A Raging Battle: How to Win Today’s War for Talent

By Donald Cooper

The real battle in business today is for talent. Whether your business is large or small, not having the right people in every position carries a huge bottom-line cost in lost business, inefficiency, missed opportunity and frustration.

This six-step process will help you attract and hire extraordinary talent, not just ‘bodies.’

Step One: Take Ownership
Many business owners and managers are convinced they just can’t get good people anymore. The truth is you need to become the company that people are clambering to work at. There’s a simple process to achieve this. First, sit down with a few employees and together write down the type of business in your industry or market that the very best people would want to work for. How would that business recruit, pay, train, develop, mentor, thank, reward, honour and celebrate its people? What kind of values and culture would it create? How would it ‘feel’ to work there? Next, write down all the things you need to do to become the business just described. Then determine specifically what will be done, by whom and when to make it happen.

Step Two: Create a Job Description
Finding great staff is like looking for a needle in a haystack. But it’s much easier to find the needle if you know exactly what it looks like.

With this in mind, create a job description for every position in your business. Document the specific skills, knowledge, qualities and experience required to do each job wonderfully, now and in the future. Yes, writing job descriptions is time-consuming, but you need to get ‘up close and personal’ with every position in your business before you can effectively hire someone to do the job. The Job Description Handbook by Margaret Mader-Clark is a useful tool.

Next, using a scale of 1-10, rate the importance of the following factors for each job or position in your business: talent; knowledge, skills and experience; positive attitude and personality; judgment and maturity; ambition; physical requirements; and fit with company culture, values and standards.

Step Three: Look Within
The people you need are either one of two places — already working for you or elsewhere. There may be talented people on your team that you’ve overlooked. They may be in the ‘wrong’ job, or age or gender biases may be clouding your view of human potential. Re-evaluating current staff can help you identify budding stars.

When looking outside the company, consider enlisting the help of existing staff. Good people know good people. Offer a financial incentive for finding a new employee who is not only great but also stays with the company for a specific length of time.

What about former employees?

Often good employees who leave for some reason are even better when they return.

Step Four: Take your Time
Offering someone a job after just one interview is like asking someone to marry you on the first date. You just don’t know enough about them yet.

Invest more time in interviewing and screening new recruits at any level in your business. McKinsey, one of the world’s leading management consulting firms, interviews 200,000 candidates each year and hires approximately one per cent of them. Applicants may be interviewed eight times before offered a job. At investment management firm Capital Group, serious candidates may be interviewed by as many as 20 people. While these numbers are high, they illustrate how seriously many smart businesses take the recruitment process.

During the interviewing process, remember that it’s not just about whether applicants have the skills to do the job. It’s also about whether they fit the culture and values of the organization. After all, we become what we hire.

Step Five: Ask the Right Questions
Screening people to determine who is and is not a good fit for the job or company culture is a challenging task. Create a script of questions to help narrow down which candidates have the talent, experience and attitudes you need. Include: What did you like and not like about your previous jobs? Why did you leave? What would you like to get out of this job? What would you like to get out of your career? What would you like to be doing in three years? What would make this a great work experience for you?

Don’t just be the only one to interview potential hires. Have a few of your top performers interview candidates, too. If your best people give them a ‘thumbs down,’ pay attention.

Step Six: Put Candidates to the Test
Ask for and check references. While this takes time, it can save you a lot of grief. When speaking with references, inform them of the specific job the candidate has applied for. Then, ask a number of questions about the candidate. Before ending the conversation, ask: Would you hire this person back if they reapplied to your company? If they say no, find out their concerns.

Before hiring, consider asking candidates to perform some of the tasks the job requires to see if they can hack it. We’ve all hired people who are great talkers but who can’t do the job. This will help weed out the duds.

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now a Toronto-based business speaker and coach, he helps business owners and managers rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability. Donald can be reached at donald@donaldcooper.com.

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