Medium 9781523094974

Talent Magnet

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What Does Top Talent Really Want?

More than vision, strategy, creativity, marketing, finance, or even technology, it is ultimately people that determine organizational success. That's why virtually every organization wants more top talent. But do you know what they're looking for? It might not be what you think! Talent Magnet will show you how to attract and keep great people.

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23 Chapters

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The War for Talent


“How could this be happening?” Blake thought.

He had just walked out of a meeting with his Human Resources team. They had informed him they would not be able to staff the company’s near-term plans and suggested to Blake he reduce the organization’s growth goals. They could see no way to find enough qualified people to hit their targets. The shortfall was large—and growing.

His team explained the elements of a perfect storm—a mix of economic, demographic, and competitive pressures all coming to bear simultaneously. The result: they had been thrust into the ‘war for talent.’

Blake was not used to this type of news. Since becoming the CEO, his early decision to build a high-performance organization had paid huge dividends. All the outcome metrics had continued to climb. This new information could change everything. Blake knew people were central to their success. Suddenly, over the course of one short meeting, people had now become his greatest point of vulnerability.


Do Something


The next morning, Blake was up before the sun. As he was thinking about how to best help Clint process his emotions, he remembered the pain he felt when his father died unexpectedly. Clint had never experienced the loss of someone he knew personally.

When they arrived at their local pancake house, they were given a corner booth surrounded by seventy-five years of memorabilia and fading photographs of former patrons.

“Do you know my dad and I used to eat here?”

“Yeah, you told me the last time we were here.”

“Oh, did I tell you we had our last conversation here?”

“No, I didn’t know that. What did you talk about?”

“Leadership—and I think we’re going to talk about the same thing today.”

“We are?”

“Yep. We’re going to discuss what you can do in response to Amara’s death. I’m guessing the answer will involve leadership.”

“Whose leadership?” Clint asked.

“Yours,” Blake said. “What have you been thinking?”

“First, I want to get a well for Baako’s village.”


Top Talent


Monday morning, Blake called a meeting with the leaders from Human Resources.

“In our last meeting, you brought to my attention your concern and our challenge in finding enough qualified candidates to meet our growth projections. How are we doing on that front?” Blake asked.

Charles, the head of HR, spoke for the group. “Well, since it’s only been two days since we met, the situation really hasn’t changed much. We have continued to run the play. We’re planning to attend a job fair this week, checking our online sources, and we did call a couple of professional recruiters.”

“‘Running the play’ has run its course. It’s not working. We need to call a new play,” Blake said firmly.

“Do you have a new play in mind?” Charles asked.

“I think we need to go back to the drawing board and ask some different questions. Here are a few to get you started. . . .

“What is our people strategy? Who is our target employee? How would you describe him or her? I’ve heard you use the term ‘Top Talent.’ I’m fine with the term—let’s just be sure we all agree on what it means.


Why Top Talent?


Blake was eager to attend the next dinner meeting with the CEOs. Although the previous meeting had been relatively uneventful, he was optimistic. He knew these men and women were in their respective positions for a reason. He wanted to learn as much as he could from them.

After the normal pleasantries, Martha kicked off the conversation with a question.

“Who has a status report for the group? Who’s had a breakthrough?” After a long pause, “No one? Certainly, someone has done something.” Martha turned to Blake. “You were full of vim and vigor when we first met. What have you accomplished?” she asked.

“Well, we’ve defined the goal,” Blake offered.

“And?” Betsy asked.

“And, we’re working on it.”

“Doesn’t sound like much progress to me,” Bart said.

“Well, I understand why you would say that, and I wish we had accomplished more; however, I believe a problem well defined is half solved.”

“So, you think you know the problem? I do, too,” said Sam Caldwell, the head of a small hotel chain headquartered in their town. “I need bodies; I can’t find enough of them.”


The Search


Monday afternoon, Clint and his friends spread out across town to begin their job search. They had no idea how different their experiences were going to be.

