapt to meet the new challenges. This also requires individuals to be prepared to embrace change and apply their skills in areas hitherto new to them.[i]

Organisations also need to create an environment that is intellectually agile and stimulating, and constantly challenges the existing norms and practices.

For employers, attaining talent diversity is not a “soft issue” as it is becoming a crucial quality in the talent pool and a key differentiator for organisations – diversity plays an important role in achieving this differentiation. Business executives recognise the importance of building talent diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace. To compete, they need people who are adaptable, and can think and work in different ways; who can lead cross-functional, cross-sector and cross-cultural initiatives; who can offer better solutions, services and products to their customers and clients, and also bring fresh ideas and new processes that are crucial to compete in today’s marketplace.

According to PwC’s 18th Annual CEO Survey,[ii] CEOs are increasingly seeing diversity and inclusiveness as one of their top business priorities, with three quarters of CEOs having a diversity strategy or plans to adopt one. Of the 64% of CEOs whose companies have a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy, as high as 85% the bottom line. And they also see such strategies as benefiting innovation, collaboration, customer satisfaction, emerging customer needs and the ability to harness technology – all vital capabilities for success in the new competitive environment.

Unfortunately, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work to get this broad mix of talent, and companies are employing a diverse range of strategies to find and develop the people they need. Fortunately, those with accounting training are well-positioned to meet these challenges, though they are also not immune to the threats. Many accountants are sufficiently agile to allow them to leverage their accounting training in non-traditional areas, whether in the profession or in industry roles as varied as company directors, business leaders, bankers, strategy, compliance, risk management, and infrastructure project management. Moreover, it is no longer true that one needs an accounting degree or professional qualification to become an accountant.

What can employers do?

Much more, however, could be done to leverage the power of a diverse talent pool. What is needed are people who are different across all dimensions – for example, in their life situations, experiences, perspectives, and personal attributes.

For employers of accountants, it is important to encourage agility, and to provide frequent opportunities that they can keep up with an ever increasing pace of change in the world. With large numbers of millennials in the accounting profession, strategies need to take into account the greater generational diversity within organisations. Some of the areas which employers can focus on to achieve a sustainable and yet diverse talent pipeline include:

1. Make diversity front of mind

In a recent survey of millennials, nine out of 10 Singapore millennials say they seek out employers with a strong record on equality and diversity.[iii] Millennials have grown up with an affinity for a highly-globalised and digital world. far more diverse than in previous generations. Employers, however, need to ensure they do more than “talk the talk”, in particular, towards women. Some 70% of female Singapore millennials feel that organisations talk about diversity but they do not feel there are equal opportunities for all.

2. Embrace work-life balance and flexibility

Work-life balance is extremely important to all employees, particularly to millennials. About 97% of both male and female millennials globally have indicated that it is important to them. A large proportion of Singapore millennials say the work demands of their current role significantly interfere with their personal life. Interestingly, the impact of this lessens as they become more senior as they have more control over their work patterns.

Unmanageable workload demands are a common perception of more senior level positions, but in reality, the more senior they are, the more control they are more likely to have over where, how and when they work.

Employers need to ensure that their organisational work-life strategies go beyond just considering female or parenting issues, or they may fail to attract or retain millennial talent, whether male or female.

3. A feedback culture

Many accountants, and in particular millennials, grew up in a highly-digital world. State-of-the-art technology is important to them. However, while many millennials have a preference for communicating through electronic gadgets instead of the telephone or in person, when it comes to vital conversations in the workplace, such as performance evaluations, career planning or compensation dialogues, the majority of accountants prefer face-to-face discussions.

4. Global mobility

In the global world of today, international experience is seen by many as a prerequisite for executive and leadership roles. Accountants in some countries join the profession as their professional qualifications could be internationally recognised, allowing them to work more easily around the world. Employers and to both be local and act global.

A large majority of Singapore millennials are keen to work overseas, though this enthusiasm dims as they get older due to personal or family reasons. There is often gender bias in global mobility as many people perceive that it is easier to move men than women.

Organisations can help retain talent by encouraging them to embrace mobility experiences when they are younger, offering more shorter-term rather than longer-term secondments, championing role models, and tackling dual-career issues.[iv]


Employers have a role to play to explore new policies, procedures and cultural attitudes that will encourage greater diversity of thought and idea, and yet allow all generations to feel welcome. By creating an environment which encourages individuals of all backgrounds, skill-sets, life experiences, preferences and abilities, and providing them with agility experiences, both employers and their teams will be well-positioned to meet future challenges.


Tough questions about finding different ways of thinking and working 

  • How are you getting the visibility that you need to ensure that skills are being deployed effectively in your organisation?
  • Are you measuring how diversity and inclusiveness contributes to your bottom line? And assessing its impact on the capabilities you have or need to develop?
  • How are you ensuring that your organisation has access to the skills it needs now and in the future?
  • What strategies do you have in place to ensure that you are looking as widely as possible for talent?
  • What measures of diversity are important to help your organisation achieve its goals?


[i] Adapt to survive – how better alignment between talent and opportunity can drive economic growth, PwC 2014 (commissioned by Linkedin)


[iii] The female millennial – a new era of talent, PwC 2015

[iv] Dual-career issues refer to issues/challenges that arise when both parties of a dual-career couple have ambitions and career objectives they want to reach; it can be hard to fulfil both career objectives.


First published in IS Chartered Accountant Magazine, June 2015

Interested to learn how mobility supported my career?  Listen to my interview with Professional Development Forum.