Hiring good people doesn’t start with an open position that needs to be filled. It starts long before the business needs new talent. By building an organization with the sort of culture that works in your business, you predispose people to want to work there, even though they haven’t even met your business . Lots of money has been spent trying to get at this problem. Like most issues in business, old advice is still sound… and some new voices are worth listening to.
Starting Too Late
It seems obvious to me, but it bears repeating that if thinking about acquiring talent begins with the identification of an open position, it’s too late. Leadership should be managing talent like any other aspect of the business. From the beginning, as part of strategy. More on integrating talent and team thinking into strategy at the end of this article, but for now just realize that every part of the business either supports an effective talent life cycle or it doesn’t. Components of the business; culture, job designs, career path, training and processes that attract and develop the right sort of people all contribute to the ability of the organization to obtain talent when needed.
If work begins on attracting talent only when an open position is identified, the organization is being reactive rather than proactive about this important area of the business. Of course, it’s a cycle and one has to start whenever the need is recognized. However, if core components of the strategy can be designed with talent in mind, it will be less challenging in the moment when an open position needs to be filled.
Another way to avoid thinking about talent needs too late is to maintain a depth chart. You read about this all the time in professional sports. Once the season gets underway and an injury takes someone out of the lineup, the pundits began talking bench depth at that position. Who is next in line? Well-run businesses do this too. Each position should be reviewed for strength of the current player in that position and thought should be given to the person behind the current person in the position. Are they ready? What are the technical, analytic, creative, resource, solution and relational requirements of the position? What training, coaching and experience do they need in order to develop to be ready? With a depth chart and proactive thinking about what kinds of challenges might arise at each position, fewer surprises will occur. Life will still happen; accidents, illness, changes of heart, but the business can be better prepared to respond to them and to help its talent through them as well.
Defining Talent Too Narrowly
Talent is talent. There is no hierarchy to it when it comes to the dependence of the business on talent. How can a doctor’s office be appealing and inviting with a grouchy receptionist? How can a business turn out highly engineered, precision parts if a machinist doesn’t show up? How can a company run the most advanced fiber optic cable in the world if a lineman can’t pull cable?
I think this is obvious, but again it bears repeating, front line talent, skilled trades and skilled communicators are often critical to our business. We pay them what they are worth in order to attract them away from other companies, so challenge your leadership on whether you are making the business work for ALL of these critical players. Talent is talent and it’s all needed.
The book The War for Talent opens with the following Chapter One epigraph:
Tell me again: Why would someone really good want to join your company?
And how will you keep them for more than a few years?
Yes, money does matter.
That really says it all when thinking about talent retention at every layer of the business. However, The War for Talent has some in-built issues:
The firms it chose to model its findings on
An overly narrow definition of talent as knowledge workers and
An overly narrow focus on large corporate environments.
These issues may arise from its McKinsey heritage. Happily, there are newer, more relevant options today.
How to Elevate Your Talent Game
I have had the privilege of reviewing an advance copy of Dan Wolf’s new book Strategic Teams and Development. If you’re actively thinking about talent and how it relates to your strategy, I highly recommend this book.
First, the book starts at the top with a framework that a business can adopt as part of its business system. Usable in strategy, day-to-day operations and transformation, this field book meets a firm where it is at any given time. Wolf has laid out a framework of “blocks and beams” that can be used to build a specific framework to fit into any company’s business system.
Second, I love that it’s a field book. You can dive into a particular section, say the technical capacity of your organization, and soak in that aspect of your teams. Each such section ends with a summary and audit section that are useful in pulling your thoughts together and understanding how your business performs in that area. Each section also includes the heading “Consider,” which calls out other sources for deeper/extended research on each topic. Whether you’re ADD like me or a deep researcher, this new offering from Dan Wolf will be worth your time.
I suggest the following actions:
Read Strategic Teams and Development;
Review the organization keeping the field book’s audits in mind;
Develop a depth chart for the organization;
Develop a plan to develop the organization’s talent; and
Build that plan into the firm’s strategic framework going forward.