Since McKinsey & Co. announced the War for Talent in the late Nineties, Talent has rarely been out of the business news. Here is my own (perhaps slightly contrarian) take on how to win that particular war.

1. Start with Mission, not Strategy.

Mission is why your business exists: what problem or class of problems it solves for customers. If your mission statement is just a string of superlatives (best / fastest / highest / longest / freshest), it isn’t your mission statement. (So get it off the wall at Corporate HQ and do your homework, properly).

Strategy is how you think you should be pursuing the Mission, at this point in time. That means it could change tomorrow: new CEO, shift in the economy or trading conditions, competitor initiative; just about anything can derail your Strategy and cause it to be replaced.

That’s obvious, surely. Why isn’t the corollary obvious too? Which is, that if you hire talent to fit the Strategy, your requirements are going to change by the time you have the talent you were seeking on-board. (And it happens - I know more than one person who was told on their starting day that their job had changed or been transferred to the other side of the planet.)

On the other hand, Mission is forever (as much as anything in business can be). In most organisations, Mission has 50+ year stability. Even in tech startups, only a proportion of pivots actually shift the organisation to a new Mission (but it does happen, of course). So do yourself a favour and find and hire talent that fits your Mission. Hiring for the Mission means never having to say you are sorry.

2. Know what Engagement Really Is

Hire people who are going to stay engaged with the Mission. That sounds bizarre if you still think Engagement is primarily about how leaders and managers do their job. Let me explain.

People are engaged, or disengaged, primarily based on whether or not they are finding the opportunity to do satisfying work.

That satisfaction, or lack thereof, is primarily internal; it is determined by who they are and what matters to them, not by what their manager does. Hiring for smarts and skills isn’t wrong, but it has to come second to hiring for passion. And by passion, I mean “objectively measurable interest and motivation”; not how they talk in an interview.

Hire people whose passion connects to your Mission or some aspect of its execution, and who will be able to fully engage that passion in the role they take on, and you will see talent - even if that means they have to acquire new skills and experience.

3. Work out what your Secret Sauce is

Your understanding of what your Mission is, needs to be backed with a further element: namely what is it that your Customers value in the way you live out your Mission? Oftentimes, it is only when we listen to our Customers (the passionate and the disappointed, both) that we can fully appreciate what our Mission is, from the customer perspective. (It’s all about solving problems for Customers, remember).

So find out who are the people who delight your Customers, in ways that are consistent with the Mission (the salesperson who gives off-the-list monster discounts just to make his volume target, doesn’t count - and probably causes the Customer more problems than they solve). These people may not even be Customer-facing, but the impact of what they do and how they do it is traceable to the deep satisfaction experienced by your customers; so identify those people in specific roles and then understand what makes them different from others in the same role. Do that using objective data (not subjective managerial opinion) and you now have a recipe for hiring more of the same.

And that is how everyone wins in the War for Talent - you, your Customers and especially your employees, who now have some chance of ending up in the right roles, where they can fully engage and be satisfied - which leads to a similar outcome for your Customers.

Originally posted on LinkedIn - Published September 22, 2017