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Five Ways To Win The War For Talent

What’s the downside to building a company amidst a healthy financing environment and a significant boom in technical innovation? Many would say recruiting dynamics — scaling teams with great talent becomes challenging, often even painful, when many others are trying to do the same.

So it was no surprise that CEOs packed a breakout session and chat with Tesla Motors’ VP of HR and Google veteran Arnnon Geshuri — held as part of our first-annual CEO Summit.

Based on the experiences he shared, Arnnon has earned his expertise the hard way. While heading one recruiting group, his initial strategy presentation was shut down twice — within the first five minutes — because he hadn’t articulated a truly differentiated talent and recruiting program. In another role, he was tasked with making 1,200 hires in a six-week period, requiring his team to evaluate 200 candidates per day to find excellent talent. And in another recruiting adventure, he was charged with aggressively building a college recruiting function from scratch in five days and delivering five exceptional engineers by the end of the fifth day.

Fortunately, Arnnon was more than capable of taking on these challenges, and he delivered plenty of insights along with these stories. Following are the five themes from his presentation and the discussions that followed:

1. Harness your own “people analytics”. For the best guidance on what blend of skills and personality traits fit your organization optimally, look no further than the team members who are top performers. Measure their performance. Analyze their backgrounds — from degrees to hobbies to life experiences. Talk to them about why they think they’re succeeding and why they like working for you (or don’t). Use this information to create a profile you can use to identify and evaluate new candidates.

2. Smarts still matters. Despite the growing emphasis on EQ within HR circles, Tesla still puts a premium on finding people with exceptional ability, general smarts and the capacity to solve tough problems. In one recruiting effort, the company set out to find all of the people who had recently earned technical PhDs by the age of 17 to see how these minds could be applied to upcoming technical projects. Tesla narrowed the search to 10 such people, connected with each one and ended up hiring one of them who best fit the company environment. In this case example, almost immediately, this newbie just started solving problems for the company by approaching projects differently. In a collaborative environment, people skills still count, but the true impact comes when EQ is accompanied by smarts and an innate drive to seek out the answer.

3. Create deep engagement. In order to retain talent, set clear expectations and provide constant, transparent feedback. Toward this end, in one company example, all promotions and terminations are announced at the team level so that everyone knows what is good and what is bad and can calibrate as a result. Additionally, top leadership sends out emails every few months to employees asking people to report unsatisfactory performance by managers and to hold people managers accountable for creating an excellent work environment. This level of engagement will not only enable you to keep more talent by ensuring everyone has a voice and impact but also provides early warning signs regarding those who may be about to leave. And retaining exceptional talent may be the most valuable capability of all.

4. Practice retention by subtraction. From the EQ perspective, both Arnnon and one of our other CEO Summit speakers, Robert Sutton of Stanford’s, extolled the virtues of what may soon become HR’s new golden rule: “No a-holes.” Just one difficult employee can destroy team cohesion and drive others out the door. Similarly, ineffective managers can make work life a daily hell for dedicated young associates. In both cases, it’s better to address the problem at the source, rather than endure the churn he or she creates.

5. Keep recruiting in-house, if possible. It’s very unlikely that an outside consultant will grasp the internal intricacies required by the prior four tenets better than someone working on the inside. A dedicated internal recruiting function will enable you to build your candidate profiles, create more efficient screening processes (if desired), provide personal engagement among the staff and get a feel for who’s happy and who’s not. Plus, you can probably maintain an in-house recruiting team for the same cost of two or three executive placements through an outside firm.

So, follow those themes, and recruiting becomes simple, right? Probably not. Given the near constant need for scaling across organizational functions, recruiting is in many ways a never-ending task. But Arnnon cautioned against lowering standards with words that apply far beyond the war for talent:

“Desperation is not a recruiting strategy.”

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