Monday, November 30, 2009

You Need to Recognize and Attract Top Talent

Investors always say that a successful startup is more about the people than it is about the idea. Great people can take a mediocre idea, and make it a success, while mediocre people can take a great idea and make it a failure. So what should you look for to find the great people you need?

A great start is to look for the five C’s which indicate people of talent, as outlined by John Spence in his book, Awesomely Simple:
  1. Competence. At the very foundation, to be considered “talented,” a person has to be highly competent in an area that is key to your business. This person must possess skills, abilities, ideas, and information that exceeds yours in these areas. Truly talented people are fanatics for lifelong learning, and a sponge for new ideas.

  2. Character. You can have the smartest person on the team, the very highest performer – yet if he or she isn’t completely trustworthy, you have a liability, not an asset. Honesty, transparency, and a values-based life are the elements that build professional and personal character.

  3. Collaboration. The world is too complex, with too much information, and moving at too high a velocity for any single individual to handle it alone. For talented individuals to be effective in any organization, they must be superb at collaborating with others. Teamwork is mandatory, not optional.

  4. Communication. Every talented business professional who succeeds must be an expert communicator. It is not great skills of oratory or persuasion that are the most important, but rather the ability to ask superior questions and then listen to the answers. Be adept at laying out simple, clear, and logical arguments – while connecting emotionally.

  5. Commitment. No great success is ever achieved without great effort. Highly talented businesspeople are committed, driven, and passionate about what they are doing. They do not see their work as a job, but instead as an adventure, a quest, a higher calling.
Knowing the right characteristics is actually the easy part. The hard part is attracting people who have these characteristics, and convincing the best of the best to join you. Many would argue that top-ranked venture capitalists, like John Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers, actually excel in attracting and recognizing great talent, rather than recognizing great ideas.

To attract the right people, you must become a fanatic about finding and recruiting top talent. That means putting effective actions in place, and spending real time on the process. Entrepreneurs who say it’s hard to find good people, yet simply rely on newspaper ads and Craigslist are kidding themselves.

John Spence reiterates that the only way to win the war for talent is to employ the Powell doctrine of “shock and awe.” Make talent acquisition a major strategic thrust in your company, with specific actions like these:
  • Build a list of ten super-talented people you’d hire today if you had funds available.
  • Find a different highly talented person every month to take to lunch.
  • Build a personal relationship with top placement officers at local universities.
  • Attend association and community meetings, constantly networking for top talent.
  • Define an internship program that taps promising college students early.
  • Provide a reward system to current employees who close a talented new team member.
  • Hone your interview process to make it more effective with the best candidates.
The startups that survive and thrive in the future will be the ones that treat talent acquisition, development, and retention as a major strategic imperative. Of course, with highly talented players, you should also empower them to make their own decisions, and hold them accountable for superior communication and collaboration. That’s a recipe for success in any business.

Marty Zwilling



  1. I applaud your ideas surrounding the recognition and retention of top quality talent. The question that I have is how does one identify these unique individuals with the perusal of a single page resume?

    All too often this talent is overlooked simply due to the fact that someone reviews a resume and does not identify "key words". Love to hear your thoughts on this...

    My Two Cents...

  2. @James, thanks for the question. My thought is that a single page resume sounds like something you would get off of Craigslist. No decisions should be made from resumes ever. Use networking or better sources in the beginning, or followup after.

  3. Agreed -- the resume is a VERY small part of the equation -- networking and personal referrals typically play a bigger role in bringing in top talent.