With Martin G. Moore

Episode #12

The War For Talent: Attracting and keeping the best people

In this episode, I’m going to focus on the fact that we all want to hire the best people – but sometimes, this is easier said than done, and our industries and our companies have their natural limitations. I’m going to pull apart how we attract and retain the best talent we can by covering:

  • Some of the macro-factors in your organisation that make hiring the best people a little more challenging

  • Who the best employers are and why, with some help from a Business Insider article on  The 50 best places to work in 2018, according to employees

  • A great perspective from Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg, an example of how he sets the expectations for employees so that they know what to expect before joining the company

  • The three firms that are renowned for attracting and retaining the best talent, and the similarities between them – this is a good indicator of what works

  • What we can do to give ourselves the best chance we can of hiring the best people

  • How to attract talent by being able to articulate an organisations benefits to prospective employees (hint: this is a process that you can start to implement in your organisation TODAY)

  • My very easy to follow seven ideas for attracting and retaining the best possible talent which you can download below

Now, I know that a lot of you listening to this podcast don’t have the ability to influence the recruitment and retention cycle in your organisation. But if you don’t, I think this presents a great opportunity for you to show some leadership from below, and to take this up the line and say, “Hey, I’ve got some ideas for how we can get better people into our organisation and into our business.”

I challenge you to try that this week, and do something that’s gonna set you apart as a leader of the future.


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Episode #12 The War For Talent: Attracting and keeping the best people

Building the best team you possibly can is a prerequisite to delivering the results that’ll make you a successful leader, and it begins with the hard yards of capability building that we spoke about in episode two. There’s also the need to attract and retain the best talent into your organisation, and you’re in competition for that talent with other similar organisations.

So we’re going to talk about the fact that we all want to hire the best people, but sometimes this is easier said than done, and our industries and our companies have their natural limitations. We’re going to talk about:

  • Who the best employers are and why

  • What we can do to give ourselves the best chance of hiring the best

  • My seven ideas for attracting and retaining the best possible talent

So let’s get into it.

We all want to hire the best people, but sometimes this is just easier said than done. Our ability to hire great people will always be governed by a couple of macro-factors that are beyond our control as hiring managers. Of course, you’ve got the type of organisation: is it a commercial business is it publicly listed, is it a regulated monopoly, a public sector organisation, is it a not-for-profit? These things make a difference to prospective candidates looking for work.

The industry we operate in makes a difference. For example, the banking sector attracts a very different type of candidate than the childcare sector. Our parameters on remuneration structures are different between industries and companies, and these do play into it. And then let’s face it, some brands just have a better perception in the marketplace than others. The trick is to make the most of what you’ve got so that you can punch above your weight in the war for talent. You can’t change who you are, but you can change your access to the pool that you have.

Now, we know that building a high-performing team depends on populating it with the best possible individuals you can attract with the value proposition that you have been gifted. That’s where we’re going to focus. But your organisation is what it is, and the different types of organisations attract different types of people, as we’ve just said, but there are some really obvious distinctions.

For example, you’ve got blue collar and white collar industries, which attract a very different type of person. Sometimes geography plays in here as well – for example, if you’re operating a mine site in the remote Pilbara regions, northwest of Western Australia, you won’t be able to attract the right people without paying them really top dollar. It’s quite remote. But if you’re operating in a city CBD location in one of the major cities, you find that you have a much greater access to the pool of potential employees for your business.

Now, financial compensation and rewards are very industry-specific. Perhaps that’s why everyone loves to hate bankers. And some industries, let’s face it, they’re just sexy. Tech startups for example, everyone loves a tech startup. But perceptions rarely align with reality – and I’ve got a really good example of this relating to a tech startup.

who are the best employers and why?

Now, I’m basing most of this on Business Insider Magazine’s 2018 Best Employer survey, and I’ve drawn some pretty interesting insights from my study of this. Overall, the survey found that employees are attracted to a few things:

  • Mission-driven culture: I think that terminology’s probably a little passé, I’d now describe it as a purpose-driven organisation, an organisation that has a higher cause and a higher calling than you’d necessarily think from just looking at the brand.

  • Clear career opportunities for individuals.

