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10 Steps to Creating a Talent Advantage

Creating a talent advantage begins with smart hiring. That said, it never ceases to amaze me at the number of people who are charged with hiring who possess absolutely no skill at doing so. While I rarely meet a CEO who is completely comfortable with the administration of the hiring process, most of them still seem to accept the status quo…”Who should do the hiring?” is a question more CEOs should spend time pondering. Here’s the thing; Anyone can make a hire, but not all hires are good hires. Smart leaders do more than just hire smart people – they have a smart hiring process and/or methodology. In today’s post I’ll share my philosophy on the best way to insure you hire tier-one talent.

Put simply; talent matters. The problem is that very few people actually possess the talent to identify talent. Identifying and recruiting talent requires much more than screening a resume and having a set of standard interviewing questions to guide you. There are issues of values, vision, culture, context etc., which need to be creatively and intuitively addressed in the hiring process. Sadly, it’s these areas that often go overlooked because the wrong person is evaluating talent.

Further complicating matters, is just because someone has succeeded in the past doesn’t mean they’ll be a success for your company. Likewise, just because someone has failed in a previous position doesn’t mean they might not end-up being a top performer for your company. Assessing talent is in fact a talent… Adding even more complexity to the hiring process is that not all those capable of identifying talent are capable of recruiting the talent by sealing the deal…Think about it, does the person in charge of your hiring process have the experience and charisma to convince a top performer at another company to take a pay cut to work for your company?

While CEO’s can’t personally be in charge of recruiting, it’s important to realize CEOs still own responsibility for the outcome – the buck always stops at the desk of the chief executive. No matter the size of your enterprise, I don’t believe recruiting should be the sole domain of HR (other than for lower level positions). Rather in most instances, I believe HR should be a part of the hiring team. The following commentary came from Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft when he was asked about his philosophy on hiring:

“I did all the hiring myself for a long time. No one joined Microsoft without my interviewing them and liking them. I made every offer, decided how much to pay them and closed the deals. I can’t do that anymore, but I still invest a significant amount of time in insuring that we’re recruiting the best people. You may have technology or a product that gives you an edge, but your people determine whether you develop the next winning technology or product.”

I tend to be similar in positioning to Steve in that I believe one of the highest and best uses of time is to make sure we attract the best talent for our company and our client companies. I believe C-level executives can’t afford not to keep their hands in the talent function at some level. In order to ensure you make the best hiring decisions possible, I would strongly recommend you follow the practices listed below:

  1. Definition: Make sure you know exactly what you are looking for, both in terms of the job description, and the profile of the individual most likely to be successful in that role. If you can’t define what you’re looking for, you shouldn’t be looking.
  2. Timing: There is wisdom in the old axiom “hire slow and fire fast.” Don’t panic and end-up making a regrettable hire out of perceived desperation. Give yourself plenty of runway. You’ll be much better-off taking your time and making a good hire rather than using the ready, fire, aim methodology and end-up terming the new hire before they eclipse their probationary period.
  3. ABH: Always Be Hiring…Never let your organization be put behind the talent 8-ball, as great talent is rarely available on a moment’s notice. In the world of professional sports the search for talent often starts during the middle-school years, which is long before the potential talent being tracked by the scouts has matured. Your organization should always be on the look-out for great talent whether that talent is still in graduate school, in the military, working for competitors, or working outside the industry. Some of the best hires I’ve made over the years were executives that I spent months, and in some cases, years developing relationships with.
  4. Identify Your Talent Scout: Look for and identify the person within your organization that has the best nose for talent. Regardless of what position this person holds, get them involved in the process. If you don’t have a natural talent scout internally, seek outside assistance in the form of a consultant. Don’t turn your talent scout into just another corporate bottleneck, rather give them leverage by having them collaborate with outside recruiters. Outsourced recruiting is very effective and affordable if managed properly.
  5. Team Based Hiring: While I’m not generally in favor of management by committee, hiring based upon a team approach works very well. In a perfect world, a hiring team would consist of your HR manager (compliance), your internal and external talent scout (the gut-check), the direct supervisor over the position being hired for (competency, capability, and compatibility) and the senior executive who is the best at selling your organization (the closer). Hiring in a team based fashion eliminates many of the typical mistakes that can be made in the hiring process.
  6. Values Based Hiring: You can either spend time finding employees who share your organization’s values, or deal with the brain damage of managing conflicts that arise due to opposing values. Smart companies focus on the former and not the latter. It simply isn’t necessary to compromise on core values to get talent. A new hire should desire to be part of your company for more than the ability to maximize immediate earning potential…they should be interested in your company because there is a sincere alignment of values and vision. Trust me when I tell you that compromises in this area which seem insignificant during the interview process will become visibly and materially significant down the road.
  7. Hire Leaders: I have a basic premise when it comes to hiring – most companies get exactly what they deserve. When companies complain about a lack of leadership, or how difficult it is to identify leaders, my question is simply this: Why didn’t you hire a leader to begin with? Sure, leadership can be learned, but not everyone is willing to learn, and even if they are, education takes time and has a very real cost. Let me be clear, I’m not knocking leadership development initiatives – there is no perfect leader, and all leaders need to focus on development. What I am saying is that development of an existing leader is faster, easier, and more effective than creating a leader.
  8. Cultural Fit: Culture matters – forget this and all other efforts with regard to talent initiatives will be dysfunctional, if not lost altogether. Don’t allow your culture to evolve be default, create it by design. The first step in cultural design is to be very, very careful who you let through the front door. People, their traits, attitudes, and work ethic (or lack thereof) are contagions. This can be positive or negative – the choice is yours. The old saying, “talent begets talent” is true.
  9. Pay for Talent: I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve witnessed companies pass over the right hire, or worse yet, not even look for the right hire because they let self-imposed financial constraints serve as a barrier precluding sound decisioning. I’ve actually personally observed HR managers filter better qualified candidates because they were a few thousand dollars outside the “top-end” of the salary range. It is precisely this type of thinking that will keep a company from being competitive in the market. To put it bluntly, you get what you pay for…Real talent produces real results, and is worth the investment. Always hire up where possible…find the right talent and then do what it takes to secure the services of said talent. You cannot afford not to invest in talent.
  10. Constantly Upgrade: You can hire the best talent in the world, but remember that “best” is a subjective evaluation largely measured within the context of a snapshot in time. Obsolescence can take root in anyone if growth and development are not focus points. Development needs to occur at every echelon of the workforce  – the top, middle, and bottom performance tiers. Top performers need to be stretched, mid-tier performers need to be challenged to up their game, and you should always look to upgrade the bottom 20% of your workforce. This can be done through training and development or via new hires. You need to ask yourself the following question: Who are the least productive members of your team? Why? Coach them to productivity or replace them – there is no third option.