Olivia was thrilled about her first visit: a local clothing store. Fashion was her passion. As she walked in, the woman behind the counter made no eye contact; she couldn’t, she was transfixed by what appeared to be a YouTube video on her phone. Olivia wandered through the store for a few minutes and finally approached a clerk and asked if there was a manager on duty. The young girl pointed at the woman watching the video.

“Is it okay to interrupt her?” Olivia asked.

“Are you going to buy something?”

“No, I was going to ask her about a job.”

“Why would you do that?” The clerk gasped. “Run, girl, run. You don’t want to work here.”

“Why not?”

“No respect, no appreciation, a lot of screaming. . . . I’ve been here for three months and she still calls me ‘girl.’ I swear she doesn’t even know my name.”


Huddle Time


The group had agreed to meet on Saturday to process what they had learned and to consider their options.

As Clint’s friends arrived, he was discouraged. He knew there were other places to work, but he had been underwhelmed by his first visit.

As soon as the four were seated, Clint said, “I hope you guys had more luck than I did.”

Each member of the group shared his or her own experience. The caliber of leadership and the lack of engagement were recurring themes with Alex’s experience as a clear outlier.

“It sounds like there are a lot of crappy jobs out there,” Clint said.

“I agree, but we don’t have to take them,” Olivia said.

“We don’t?” Tyler said.

“No, we can work where they meet our demands,” Olivia said.

“Sounds good. What are our demands?” Alex asked.

“I’m not sure, but we are bright, talented, energetic, and available. We should be able to find someone who will give us what we want,” Olivia insisted.

“I’ll ask the question again: what do we want?” Alex said.


Panning for Gold


Charles and Blake were meeting weekly to discuss their talent crisis. Blake knew from experience: focused leadership energy creates impact. Besides, this was his organization’s most pressing issue. Where else would he want to invest his time?

“Good morning,” Blake said. “Any updates or insights?”

“I’ve been thinking about how to move this work along as quickly as possible, and because we’re both huge fans of benchmarking, I think we should visit a few companies known for having outstanding people. Maybe we can learn from their experience. If we can discover some tactics that have helped them attract Top Talent, it could accelerate our efforts.”

“I can support that. You find them, and we’ll visit them.” Blake said.

After some research, Charles’s team found several organizations who had solid reputations for outstanding people. Each company they contacted agreed to allow a visit.

Blake and Charles were set to make their first visit with Clare Fremont, the chief people officer of a midsized company with a predominately hourly workforce.


More Than a Job


Olivia decided to give retail clothing another chance. Today she would visit a boutique located in a beautiful Victorian-era house just off Main Street. When she arrived, she was greeted promptly by a stylish woman in her mid-thirties.

“Hi, I’m Olivia. Is there someone here I could talk to about a summer job?”

“That would be me. I’m Marissa, the store manager.”

“Are you hiring?”

“Maybe,” Marissa said with a wry smile.

“That’s an interesting response,” Olivia said.

“Well, the truth is, yes—yes, we are, for the right person. We don’t just hire to be hiring.”

“What’s the process?”

“It begins with an application; then there are two or three interviews.”

“Will I interview with you?”

“Maybe,” Marissa laughed. “I don’t mean to seem cryptic. However, you will only interview with me if the first two interviews go well.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Do you have any questions for me at this point?” Marissa asked.

“Just a few. Do you have time now?”


Diamonds in the Rough


Although their first visit had not been very helpful, Blake and Charles decided to try again. This time, they would see a small business with a reputation for remarkable people.

“Good morning!” Blake said with a huge smile. “I’m Blake Brown; this is Charles Jones. Thanks for agreeing to meet with us.”

“Oh, the pleasure is all mine,” the young man said, introducing himself as Mateo. “I Googled you and found out you guys are a big deal, and your company is hugely successful.”

“Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet,” Charles said.

“No, I believe it’s all true,” Mateo said with an impish grin.

“You are correct, about one thing: we are very fortunate to have been on a really good run. Our sales, profits, and customer satisfaction numbers continue to climb—for now,” Blake added.

“Why do you say ‘for now’?”

