Talent Acquisition

Talent Acquisition is Now a Full-Contact Sport

Why it pays to think like a pro sports franchise.

By Jim Jonassen, JJA Founder

Every major league sports team you’ve ever cared about has at least two or three acknowledged superstars who define that organization’s fortunes. The coveted first-round draft choices. The franchise players. The difference makers.

We see this same talent dynamic reflected in companies that make up today’s innovation economy. But while sports teams have long understood the true value of their key contributors, most business leaders are just now beginning to grasp how existentially important these difference makers are.

All players are not created equal.

This may strike you as a Captain Obvious-level insight. But if more companies viewed their own rosters through this lens, this post could’ve been about something else.

Professional teams are obsessed with scouting, scouring player statistics, reviewing performance videos and ranking elite athletes. Agents, managers, trainers and draft protocols are well-developed for assessing, acquiring and trading talent. Skilled athletes are highly prized and compensated accordingly. This is simply how their world works.

And not only do the fans understand this dynamic – they actively celebrate it. There’s a whole ecosystem built around the competition among elite athletes. You’ve got leaderboards, the draft, minor leagues, combines, agents, managers, scouts and even fantasy leagues.

Which means you can’t treat them equally.

In order for any business to win the war for talent, they need to think about critical, highly-skilled positions differently from the vast base of “commodity” hires. And though our own team spends a lot of time working to fill C-level leadership roles, there are plenty of critical positions populating the next layer or two down on anyone’s org chart. Think software architects, customer success leads, product managers, UX/UI/Industrial designers, data scientists and more.

As these types of roles continue to attract the new rising stars of the innovation economy, it’s becoming harder by the day to identify, engage and recruit them. Yet inconvenient as it may be, hiring these “franchise players” has to become a top imperative for every business today. And effectively recruiting your own difference makers requires new tools, fresh tactics and intense dedication.

Tech icon Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures lays it out in stark terms: “CEOs should be spending 50% of their time recruiting.” We agree.

“Effectively recruiting your own difference makers requires new tools, fresh tactics and intense dedication.”

Four steps to building a winning team.

Here are four changes you can implement right now in the quest to better your chances of success in the scramble to sign top talent.

  1. Elevate talent acquisition to a higher level of strategic importance. Put it up there with priorities like product development or customer acquisition/retention. Just as sales has always been everybody’s job, so too is recruiting. 
  2. Develop and continue to fine-tune your “employer brand.” You’ve probably spent countless hours sweating over your external brand – pitch decks, messaging, website and brand bible. Your brand as an employer is every bit as important. Why should anyone want to work at your company? Don’t leave them wondering. 
  3. Demand visibility into the talent acquisition funnel used by each department for every critical hire. Make it clear that your increased involvement reflects the new normal within your organization, and that this is a good thing for everyone.
  4. Start seeing talent acquisition as a core competency. It wouldn’t be overkill to create an in-house recruiting firm to augment the expertise, networks and professional services you tap through search firms and recruiting agencies. This is how the “One Percenters” win the race for talent.

Step up your game today, not tomorrow.

It’s unlikely you’ll affect sweeping changes overnight. But the sooner you begin taking clear, intentional steps, the more quickly rewards will materialize. Remember, there is no finish line. We’re talking about a practice, not a process. Supporting this process requires investments in time, attention and resources. As Google’s former head of talent development Paul Russell emphasizes, “Development can help great people be even better – but if I had a dollar to spend, I’d spend 70 cents getting the right person in the door.”

The shortage of skills most needed in the tech-driven world is only going to get more extreme. There’s no longer any legitimate excuse to ignore this looming reality – talent acquisition is essential for any growing company.

You want to continue riding that growth curve? You want to blow past goals, benchmarks and competitors? Getting the right lineup of superstars on your bench is the key to a winning season –and maybe even the beginning of a dynasty. 

Hey – my name may be on the byline, but the ideas I share are always the product of a team effort. JJA is on a mission to raise the bar in high-stakes recruitment, from retained searches to corporate talent acquisition. We approach life like an open-source project, driven by the belief that there’s always a better way. If you have ideas you’d like to contribute, please email us. To download some of the free tools we’ve developed, visit the JJA website.