I don’t believe in the war for talent. Yes, there are some specialized skills that are challenging to acquire but since most people are dissatisfied at work for largely the same reasons involving company culture, managers and rewards, even ‘hard to find talent’ is open to making a change.
FINDING GREAT TALENT
You can hire great people without making extravagant offers or breaking the budget by following three simple rules:
- Be creative: Everyone out there’s looking for the same hard to find profiles, but what you really need is someone who can succeed in the job. If you can’t get the exact skills you are looking for in your price range, look for transferable skills or consider bringing in a contractor to meet your short-term needs while searching or training someone (see my blog post on HR and the Gig Economy).
- Be flexible: There’s no shortage of qualified and hard-working people out there who, because hiring them feels risky, are often overlooked: moms returning to the workplace, remote workers, people who want to change careers, young professionals looking for growth opportunities, people not currently employed, semi-retired people, etc.
- Have a talent pipeline: One of your jobs as a manager is to have a rolodex of potential talent you’d like in your team should the right opportunity arise. If you have an opportunity to travel to events, talk to people, connect with interesting profiles on LinkedIn, and keep people in mind who applied for previous job postings.
HIRING GREAT TALENT
So, those are some tips for finding and making yourself attractive to great talent, but the trickier bit is knowing who to hire. Again, a few simple rules have served me well over the years:
- Have an audition: Ask your candidates to prepare a presentation to showcase how they approach work. AI may help identify talent in future, but so long as LinkedIn keeps showing me Spanish speaking sales jobs I’m not holding my breath. Profiles can be gamed but a solid presentation can’t be faked. Inviting people who will be working with the person you hire will enable them to weigh in on and buy into the decision.
- Don’t be Goldilocks: I wrote a short post about Goldilocks Syndrome here. You should always wait until you find someone who can succeed in the job and complement the team, but I’ve seen job posts with completely unrealistic expectations. Similarly, don’t immediately write off people who seem too senior, as they can bring invaluable experience to the team. Instead of ticking skills boxes, hire people who can learn, play well with others, and think on their feet.
- Hire people who can grow: According to the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, if you are selecting from a pool of candidates that all share a basic level of competence it doesn’t really matter who you hire, because they will learn on the job. I totally buy into that, having learned coding on the job early in my career and pretty much everything else at an advertising agency in Tokyo. An audition or trial period will help you assess growth potential.
LEADING GREAT TALENT
So now you’ve hired someone and it’s your job to help them be successful and grow professionally. A few tips:
- Let people be stars: Managing ambitious high potentials can be challenging, especially when they think their work is better than it is – it takes humour, lots of listening and putting your own ego on mute. There’s also a body of thought leadership that is pro-team and anti-star, which I find interesting but limited. In my experience, everyone has star quality if you help them find and express it at work.
- Be dream compliant: At the recent Club Talentsoft event, Co-Founder Alex Pachulski predicted that organizations will need to become dream compliant and help people connect with opportunities (more about the event and his presentation here). Money aside, the best way to keep ambitious self-starters happy is providing opportunities and encouragement to try things, grow, take responsibility and make visible contributions, and be recognized.
- Expect people to move on: People leave bad bosses, but good people leave good bosses, too. If you lead in a way that attracts high potentials and performers to work for you, and give them opportunities to grow, chances are they will at some point receive a better offer. That’s OK, first because you want what’s best for them, second because they’ll go the extra mile for you to wrap up and/or transition projects before they go, and third because it creates opportunity for others on the team. Voluntary attrition helps keep the team fresh.
Look, most of what we thought we knew about talent management has turned out to be wrong, and everything we think we know today probably will, too. I believe part of the reason is a tendency to over-engineer talent strategies, but fortunately, basic leadership principles never change:
If you hire people who love to learn, encourage collaboration and new ideas, recognize contributions, and weed out trust-destroying behaviours, you’ll never have trouble finding, hiring and leading great talent.