Solve the People Puzzle Book cover

CHAPTER 1

Let Go of Your Ego

I’ve got news for you! Unless you are a highly regarded company with a unique culture, like Google, Zappos, GE, or Marriott, most people are not dying to work for you. In fact, they might not even know you exist, even though your company may be the center of your world.

I expect company leaders to be proud, however, they must ask themselves the same questions outsiders are thinking, such as: “What makes your company so great? Why would people want to come to work for you? What’s your story?”

Hiring is no longer a one-way street as it was in the past. In fact, you may need to take a back seat to the A-players—the employees you want most who are usually in the driver’s seat. Gone are the days when employees were grateful to have a job. It is now a mutually beneficial relationship. More than ever, today’s employees have a choice.

We experienced that choice ourselves recently as TalenTrust interviewed for someone in business development. Each of our candidates was also interviewing with two other companies. As much as  I wanted them to choose us, I knew how arrogant it was for me to think that they would just choose TalenTrust without good reason.

At the same time we were doing our own search, we were helping a consulting firm in Austin that extended three offers to candidates we presented to them. All three offers were declined. This upset  our client, who was looking to take off some personnel pressure by filling those three positions. We had to go back to them and help them understand why these people declined the opportunity. Was it culture, was it management, was it vision, was it compensation, or all of the above? Those questions must be considered if you want to become the top choice for your top candidates.

Attract Candidates as You Would Customers

If you want the A-players, your company must spend as much time and effort on attracting candidates as it does on attracting clients. Both investments lead to increased profit. One of your first tasks should be making sure that your company is visible in the marketplace to prospective employees and customers. In the case of the job marketplace, we are referring to both people looking for jobs and those who are open to other opportunities in spite of being gainfully employed. Some of the best people are already busy, doing great work. They are making money for other companies. How are you going to get their attention? How are you going to get them to notice your small or midsized company when there are so many of them out there?

A case in point is a company in the expense reduction industry with a focus on mobile devices. They decided to bring on four enterprise salespeople. Good salespeople, those who can actually sell, are hard to find, and this company expressed the difficulty they were having when we met with them. The company currently earns somewhere between $10 and $50 million in revenue and is growing rapidly, but no one knows anything about them. They are far from a household name. When people recognize a company’s name, that alone is a big advantage when it comes to recruiting, but this company is like most others: an unknown. How are they going to compete for A-players, the people with choice?

They have to start focusing on this mind-set: What is in it for the person I am talking to, the candidate we want to work for us? What kind of meaningful work are we doing that can resonate with the generations that are coming into the workplace?

Gravity Payments, based in Seattle, is an example of a company that succeeded in moving to known from unknown. The CEO, Dan Price, was clearly thinking of both current and future employees when he made an announcement that he would cut his own pay and raise that of all of his workers to at least $70,000. If you watch the business headlines, you have probably heard of Dan Price. But had you ever heard of him before this? Within the first day of this announcement, the company had six hundred applications.

His action may seem a bit extreme, but fundamentally Price was saying to his entire company, “I value you as much as I value me.

You matter as much as I do.” That is what people want from their employer. They want to matter. It may sound silly, but just as in a marriage, people want to know they will be a trusted partner and that you are concerned about their well-being.

Bring in New People, New Ideas for Continuous Growth and Innovation

Examples may be the best way to explain how important the right people are to your success.

In Denver, we worked with a manufacturing and distribution company called Mile Hi. The CEO, Kristy Taddonio Mullins, came to us and asked, “How can I find the people who can bring the company forward versus maintaining the status quo?”

With a long history of success, why did she ask us that? It is because high-growth companies hit speed bumps, places where their growth and innovation slow. Key individuals at companies will often make statements such as, “What we did last year is good enough,” even when it is clearly not working. They fall into patterns and get stuck in ruts.

When she took over leadership of the company, Kristy refused   to accept the status quo. She is an innovator who went out and borrowed the $22 million needed to build a new bakery. She realized that she needed the right people in place to help capture the revenue for that investment and wanted people who could stretch and grow into bigger roles as the company continued to expand. In searching for those A-players, we looked for innovators who were experienced in business and not necessarily from within their industry. This client is successful because she realizes that what is truly important is not doing things the same way you have done them in the past but bringing in people who can see what you have been doing and build upon it.

Another fast-growing Colorado client, Mercury, is a payments processing company founded in 2001. In 2009, Mercury had about two hundred employees and a plan to grow 250 percent over the next three years. CEO Matt Taylor needed to assemble a strategic senior leadership team and add key staff members in order to drive this growth. HR was focused on multiple priorities, stretched to capacity, and dependent on numerous external-staffing vendors for recruiting. This environment could describe many high-growth companies!

With a highly collaborative culture, Mercury looked for a trusted partner to help them build a highly functional team and develop a robust process to manage recruitment internally. After taking time to understand Mercury’s business and challenges, TalenTrust helped the company grow by more than four hundred employees over a three-year period based on holistic, scalable, cost-effective solutions. We sought innovative people to propel their growth and also helped Mercury establish a five-person internal recruiting team.

Challenge Your Assumptions and Filters

Like most people, business leaders often make assumptions and use certain filters. It is important to challenge those assumptions  on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual basis and remove  or adjust those filters. We tend to just accept what is happening in our company as “good,” which is the enemy of “great”—as we know from Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t.

Candidates have choices, just as customers have choices. And candidates need to know about who you are as a company and what you are doing to stay relevant. How are you going to attract the best candidates to help grow your company? How are you going to do things differently versus the same way you have always been doing them? How will you know whether you are answering these questions from the perspective of your ego or from your company’s reality?

“Kathleen provides the necessary pieces for solving one of the biggest challenges CEOs face today—attracting and retaining top talent and keeping them engaged. We live in a world where accomplishing all three has never been tougher or more necessary. It’s a must read for any business leader.”

—Leon Shapiro, Director on Vistage Worldwide Board and Coauthor of The Power of Peers

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