  • A place where the people are valued by senior leadership. That’s very important.

  • Leaders need to be transparent in their communication, so that people are kept in the loop.

  • Family-friendly, which is probably no surprise.

In fact, none of those factors is a surprise.

However, when we talk about family-friendly, some companies quite unabashedly aren’t in that mould. I remember an interview with Ivan Glasenberg, the Chief Executive of Glencore, a number of years ago, where he said, “If you want to come and work for Glencore, you don’t come here for the family-friendly work-life balance. You come here to make money. Work is gonna be your life, but you will make a hell of a lot of money.” So, very clearly, the Glencore brand was around that and those were the type of people that that company attracted.

But you’ve gotta love the clarity that that gives. I think on the Best Employer survey that I’m talking about from 2018 Business Insider there are companies like that there. Number 19, for example, is the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Now, personally I’d like to see if there’s any correlation between this being listed as a preferred employer and that fabulous but irreverent musical The Book of Mormon. But people know what they’re getting when they go to work there.

A quote from one of the individuals who was surveyed said, “You can work with people who don’t swear, drink, and smoke – people with the same values.” That’s actually really important. You know what you’re getting. Now, apart from the smoking, which you can have, but the other parts, for me, I’m thinking, “Holy shit, that would be a dull place to work.” But for other people it’s their dream job.

Does reality match the hype?

Sometimes, we wonder if the reality matches the hype. Number 5, and this is really timely – Number 5 was Google. When you think Google you think ping pong tables, free pizzas, and an endless cup of Red Bull. This was cited as a great employer because of intelligent coworkers, exciting products, great managers, amazing perks, and the opportunity to travel.

So imagine my surprise when I picked up the Australian Financial Review to see that Google workers worldwide were staging mass walkouts amidst complaints of sexism, racism, and unchecked executive power. Could this possibly be the same organisation? I think what I take out of this is that reality very rarely matches the hype, and that’s just the way it goes.

But I found some really interesting results at the top end of the table here, and in fact there were three firms that really caught my eye, because they’re very similar, they compete against each other in the same industry.

This is the high-end management consulting industry. The three top firms in the world in this management consulting business are McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company. These three came in at 12, 3, and 2 respectively on this Top Employers list. These are the top management consulting firms, they’re global thought leaders. They’re incredible companies that have a massive impact globally in both the public and private sector.

And the types of things that the surveyed employees were saying was, “They provide the toughest challenges. We get to work on the biggest problems. We get to work with the best people,” which I think is an amazing differentiator. I’ve had a fair bit of experience working with these firms as a client, and so I understand a little bit about what goes on there. So let me tell you my perspective on it.

The first thing is they only hire the very, very best. They hire the cream of the market. So, by definition, if you take a job with one of these three companies you are going to be working in an elite group of workers. That’s it. They pay you really well, particularly as you go up the levels, but they also work you really hard, and you know that before you step in the door there. They give you some incredible experiences and challenges, and even when you’re quite a young employee there, as a junior burger, you get to contribute massively to outcomes for companies and industries.

These companies really support your ongoing education and development. So, for example, they’ll pay for you as a young employee to go through a high-quality two-year MBA full-time at Harvard or Wharton or the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia, top schools, and they’ll actually support you to go through that.

These companies actually have high attrition rates at every level on the way through to partner. So, for example, you go in as a consultant, but you can’t get to be an engagement manager unless you’ve proven your worth there. And even though you’re competing against the very best of the best, they only let the cream of that crop through to the next level.

The other interesting thing is that they can genuinely provide global opportunities. If you wanna travel, see the world, and deal with all different types of people and problems, these are the firms that are gonna let you do it.

Now, this attracts a very special type of high achiever. Should we all seek to fill our companies with these people? Well, first of all we don’t have the brand to attract them, the McKinsey, BCG, and Bain brands are very, very strong in the market. But even if we could, it would kill most of our organisations because we wouldn’t have the opportunities for these especially talented individuals.

attracting talent means knowing your reality

So what can we do to give ourselves the best chance we can of hiring the best people? The first thing is don’t agonise over your situation. You are what you are, just get creative around it. For example, if I want to be a professional basketball player and play in the NBA over in the U.S., well I’m five foot 10. It’s simply not gonna happen. So I’ve just got to get over that and get realistic.

