The Secret to Winning Top Talent in a Tight Market

Winning Top Talent

From efficiency and innovation to customer experience and brand equity,
employees have the power to help a company sink or soar.

Is your business having trouble attracting great employees? Do you get close to making an offer (or even make one) only to be turned down?

Hiring in a tight labor market isn’t easy. There are only so many people that fit your ideal criteria for the job and many of them may be happy where they are. Those that are looking can afford to be choosy. A sweet offer package can certainly tip the scales when a candidate is on the fence, but there’s something else that yields more dramatic results: culture.

Why? Because employees who consistently excel want to work for organizations where they are not only valued as individuals but where they can make a difference. They want to connect their daily efforts to something bigger. They want to work with other smart people. They want to be proud to tell people about their company.

Engaged Employees are Like Magnets

Inc. Magazine reports that “highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave a company.” That’s great news if you’re worried about the rising costs of employee turnover, and it’s also the secret sauce for attracting primo talent.

Engaged employees are to hiring what external brand advocates are to sales: they spread the word, bring their friends and help companies create a community of believers.

Employees who love where they work know they can make their company even better by referring highly qualified candidates. On the other hand, workers at organizations that treat employees or customers poorly will warn those same candidates away.

It’s up to you to cultivate the kind of culture that attracts top talent instead of repelling it.

Stop Over-Compensating

A recent article in Chief Executive magazine pointed to incentive compensation as a key strategy when the market for talent is tight. Naturally people like to be rewarded for hard work and a quarterly bonus gives them something to anticipate. Unfortunately, it will also fall flat when other drivers of employee engagement and satisfaction are missing.

Research has demonstrated time and again that compensation doesn’t create employee satisfaction. Sure, money quells discontent, removing the irritant of low pay from the equation, but that doesn’t solve cultural concerns.

Employees expect to be paid fairly and once that threshold is crossed, added income doesn’t make them happier. It might make an unhappy employee stay, which is exactly the opposite of what savvy leaders want! (Assuming you’ve already done what you can in an effort to make them happy.)

Why bribe someone to stay when you’d both be better off if they leave? When an employee doesn’t buy into the purpose of the business, if they don’t feel like an integral part of the mission, there’s a good chance they don’t belong. Help them along and create room for someone who is engaged.

Invest Now to Win Later

A culture that attracts top talent doesn’t happen overnight, especially if you need to correct the course of a wayward environment. It’s much easier to build culture intentionally from the beginning, although new businesses rarely put enough emphasis on this area.

Instead, CEOs focus on growth and let culture develop organically until they wake up one morning and discover a problem. Fully 70% of top executives delegate issues of culture and engagement to HR, leaving problems to fester until their once-a-year review of the employee survey.

You can be one of those disengaged CEOs, or you can be proactive about your culture. If you want to win the war for top talent, I recommend that latter option. Make culture a priority and your employees and customers will notice. Word will spread so you won’t have to work nearly as hard to recruit the stars you need to excel.

Lifestyle, Not Lip Service

A culture that attracts top talent has the added benefit of attracting top customers, too. It’s a sweet deal that requires a long term commitment. You can’t simply say, “We’re a great place to work” if you don’t prove it daily:

  • Talk to employees and customers regularly, then act on what you learn.
  • Show sincere appreciation for those that go the extra mile, giving credit when due.
  • Be compassionate and empathic, put not a pushover.
  • Set clear expectations and ensure consistency in actions and communications.
  • Let employees tell you what they want, instead of telling them what you can offer.
  • Accept failures and setbacks gracefully, then share the lessons learned.
  • Encourage openness and trust, leading by example.

If you haven’t already embraced these principles, start now. Over time, you employer brand will become more well known. As it does, highly desirable candidates will seek you out, eagerly looking forward to the opportunity to join your firm.

Image by Emre Danisman on

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