“That’s the reason for this visit and others like it. We are struggling to attract enough Top Talent to meet our plan. If we can’t figure this out, I am not so sure about the future of those health indicators.




The kids were gathered for their next meeting. With summer quickly approaching, Clint was becoming more impatient every day. He had hoped each of them would have jobs by now.

“Okay, how’s it going?” Clint asked.

“I think I’m there,” Olivia said. “I’m ready to apply.”

“How about you, Alex?”

“Same here. I love coffee. And, I think if I push a little and apply myself, I can learn some things to help me with my future. They just haven’t focused on that much in the past.”

Clint turned to his longtime friend. “Tyler?”

“Well, I hope you guys won’t be mad.”

“What did you do?” Olivia asked in her best schoolmarm tone.

“I got a job.”

“Congratulations!” Clint said.

“Well, we’ll see,” Tyler said.

“Where are you going to work?” Alex asked.

“The bakery.”

“Really? The guy told you he was a jerk.”

“I know. But I love doughnuts, it’s just a summer job, and he’s willing to pay $2.00 above minimum wage,” Tyler said as his voice crackled with excitement.


Risky Business


Olivia’s first day at work was uneventful. She was surprised by the pace, or lack thereof. The only exciting part of the day was a request from Marissa asking her to work late and do a “little project.”

“All you need to do is check in the inventory and put it away. The truck should be here around 6:00.”

“Where do I put it?”

“In the store room in the attic. There’s not much of a system. Just try to put like items together. It shouldn’t take long.”

Olivia thought, “Oh, well, the overtime would be good to have. And, if I do a great job, maybe it will help make a better first impression.”

Although the store didn’t close until 6:00, Marissa left at 5:45. Olivia felt a little weird being left alone, but as she locked the front door, the driver rang the back doorbell.

When she opened the door, she could see he already had unloaded four pallets of boxes.

“Hi, I’m Ralph. Are you new here?”

“Yes, I’m Olivia. This is my first day.”



Lesson Learned


The next thing Olivia knew, she was waking up in the hospital. Her mom and dad were both there.

“You took a nasty fall,” her dad said.

“Am I okay?”

“Yes,” her mom said tentatively.

“What’s wrong?” Olivia demanded. She had not yet realized she was wearing a cast on her right arm.

“You are fine. And we are thankful all you have is a broken arm and . . . .”

Olivia looked down and in horror exclaimed, “I have a broken arm!”

“Yes, we know. When you fell, you must have tried to catch yourself. You were just too high off the ground.”

“How did you know?”

“We didn’t. At 9:00, when you weren’t home, we tried to call your cell—no answer. We didn’t know your new boss’s name or how to contact her, so Dad drove to the store. He found the back door open with inventory on the curb,” her mom explained.

“I have to tell you,” her dad said, choking back the tears, “I’ve never been as scared in my life as when I was running up those back steps calling your name. Then, when I found you lying there, . . . .” He began to cry. “I thought you were dead.”


The Answer


“Good morning!” Charles said at his team’s next meeting. “Blake, it’s great to have you join us today. We’re excited to share with you the work we’ve done over the last month to answer the question: is Top Talent attracted by different factors than typical talent? The short answer is yes. Before I reveal the differences, let me quickly recap our methodology.”

“Quickly,” Blake said, forcing a faint smile.

“Yes. We did qualitative and quantitative work on this—focus groups with our own people plus an online survey with people around the country. Was that quick enough?”

“You’re getting better,” Blake said with a genuine smile.

“So, the answer is yes—Top Talent is attracted by different factors than typical talent.”

Charles went to the board and wrote:

“First, in both camps, we have the basics,” Charles said.

“Okay, hold on—you said the attractors were different,” Blake pushed.

“There are some differences; there also are some things both groups hold in common. You can think of these as table stakes. You must provide these things to even be considered by either group.”


Next Steps


Blake was eager to share Clint’s insights with Charles; he didn’t want to wait until their next scheduled meeting. So, he sent a text:

Please stop by my office TODAY.

“Good morning,” Charles said. “What’s up?”

Blake shared with Charles his entire conversation with Clint. He even had the napkin as a visual aid.