But remember, you’re only competing with others in your same industry. They all have the same limitations as you. You’re competing against others with similar constraints and operating parameters, and this is where getting an edge matters. It doesn’t matter whether we have an edge over Google unless we are competing directly with Google.

When I left CS Energy after five years, I was confident that we’d built the best possible team given our industry dynamics, our ownership structure, our remuneration policies, and the locations we operated in. But this was not easy, and it took all of the five years to get to where we needed to get to, and there’s still ongoing work there, don’t get me wrong. But we spent a lot of time developing what we called our employee value proposition. We basically had to work out, “What is it that that makes this a really good place to work, and how do we articulate that to prospective employees?”

The first thing we did was to run some focus groups, and we surveyed a bunch of people in our organisation already to find out what they thought the best things were about working at CS Energy, and also what the not-so-good things were about working at CS Energy. We also took checkpoints with people throughout the employment recruitment cycle.

For example, when anyone went for a job and came for an interview, we’d ask them what their perceptions were of CS Energy. When they’re employed, we’d ask them about a month later what they thought of their introduction to CS Energy through our induction processes. Then, after about three months we’d ask them again. We’d line up the difference between what their initial perceptions were when they knew very little about the organisation other than what they’d seen on the website, and then what they found out after working there for a number of months. We used this to develop our employee value proposition. And we came up with a very clear proposition that now drives all of the recruiting.

The tagline that I love is “Big enough, small enough”. CS Energy’s a mid-sized company which is big enough that you can actually do things, that you can have career progression and that you can get opportunities within the organisation, it’s a multi-billion dollar business. But it’s small enough that you can still be seen and heard and have a voice.

7 ideas for attracting and retaining the best possible talent

1. Hire for values

It doesn’t matter what the skills are that a person possesses if they have the wrong values, because you can always teach skills. You can’t teach values, and you don’t get a chance to change these in a person. So make sure they fit before you take them one.

2. What if it was you going for that job?

What would you want to know, what would you want to hear, and what could you describe to a prospective employee that would sell them on the story of working for your business? Now, you’re already in that industry in that company, so what’s good about it and why on Earth would people wanna join you there?

3. Be patient in all your hiring decisions

If you’re not entirely happy with the candidate quality of the pool that you’re dealing with, then go around the mulberry bush again. Do it as many times as you need to to get a person that you’re happy with. We all get lazy, we all get frustrated, and we all think, “I guess the right person just isn’t out there, I’d better hire the best of a bad bunch.” But hiring the wrong person kills your organisation. It’s incredibly costly, and the higher up you get the more disruptive it is as well.

4. Think laterally

Now, I must confess, this didn’t always work for me even though I’ve used this as a principle for many years. But don’t get locked into prescriptive job descriptions. You don’t want compulsory requirements that disqualify otherwise great people from working for you. For example, if you’re writing job ads that say, “You must have a doctoral qualification in fractal geometry,” or, “You need to have 10 years experience in artificial intelligence,” you’re gonna knock a lot of people out of the pool before you start. So look behind the position description and think about the base skill set that you require.

5. Have a clear purpose and a story for the future

People wanna know that they’re contributing to something bigger than just the annual shareholder dividends.

6. Sell the benefits, not the features

In any job advertisement or description sell the outcomes and not the process. So many job ads are just about requirements and responsibilities. Tell the people what you expect them to achieve, how you expect them to grow, and how you expect them to contribute to the greater cause.

7. Be clear about your value proposition for your people

Do the work to understand it, but be genuine and realistic. If you do manage to hire great people and they find out that there’s a big gap between the promise and reality, the only thing it’s going to increase for you is your turnover rate.

Now, I know that a lot of you listening to this podcast don’t have the ability to influence the recruitment and retention cycle in your organisation. But if you don’t, I think this presents a great opportunity for you to show some leadership from below, to take this up the line and say, “Hey, I’ve got some ideas for how we can get better people into our organisation and into our business.” I’d actually challenge you to try that this week, and do something that’s going to set you apart as a leader of the future.


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