Rapid experimentation to improve talent recruitment and retention

How a global food company used digital experimentation tactics to understand what job seekers really wanted

Published in
5 min readMay 23, 2022


By: Arina Zanin - Competitive Strategist; Hanny Hindi - Senior Entrepreneur-in-Residence; and David Baum- Design Research, at Bionic, part of Accenture Song

Photo by Lalit Kumar on Unsplash

The challenge

The “Great Resignation” during the COVID-19 pandemic created a global labor shortage, leaving many manufacturers struggling to keep their facilities fully staffed and their production lines running. At one global food company, the resulting impact on its ability to meet customer demand forced it to take a closer look at its supply chain.

Bionic, part of Accenture Song, already had a team working with the company’s innovation group, applying the Growth OS to identify unmet consumer needs and develop new products. The head of the company’s supply chain group asked us if it would also be possible to apply our methodologies to find cost savings and efficiency opportunities in manufacturing and delivery, and specifically to improve the company’s ability to recruit and retain talent for manufacturing jobs.

The experiment

At the peak of the pandemic, when furloughs and layoffs were driving up unemployment numbers, it did not make sense that the company was nonetheless struggling to recruit qualified applicants and retain existing employees for open manufacturing jobs. We assumed it was because people were opting instead to take jobs elsewhere, or simply live off their savings or pandemic stimulus checks for a while, because these available manufacturing jobs failed to meet some of their key needs. But to solve the problem, we first needed to understand what those needs were.

Spreadsheets with recruiting, hiring, and separation statistics couldn’t provide answers — so we spent 25+ hours over three weeks conducting detailed interviews with 33 people, including current and potential employees of this company’s manufacturing plant, as well as people with insight into local employment trends. We explored not just what people want from a job, but what would make them decide to leave a position or not take it in the first place.

The results of these interviews fell into four categories:

  1. Greater flexibility: People want to be able to control their own schedule, including taking part-time and ad hoc shifts.
  2. Opportunities for non-traditional candidates: The company’s standard screening methods were ruling out gig workers and people only looking for part-time positions, as well as other people who aren’t traditionally considered good candidates for manufacturing positions.
  3. A culture of recognition: People indicated that rewards for reaching short-term milestones would increase their sense of loyalty.
  4. Greater life security: This company primarily had a mindset of ‘lifetime employment,’ which did not resonate with those that thought of this employer as a stepping stone to something else. Employees said they care about their careers overall, not just in the context of their time at one employer. They want personalized support in reaching their goals — outside this company, and the freedom to choose the benefits and perks that are relevant to their current stage of life.

We also discovered that many prospective employees were put off by job descriptions that emphasized how the job will benefit the employer, rather than the employee. In addition, we found that people had trouble evaluating and comparing pay and compensation packages as they were trying to decide whether to accept a job offer.

Based on these insights, we launched three experiments to test our assumptions and improve the hiring practices at this company. The most impactful experiment involved using our proprietary “Blimp” technology to place ads in English and Spanish on Facebook and Instagram, in order to test what would be most appealing to job applicants. The ads showed a person in an obvious food manufacturing location and were branded with “Bionic Recruitment Team” rather than with the company’s name to eliminate enterprise risk to the food company. Each one asked a specific question about what users were looking for in a job: flexibility, feeling valued at a company, a job with clear growth, or a job with great pay.

We ran three sets of ads for five days each and reached a total of 457,000 users, of whom 20,000 clicked through to learn more. Their clicks took them to one of 16 landing pages, where they were given a set of value propositions that the job would offer and asked to choose among them. We also translated three high-performing ads and their landing pages into Spanish, which further expanded the pool of potential applicants by 87,000 views and 5,000 clicks.

Our second experiment tested the idea of replacing the established retention bonus schedule, which called for giving new hires specific cash amounts at specific amounts of time, and instead allowed team leads to disburse $5,000 to each new hire in whatever way they saw fit. For the third experiment, we partnered with a gig app platform to test how job seekers would react to the possibility of signing up for ad hoc shifts rather than committing to a set schedule.

The solution

After identifying the best-performing recruitment ads, we linked those ads to the actual job description for manufacturing positions on the food company’s production lines. We also customized the job descriptions by zip code and media market to highlight the factors that mattered most in an applicant’s given area.

We were thrilled to see that within a week of launching these actual recruiting ads, the company received 40 percent more applications for manufacturing jobs than it had in the previous three months combined. Not long after, the supply chain group won an industry award for rapid experimentation to improve culture.

The insight

Bionic and the food company’s supply chain group each came to this experiment with their own assumptions about why recruitment and retention had become such a challenge. Both assumed that job applicants would be primarily driven by the desire for higher pay. Bionic thought that people were also looking for differential benefits like transportation and childcare. The supply chain group thought people simply weren’t attracted to manufacturing work.

To everyone’s surprise, all of those assumptions were wrong. Quantitative data collected in three short months clearly showed that what manufacturing job-seekers want most is greater autonomy and flexibility. For example, they were more likely to say they would choose more vacation time over higher pay, and a more flexible schedule over a higher-value compensation package.

The conclusion was unmistakable: after spending two years in a pandemic that gave them a sense of having more control over their time, people want that to continue. By becoming more aware of that, a wise employer can leverage that desire for flexibility and autonomy by tailoring its job listings accordingly.

Now that the food company’s supply chain group has been recognized for its willingness to experiment with improving culture, it’s more open than ever to trying new approaches to recruitment and retention. Instead of spending time and money trying to persuade people to commit to working there for a lifetime, it’s meeting customer needs by swimming in a deeper pool of prospective employees who can deliver ample value, even if they only work for the company part-time or short-term.




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