“What do you think?” Blake asked.

“Fascinating and validating,” Charles said.

“I get the fascinating part, although I might have chosen a different adjective. What’s the validating part?” Blake asked.

“We have been trying to determine what attracts Top Talent. Clint and his friends are exactly who we want to attract, just a few years from now. They are bright, articulate, energetic self-starters. Olivia and Clint are dueling for valedictorian, aren’t they?

“Yes, they are,” Blake said.

“They are Top Talent! That’s why I say ‘validating,’” Charles said.

“Okay, let’s say you’re right: their work validates our own. What’s next?”


A Better Boss


“First, we should probably try to look at all of this from the perspective of Top Talent. The real question is not how we define these terms, but how do they think about each of these phrases?” Gary suggested.

“That is the right question,” Rose said.

“So, let’s calibrate,” Kim suggested. “Exactly who are we targeting with this message?”

“Top Talent, A players—call them what you will, but they represent the group of consistent top performers. To be included in our quantitative study, these women and men had received the highest performance rating for the last three years,” Charles said.

“Yes, I remember,” Gary said. “It was a little depressing.”

“Why was that?” Rose asked.

“I didn’t qualify,” he said with a straight face.

“That’s okay,” Charles said. “Ninety percent of our people didn’t. We set the bar really high.”

“It sounds like we’re in agreement; we are targeting consistently high achievers.”

“I don’t like it any more when you say it that way,” Gary said.


Why Not?


On Monday morning, Blake received a text from Sam. Although he had promised to follow up after their last meeting, Sam thought a nudge was appropriate.

Love to meet—you name the time and place.

Blake was going to be near one of Sam’s hotels later in the week, so they agreed, a short meeting was possible.

When Blake and Sam arrived, the lobby restaurant was empty. After being “greeted” by an indifferent hostess, they were told to pick any seat they wanted. “It’s not like we’re expecting a crowd,” the young lady said. Both men grimaced. Then, rather than escort them to a table, she just pointed to the wide-open dining room.

After finding a table in the corner, Blake was waiting to see what Sam would say about their hostess.

“It’s awful, I know,” Sam said apologetically. “That’s what we get—attitude and a high level of indifference. I told you, this is killing me,” he sat leaning on the table with his face in his hands.

After a moment, Blake asked, “Has it always been this way?”


A Brighter Future


At the team’s next meeting, they reflected on their work to clarify the idea of a Better Boss and felt good about their efforts. They believed making the necessary behaviors specific would help the leaders throughout the organization engage and deliver the promise.

“Next on our agenda, ‘A Brighter Future,’” Kim said.

Gary was the first to comment. “You don’t have to be Top Talent to know what that means.”

Rose asked, “What do you think it means?”

“More cash, of course,” Gary snorted.

“Gary, are you still singing that song? You obviously haven’t looked closely at the data,” Ben said.

“Money is not the panacea you want it to be,” Peggy said.

“And, it was rarely mentioned as an attractor during the focus groups,” Charles reminded the group.

“Why do you think that is?” Rose asked. “We all need money.”

“Certainly, Top Talent expects to be paid. However, this Brighter Future they seek is really about more than money,” Charles said.




Clint was now through his orientation and ready to work. Driving to his first shift, his mind was racing.

Could this place be all he thought it was? The orientation had made him even more convinced it was a unique company. The owner herself had led about two hours of the four-hour session. Clint could still feel Julie’s energy as she shared her vision and invited each new team member to be part of something much bigger, a story of impact far beyond the walls of the business.

Clint arrived about fifteen minutes early; he didn’t want to be late. When the shift leader realized Clint had already arrived, he greeted him by name although the two had never met.

“Good morning, Clint. Glad to have you on the team. My name is Matt. I’m one of the team leaders here. I’ll help you get started today.”

“Thanks, Matt. I have a question. How did you know who I was?”

“Other than your name badge?” Matt smiled.

“Oh, yeah, I’m not used to wearing one of those.”

“Here’s how.” Matt pulled out his phone and showed Clint a photo of himself.


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