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How to find the best talent for your business

There’s a reason ‘Talent’ is first on my 10 Point Plan For Scaling Your Business. It’s critical. Nothing is more important than attracting the right people to help you grow.  Great companies are built by great people – there’s no getting away from it.  Yet for many of the CEOs I coach, recruitment is their biggest challenge. It’s an area that’s often overlooked, under-resourced or left on the ‘too difficult’ pile.

So how do you attract the best people to help you achieve your ambitions?  

Here are some thoughts from Steve Jobs on the subject of talent and how his understanding of its impact came late to him.

I observed something fairly early on at Apple, which I didn’t know how to explain then, but I’ve thought a lot about it since. Most things in life have a dynamic range in which [the ratio of] “average” to “best” is at most 2:1. For example, if you go to New York City and get an average taxi cab driver, versus the best taxi cab driver, you’ll probably get to your destination with the best taxi driver 30% faster. And an automobile; what’s the difference between the average car and the best? Maybe 20%? The best CD player versus the average CD player? Maybe 20%? So 2:1 is a big dynamic range for most things in life. Now, in software, and it used to be the case in hardware, the difference between the average software developer and the best is 50:1; maybe even 100:1. Very few things in life are like this, but what I was lucky enough to spend my life doing, which is software, is like this. So I’ve built a lot of my success on finding these truly gifted people, and not settling for “B” and “C” players, but really going for the “A” players. And I found something… I found that when you get enough “A” players together, when you go through the incredible work to find these “A” players, they really like working with each other. Because most have never had the chance to do that before. And they don’t work with “B” and “C” players, so it’s self-policing. They only want to hire “A” players. So you build these pockets of “A” players and it just propagates.

The Importance of Working With “A” Players

Have a plan

Be deliberate.  Are you clear on your company purpose?  Where are you going?  What types of people do you need to get there?  Without a clear aspiration, it’s unlikely you’ll attract the A Players you need.  Like a third division football team made up of mediocre footballers, you’ll be in danger of relegation.

Do a review and map your entire workforce on a grid, rating them according to whether each person meets your company values.  Where people fall short, work out what needs to be done to get the C ratings up to As.  Review this every quarter and get a rhythm going.  If there’s no improvement, decide that they are in the wrong role or make plans to replace them. You won’t be able to change all your B Players overnight.  But have a plan and head towards that goal.

Recognise that A Players are 10x or even 100x more productive than B Players.  By paying slightly above the normal rate, you’ll benefit from a disproportionately higher contribution.  What I’m saying is, you don’t have to pay 10x more to get 10x the talent.  Attracting these people is well worth the effort.

The best will do in a week what the rest take 3 months to achieve! Read this book by Jeff Sutherland, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.  

Think creatively

Don’t expect the right people to come to you.  Sometimes, you need to go and look for them. Before I became MD at Peer 1, I spent time at Dell.  I was inspired by what they’d achieved by moving their offices from Bracknell to Glasgow.  Their research on the Scottish city had identified that the high achieving account managers they so desperately needed were working in bars and coffee shops.  There were no decent jobs in the area. If you’re a big fish in a small pond, you’re more likely to attract the talent you need.

As a result, I chose Southampton or, as I nicknamed it, ‘the Vancouver of England’, for Peer 1’s HQ.  Access to the New Forest, container port, close to great beaches, good links to London – it had it all. Our vision was to become the number 2 hosting business in the UK and we’d reached £30m after only 5 years.  We deliberately built a funky office space designed to be super-attractive to our target talent.  Every time we went to market, we got amazing people applying who said they’d been waiting for the right job to come up in the right company.  And we were that company. A big part of our success was down to the location that we’d chosen.

Similarly, a client of mine has recently been incentivised by the Welsh Assembly to open an office in Cardiff.  They’ve created a range of new, ‘sticky’ graduate jobs that improve employment prospects for Cardiff’s students.  So the company is taking advantage of an untapped local resource and the university is improving its rankings in graduate employment league tables.  Win win on both sides.

Know what you’re offering

If the next great employee that you want to hire is doing the same job for a competitor, why should they come and work for you?  You need to identify the one thing you’re offering that would make them move.  And there will always be something.

It could be flexible work patterns, development potential, longer term progression, a sabbatical at 3 years, the fact you don’t hate your staff… anything really.  But you need to know how to make your business more attractive to that sought-after A Player.   

At Peer 1, we were paying average rates.  We realised that to get to top quartile in each given role was going to cost us a lot.  Instead of feeling defeated, we decided to take 5% of our entire payroll cost and turn it into benefits.  We researched all the benefits available at competitors and put them together into one, knock-out package.  It was amazing.