Hiring is a blend of art and science. The reality is that those organizations that identify, recruit, deploy, develop and retain the best talent will be the companies who thrive in the market place. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback below…


Image credit: YPO

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    Dan Rockwell

    August 29, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Love this topic. #7 created the strongest emotional response in me.

    Hire Leaders. The problem is many organizations don’t really want leaders. They want people who fit in. Leaders may share values and fit the culture, but leaders seldom fit in. 

    The don’t upset the apple cart approach to defining a good fit is one reason organizations don’t hire leaders to begin with.

    I feel better now. 😉




      Mike Myatt

      August 29, 2011 at 6:02 pm

      Hi Dan:
      Your observation is regrettably sad, but true. Most people won’t debate the importance of culture, but they vehemently argue over how culture should be built. My premise about what the major construct of a cultural ecosystem should look like is more than hypothetical – it’s undeniable by anyone who studies successful organizations with an open mind. My message is a simple one – if you want to create a culture based upon an ethos that empowers, attracts, differentiates, and sustains, the ONLY culture that flourishes over the long haul is a culture of “leadership”. Thanks for stopping by Dan.


    Mike Henry Sr.

    August 29, 2011 at 7:43 pm


    Great post.  I think you’ll have an interesting discussion on your hands regarding your statements about HR.  It’s a shame that our common experience and understanding of HR aligns with the defensive description you mentioned above, “making sure processes are implemented and followed.”  Wouldn’t it be great if HR were more of an internal offensive, talent consultant you speak of above, acting as a steward of the culture and constantly looking for, identifying and upgrading the talent in the organization, all of it.

    Secondly, I agree with you and Dan.  Your post outlines a leadership-based approach to strategic talent acquisition and growth.  Many organizations don’t want people who behave as a leader.  For example, why would any organization exclude the best person because they cost too much.  Generally someone “costs” that much because they’re worth it to your competitor.  The organization admits up front that they’re willing to settle for something other than the best.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.


      Mike Myatt

      August 29, 2011 at 8:52 pm

      Hi Mike:

      Thanks for sharing your insights Mike…The HR comment isn’t so much a negative comment with regard to HR as a practice or profession, but is more of a commentary on how many organizations use HR, as well as who many organizations hire into HR roles which often times they’re not well suited for. I’ve  known several talented HR professionals, but regrettably they have been the exception and not the rule. It all goes back to creating a culture of leadership. Thanks again for sharing Mike.


    Mike Myatt

    August 29, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Hi Mark:

    Astute commentary as always. Drive, desire, commitment, loyalty, character, etc., often fall through the cracks of a flawed interview process that focuses too heavily on the wrong items. Thanks for sharing Mark.

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