Specialists in Supply Chain Recruiting

Is there a war for top talent?


Ross Reimer

Mar 10, 2024

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This term is used often when talking about the challenges of attracting and retaining the very best employees, but perhaps “war” is a bit excessive. However, there’s no doubt that the current employment marketplace presents significant challenges for employers who are intent on building an outstanding team. If we were to group potential employees into three categories of A’s, B’s and C’s, there is no shortage of B’s and C’s who will apply for most available positions. But employers are all looking for A’s. To use the hockey analogy, “first-line players” – winners who can take the team to the top. These make up a small percentage of potential employees. So how do you attract them to your team?

Like most solutions to complicated challenges, there is not one simple answer. The companies that successfully attract top talent follow a formula that depends on a number of key components. Of course the most obvious revolves around compensation and other employment benefits. While it’s true that compensation must be highly competitive within the marketplace, along with benefits to attract the particular type of employee being sought, it is certainly not the only key and perhaps not even the most important one.

Company culture stands out as a critical part of the solution. Employees absolutely want to work in a company where the values and the actions of the leadership team are strongly aligned. Does management “walk the talk”? Employees want to be valued for their contributions, and to work for leadership teams that set clear and obtainable targets. By the way, targets can be aggressive and even be referred to as stretch goals; they just have to be perceived as attainable with maximum effort.

We’ve all heard the expression: “You don’t quit your company; you quit your boss,” and in my experience as a recruiter, this is 100% correct. My phone rings most often when an employee feels mistreated by his or her supervisor. There can be a multitude of reasons why they feel mistreated, but they all boil down to fairness. Is the boss treating employees in a fair and reasonable manner given the responsibilities of their positions?

Another key that must be in place is a clear and obtainable path towards growth within the company. The very best potential employees are looking for a career, not merely a job. They have their sights set on reaching their own personal goals and are looking for companies where progression and promotion are achievable. So, companies need a focused plan for developing leaders, mentoring them, teaching them and challenging them. This may well involve assisting them with specific training and education that comes from outside the organization, and it absolutely involves mentoring from within the organization. When they reflect on their careers, A players will often say that a particular boss or two were highly instrumental in their development. Extremely successful companies always feature outstanding leaders who are devoted to developing the next generation of leaders.

Great companies that have established a consistent culture and clear leadership development can focus on the fact that attracting top talent does require a well-developed marketing effort that successfully shares the company’s story. It’s so much more than just posting a position. It’s painting a picture so the prospective employee is eager for the opportunity to join something special. At the same time, the organization must deploy a wide variety of marketing efforts designed to attract top-level employees. This includes advertising, social media and a consistent recruitment strategy. All of these efforts come from the realization that the competition for top talent is very real. The A players have choices not just among the myriad of industries, but also among specific companies within various industries.

Occasionally I’ve encountered companies that act like they’re the only game in town. There’s an arrogance to their culture and a belief that top talent will naturally flow in their direction. They clearly misunderstand that both sides – employer and prospective employee – are assessing each other and looking for key components in the search. Ultimately this kind of corporate arrogance will lead top people to look elsewhere.

In conclusion, attracting top talent doesn’t happen by chance. It is the result of an intentional effort to build a great culture, provide employees with opportunities to achieve their career aspirations, and successfully tell the company’s story in a way that captures the imaginations of the very best potential employees.

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