Winning the Talent War

The keys: Avoid shortcuts in hiring, and know your company culture.
By Patrick L. O’Toole, Senior Editor | April 30, 2002

A Three-Part System for Winning Talent
1. Identify and attract the best people.
  • Build a strong culture, with a clear code of conduct.
  • Recruit at every level, all the time.
  • Develop a system for managing the talent pool.
  • Avoid hiring shortcuts.

    2. Create an organization where talented people want to work.

  • Employ great managers for whom people want to work.
  • Deal promptly with underperformers to stem poor morale.
  • Focus on outcomes and results.
  • Regularly monitor compensation and make adjustments when necessary.

    3. Leverage talent to the greatest extent possible.

  • Play to employees’ strengths.
  • Offer career development and job-enrichment opportunities.
  • Build and maintain a strong, two-way communication system.

    Source: Organizational Development Associates, 2002
  • Management consultant Janna Mansker has seen it often — builders scrambling to fill vacant sales or superintendent positions on the fly. She says it’s a situation that more often than not leads to poor hiring decisions.

    “Too frequently, it is a situation where a builder needed to find people two weeks ago. And the longer the job stays open, the more I find people start scaling back the interview process,” says Mansker, a principal at Atlanta-based Organizational Development Associates. “In the end, hiring managers go into it with the attitude of ‘let’s give it a shot with this person, and if it does not work, we’ll find somebody else.’ You just can’t do that.”

    Mansker says builders should break the hiring pro-cess into three parts to win the “war for talent.” First, always be in the process of identifying and attracting the best people. Second, create an organization “where talented people want to work.” And third, find ways to “leverage talent to the greatest extent possible.”

    An overarching theme to Mansker’s advice is that re-cruiting requires relationship building with potential hires and keeping tabs on talented referrals, even when no positions are open. She says each hiring manager should have a list of potential candidates for each job description.

    At Houston Giant David Weekley Homes, president John Johnson says every manager’s goal is to continuously network and recruit talent. “We build a backlog of pre-qualified candidates for when an opening occurs,” he says. “This takes discipline. It’s easy to say and hard to do.”

    Attracting talent involves more than recruiting. It also requires a hard look at your company culture. This often entails the creation of a code of conduct and a list of success traits that are understood by employees and imparted to potential hires.

    Candidates at David Weekley work through several screening processes that help hiring managers understand whether an applicant has the temperament and values that fit with the company’s culture. “We ask a series of very pointed interview questions to learn about a prospect’s values and beliefs,” Johnson says. “The values and cultural fit are every bit as important as their skills competency.”

    Building a management team that has employees’ re-spect is relevant to any organizational self-examination, too. “Everybody wants to work for a great manager,” Mansker says. “That’s one of the biggest reasons I see good people leaving a company. They just don’t feel like they can accomplish their personal goals with their manager.”

    The Peter Principle of people rising to positions above their competencies also occurs at home building companies. “Too many home builders have people in management positions who should not be managers,” Mansker says. “They were good at what they did, they got promoted, and nobody has taught them how to manage people. We not only end up losing a good person who is now a manager, but we end up losing good people who won’t work for that person.”

    Leveraging talent means positioning people for success. The focus should be on playing to a person’s strengths and minimizing weaknesses, Mansker says. This entails two-way communication throughout the organization.

    To demonstrate that each employee has the potential for a career rather than just a job at Weekley, managers conduct quarterly growth reviews with team members. “These sessions review our plans for them in the organization as well as their goals and aspirations,” Johnson says.

    Communication can extend beyond an employee’s personal stake. “Talented people like to be kept in the loop on what is going on with the company, not just with their job,” Mansker says. “They are interested in knowing that in the next six months we are planning on buying these two pieces of land, even if they are not going to be building on those. They don’t want people walking around here and whispering and talking behind closed doors. They are mature enough to handle the good and the bad.”


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