The Talent Paradox – ‘I Want Unicorns…”

How do we bridge the gap between who is really required, versus who actually gets hired and how?


The recent post by Chris Frost “Hire Talent, Not Robots,”  prompted Liam Morgan, Director of Cogs to reflect on how facing this talent paradox has always been a considerable challenge. How do we bridge the gap between who is really required, versus who actually gets hired and how?

As is often the case for talent acquisition projects where multiple factors, motivations and players are involved, while the theory might be straight forward the practice and execution rarely is. It isn’t impossible though.  If it was, lists like Fortune’s 100 or The Times Best 100 Companies to Work For would not exist.

Who should be in charge?

How do clients that always seem to hire the best people do this?  Firstly, address who is ‘in-charge’ of hiring and why. Typically, most would say that the HR department should be entirely responsible for this – makes sense, right?  Not always.  In order to attract top quality people, those setting the strategic direction of the business should play a huge part in the process; not always possible during in the first stages, although who better to set out the company values and vision than the CEO? So too should engaged and passionate employees, living proof of the promise that here is a place worth committing skills and energy to. These are the current custodians of the culture. This should include HR teams if they understand the business direction and the values of the company – the ‘where we are going?’ as well as just the ‘how we are here?’. Our most successful clients have HR teams that live and breathe the culture and get the bigger picture around why hires are being made.   But integral to it are those that set the direction and those that are working to realise that vision.

Having a clear understanding of what the company’s values are and hiring against them, rather than just a HR checklist of candidate qualifications, triggers a greater success rate of hiring good people who will also stay. The better those chasing talent rainbows understand the entire business, its challenges, its people, values and vision, the more likely they are to find pots of gold.

Putting this exclusively into a procurement team where goods and services are often bought based on price doesn’t tally with a CEO’s assertions that talent attraction and retention are critical business challenges. Especially for organisations in talent short industries that succeed or fail by the motivation, talent and skills of its workforce.  So wanting Unicorns is one thing, wanting them fast is another, but then building in price as the main factor in how you snag them is a sure fire way of seeing them galloping away, often to competitors who do get it right.

Enough about rainbows and unicorns! How do we find them though?

The first step is to be clear on your corporate values, structure and vision. The CEO and the board should play an active role in communicating these as they play a large part in every hiring process. And it isn’t only SMEs that are capable of this. Think about how major players like Airbnb and Facebook started out. While they aren’t on Fortune’s list this year, the perks of working there (such as therecent paternity leave at FB) are pretty well publicised. And let’s not forget Tim Cook’s coup over Burberry or how Jeff Bezos provoked debate over Amazon’s work culture.

In short, CEOs will always be playing an integral role in setting talent acquisition and retention strategies. But once you’ve done that, what’s next? Here are some other key points to think about;

  • Start building trust – not just with HR but all employees. If you build a solid relationship with your staff, not only will they stay, but they will also help tell everyone why they work for a brilliant company, helping to keep talent pipelines flowing. Word-of-mouth is still one of the most effective and trusted ways of attracting quality people to your business.
  • Train them to recognise and appreciate diversity in talent. If your staff are empowered to recognise and recommend people who can enhance their values and capabilities, then your hiring process does not have to solely rely on HR. This means you get to cast a wider net and capture the right people for your business.
  • Build the right Job Description and reward on merit – this sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at just how many get it wrong. Candidates  don’t just want to hear about they can do for you, but also what you can achieve together. Real talent looks to stay, build and search for challenges and opportunities for growth and development. So rather than the usual, often robotic checklist of qualifications, outline what working for your company really means and where it can take the best people. What are your values, what are the people like, why do people like working there?  It’s not just about where you are – it is about where you are going.

It’s always been about Quality vs Quantity.

Love him or loathe him Steve Jobs outlined this beautifully ‘A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.’  The quality of a hire, is way more important than the cost of a hire. In the latest 18th Annual Global CEO Survey – People strategy for the digital age: A new take on talent by PWC, it’s clear that CEOs recognise the challenges in finding talent, particularly within the digital spectrum.

But in-demand talent rarely comes cheap. In the long run, bridging any communication or knowledge gaps between CEO, Hiring Managers, HR and talent teams, ensures ROI by finding the right person for the right role, rather than just the right price. Any costs incurred hiring the wrong people far outweigh those of nailing things right the first time, and those costs go way beyond the purely financial. Stop gap candidates generally have a short shelf life too which means the business loses momentum and consistency.

“There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organisation’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energised employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.” – Jack Welch, former CEO of GE.

How do you look for your unicorn? Feel free to comment below or connect with me here on LinkedIn.

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