Finders Keepers: Five Strategies to Attract and Retain Extraordinary Talent

By Lisa Martin

When senior executives take ownership for finding, developing and keeping highly talented people their teams and organizations excel above the competition. Effective leaders know that a key competitive differentiator today is in innovative, critical thinking, prudent risk-taking, ambitious talent.

The constant ebb and flow of the current economic tide makes it is increasingly important for leaders to identify, retain and advance top talent to ensure they have the right people, at the right time in the right positions. In other words, that there is alignment between leadership, business strategy, talent development and succession planning.

Here are five strategies you can employ to gain a talent advantage:

1. Create a magnetic culture that pulls in highly skilled and talented people

Nothing attracts top talent to an organization like top talent. That is an immutable organizational fact. There is a magnetism that attracts extraordinary talent and it starts with leaders. While running a small (15-person) public relations consultancy I never left the hiring, managing or promoting of talent to anyone else. I saw this as a key responsibility in building the best team in the marketplace and we built the company brand and our people brand to such a positive level that the company was very attractive to top talent, to the extent of having the pick of the crop. Top talent is attracted to strong corporate brands but in the end it’s the people they work with who are the ultimate magnets.

2. Build a sticky culture that adheres extraordinary talent

Top talent wants to be challenged and recognized (some desire public accolades others prefer private rewards.) Ensure that your organization offers emerging leaders challenges and exceptional learning opportunities for professional and personal growth. Review training programs for relevance and create fulfilling experiences for top talent by engaging in a regular dialogue to evaluate their level of engagement. Would you describe your culture as a glue stick, epoxy or crazy glue?

3. Implement a rising stars referral program

The brightest and the best people know others just like them. Some of the most talented team members I’ve sourced came from referrals from my existing staff. If you do step one and two above with aplomb the referrals will naturally come. To expedite the process, you can make it formal by communicating to your top talent that you are looking for similar folks and reward them in some fashion for bringing good people to the table. No amount of advertising can compete with rising star word-of-mouth.

4. Communicate your organization’s career development programs

Don’t keep your robust career growth opportunities a secret. It never ceases to amaze me how many talented folks in organizations are unaware of the plethora of programs and policies available to them. Oftentimes, these are terrific attraction, retention and advancement tools that go unnoticed and unused. Use all your communication channels – website, company bulletin boards, intranet, employee handbook, newsletters – to optimize awareness of your talent development opportunities internally and externally.

5. Annually assess top performers for future potential

As Marshall Goldsmith has eloquently said: “What got you’re here won’t get you there.” It is important not to confuse high performance with high potential. The high performance moniker is often bestowed as a result of an employee’s contribution in a current role; this is no guarantee of future potential. In fact, recent research suggests that more than 70% of today’s top performers are not high potentials. They may have what it takes now to succeed, but are missing the integral attributes required for future roles.

Now assess your situation. What do you need to stop, start and continue doing to ensure the adage “Finders keepers, losers weepers” has a positive connotation for you and your organization.

Lisa Martin is presenting Maximize Business Results by Mastering the Talent Mesh at BC HRMA’s 49th Annual Conference April 14-15, 2011. For more information on this and other sessions, please refer to bchrma.org/conf2011.

Lisa Martin (www.lisamartininternational.com) helps great individuals and organizations be even better by maximizing their talent. She is a consultant to organizations, executive coach to top talent and co-author of the forthcoming Building Careers, with Alan Weiss, and author of the bestseller Briefcase Moms.

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