3 ‘State Of Practice’ Trends In The Search For Top-Notch Talent

Each year, I mentor about five agency leaders and 15 high performers on the way up. I also spent the past decade managing and developing over 50 makers and managers as the general manager of two boutique design shops. I submit to you that while these numbers are not a huge dataset, they’re enough to see some of the big trends in talent play out on the front lines.

And while what I want to hold up to you is not new, the context makes it more urgent than before. These talent trends are no longer considered “state of the art.” They have officially become the state of practice.

What better time than now to revisit what might be obvious and find new ways to take better advantage of what this moment in time promises to you and your talent: unprecedented flexibility and enablement. Here are three ways to do just that.

Let Go Of ‘Forever’ And Embrace ‘For Now’
As many of you have experienced firsthand, a high percentage of makers and high performers are by their very nature risk takers and challenge seekers. Oftentimes, once they’ve mastered the task at hand, they want to move on to something different. Let them. Encourage them to do so. Be a resource and reference as they go through the process. Don’t be aggravated they are leaving. Be proud that they carry the stamp of your brand in their professional passport as they continue their journey.

While this might feel like an extreme position to take, even exploring it out loud with your team allows for a more realistic perspective of what each of you are looking to get out of the arrangement. I would challenge any leader who fears one of their employees leaving by instead saying: You should fear that someone is quietly looking without your knowledge and support. Furthermore, demonstrating you are an organization with strong alumni relations—no matter the duration of service—will make you that much more attractive to the kind of talent that will be able to advance your company.

Find Talent In Unexpected And Under-Represented Places
We’ve all read the headlines about why diversity is important, and certainly no one in 2017 would argue against it. But chances are we are still hiring from the same “top” schools and prioritizing previous experience at “top” shops.

Yet what about the talent in networks you’re not aware of and not connected to? What about the talent who didn’t have the money or access to get into those top schools or networks, but is hungry and ready to do what it takes to help your team win? Two examples for you to consider:

One of the single best investments I made was in opening an office in Oklahoma. It was built around a talent I had hired as my first employee at JESS3. In a sea of “what’s in it for me?” potential hires from my generation, this 25-year-old had a work ethic and attitude reminiscent of another time and place: loyal, dependable, gritty, unwavering. She explained to me that a lot of people in Oklahoma had similar dispositions and that she could field a team of Okies. I had never even considered this state or the schools there until I met Becca; to this day I still do work with talent from this original office.

One of the most overlooked makers I mentor taught himself how to draw while also working at a young age to help support his family. He grew up below the poverty line, hungry for a better life. Working multiple jobs and continuing his passion for art all through high school, he managed to put himself through college at a top state school and graduate with high marks. And you know what he’s been told when he’s applied to big name agencies? “We really only hire from portfolio schools.” Are you kidding me? You are going to pass up one of the hardest-working, naturally talented potential hires because the person didn’t go to a school you have on a short list? His instincts to work hard and not give up were forged in struggle; even if you tried, you couldn’t instill these in someone who has grown up in privilege.

In both examples, zip codes and name brands limited the ability of employers to hire truly talented employees. When you venture beyond densely populated cities (and even the coasts), blue chip brands, and top 10 schools, you can discover pockets of highly capable—and diverse—talent ready to loyally contribute. Be the company to give them their break, and they will forever remember you for it—and likely refer other hidden gems like them to you in the future.

It’s About Unleashing Potential
The “War for Talent” was first coined in 1998 by McKinsey
, following a yearlong study of 77 companies and almost 6,000 managers and executives in which they asked, “What is the most important corporate resource over the next 20 years?” The answer? Talent. More specifically: “smart, sophisticated businesspeople who are technologically literate, globally astute, and operationally agile.”

While nearly everything in the original McKinsey study has come true (e.g., larger companies mimicking smaller companies by creating autonomous units, devising more imaginative hiring practices, raiding talent from other companies, etc.), one peculiar thing that organizations are still not getting right: nurturing and unleashing human potential.

No matter the organization, there are cases of misalignment of what your talent is naturally drawn to and what you ask them to do. Some of this can be explained away by the “we all need to eat our vegetables” principle, when our parents used to get us to ingest the things that we didn’t like but that contributed to our overall healthy growth. We need people to clean up figurative and literal messes; we need people to come early and stay late; we need people to do tedious, repetitive tasks (though, arguably, less so on this last one if we are leveraging the best of what technology offers us today). But the bigger issue is that each employee’s why—their ingenium as the Romans would call it, or their innate talent—is not being understood, unlocked, and therefore applied.

The employee might have a sense of what their why is, but they don’t see obvious or immediate ways to put it to work. And even when they do, it’s often outside of work that it comes alive, expressing itself through hobbies and not through their day jobs. Not only is this a major loss for you, the employer, but it is also a surefire way to eventually lose talent whose latent skills are in fact the very things you might need for doing breakthrough work.

What better gift to give other people than to help them unlock their potential? Imagine not only the short-term benefits for your company, but the long-term effect you’ll have had on their lives? I put this outcome above all the projects I’ve launched and business I’ve won. For it has given me the meaning and purpose to my life that has ultimately helped me discover my why: to build big people. Big people can live up to their full potential and help others do the same. Big people are charged up to deliver against the responsibilities they have at work, at home, and in their communities. Big people build big companies. Are you growing yours?

This article is part of the “2017 SoDA Report.”

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