    You could buy holiday, sell holiday, more pension or less pension, dental insurance, cycle to work scheme, childcare vouchers – the list was endless.  If you were young and didn’t want to pay into your pension, you didn’t have to.  If you were a coder and didn’t want to take holiday, we’d pay you more.  Each member of staff had their own, bespoke set of benefits, making jobs at Peer 1 attractive to a wide range of potential recruits. It also had the added advantage of staff being remunerated differently depending on what they’d chosen, meaning roles weren’t directly comparable.  We even worked out what the free parking, coffee, beer and ice cream added up to over the year.

    Having designed this package, staff were given an annual Benefits Statement showing them clearly the monetary value of the package we offered.  It made it much harder for them to find anything comparable amongst our competitors and gave us a real USP as an employer.

    Manage your ‘employer brand’

    Employer Brand

    You need to get a handle on how you’re perceived as an employer.  Look at Glassdoor reviews and your CEO approval rating.  The latter needs to be at 85% or above ideally.  Get your hiring managers to tidy up their profiles on LinkedIn. Make sure they include professionally taken photographs and well written summaries saying who they are and how they manage their teams.  The first thing good candidates are going to do is look them up.

    Be proactive rather than reactive.  Encourage current staff to leave positive reviews on Glassdoor and make sure that they are authentic and real.  I helped one of my clients, Wirehive, with exactly this sort of work.  They were finding it hard to attract good people and were stuck in a cycle of repetitive, boring job ads. So we took a load of photos of Christmas parties, events, happy times in the office and plastered them all over Pinterest, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Facebook etc.  Whenever a prospective hire searched for WireHive, they immediately got a sense of positivity and fun.

    Appoint a Head of Talent

    I can’t emphasise this one enough.  If finding the right people is crucial to your success, then you need to invest in your own Head of Talent to help to achieve this.  Certainly, if you’re going to hire more than 12 staff in a year, this is essential. Don’t rely on third-party recruiters to find you candidates – they won’t manage your brand as well as you can.

    Your Head of Talent will need to live and breathe your company culture, taking responsibility for staff engagement, recruitment and on-boarding.    

    Apply a sales mentality to recruitment

    Ask your Head of Talent to put your recruitment process under the microscope.  If you apply a sales mentality to this, you can’t go wrong.  Every aspect of the candidate experience needs to be managed carefully.  Be obsessive.

    Make sure that your prospective A Player is interviewed by other A Players.  One of the big attractions of forward-thinking companies is the opportunity to work alongside similar people who command respect. Great people want to be surrounded by other great people, doing meaningful work.

    Ensure there are four ‘touch-points’ in the recruitment journey. Test the skill you want them to deploy along with verbal, numerical and reasoning abilities.  Use tools such as the Gallup strength finding test and DISC personality profiling.  Telephone screen initially and then follow this up with a face-to-face with you and then separately with your team – your prospective hire needs to impress more than just you.  

    I’m a great believer in presentations. Ask them to talk for no more than 10 minutes – why this firm, why this industry and why you? Get them to draw a picture of something that gives them joy to get a sense of who they really are.

    Make it rapid.  Treat them with respect.  Give them feedback.  And finally, if they don’t get the job, ask them if you can keep their details on your database in case something else comes up.  Henry Stewart, the founder of Happy, does this and can fill a vacancy in a week just from his database.

    Fix poor performance

    Whilst it may seem that nothing’s the matter with a ‘steady Eddie’, you need to realise that he or she’s probably holding your business back.  Any member of staff who’s a B Player is occupying a seat that should be reserved for a high performing A Player.

    What is an A player?

    A Play·er
    / ā plā-ər/

    Also spelt “A-Player”

    1. An employee who is in the top 10 per cent of their profession on an industry-wide basis for the salary paid.
    2. A person on your team whom you would enthusiastically rehire.
    3. The employees at an enterprise who drive all the profitability and growth.
    4. A person of high integrity who delivers on commitments.
    5. The employee every organisation covets.

    — synonyms: awesome employee, top performer, high performer, rock star, all-star, superstar, team player, game-changer

    (From the A Player by Rick Crossland)

    This might mean taking some tough decisions.  Start by looking at your leadership team.  Remember, it casts a long shadow.  Is it functioning properly? Does it have a clear vision of what a high performing team looks like?  Can it engage in constructive conflict?  If someone stands out as a poor performer, even if they’ve been working for you for ages, set yourself a target to replace them by the next quarter or move them into a different role.

    Take immediate action. You have to get this right as the rest of your organisation will judge you on it.  Everyone will know if there’s a problem at senior level.

    Recognise the cost to your business if recruitment goes wrong. At Peer 1, I introduced a ‘Foxtrot Oscar bonus’.  If someone had made the wrong decision to join our company after the first 4 weeks, we paid them £2000 to leave.  Only 25% of companies believe that the person they hired meets their expectations 6 months after recruited.  That’s bad!

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    If you know recruitment is an issue in your organisation, put time and effort into sorting it now.  Stop, make a plan, fix it and build a sustainable system to remove the fear of tackling poor performance.  As I’ve said before – be obsessive.  If you get this right, you’ll be much more successful at scaling up.

    Written by business growth coach Dom Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here.

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