Stop Trying to Attract the Best Talent

This post originally appeared on the Switch and Shift blog.

There is a generalized, low-level anxiety in the business world about attracting the top talent. It makes sense, of course: who wouldn’t want the best talent? And if they are the best, then obviously not everyone can have them, so I guess we should task HR with figuring out how our organization can attract these people. We end up working on our marketing materials, or maybe spending a bit more on our benefits, or better yet—add that foosball table to the breakroom. That will show them how awesome our culture is!

But in doing all this we are avoiding a simple and powerful truth:

You know what’s NOT attractive? Someone who’s TRYING to be attractive.

Stop trying to attract the top talent, and stop trying to attract the Millennial generation while you’re at it. Instead, focus on being amazing. The organizations that Maddie Grant and I studied in the research for our recent book, When Millennials Take Over, all attract the top talent. One of the companies is a small nonprofit in Chicago, and they consistently draw applications from the corporate world when they have an opening (not the typical flow of talent in that arena). Another is a software company in Ann Arbor Michigan that can instantly bring 30 people in for a group interview any time a position opens up (and they only have 50 staff).

These companies are in demand and have amazing people working for them (including Millennials), and they got there not by trying to be attractive, but by putting extra effort into being amazing. The nonprofit in Chicago, for instance, designed its organization around the needs and interests of the employees, rather than the senior managers. They have an open floor plan with all the desks grouped together in pods all in one room. The CEO’s desk is out there with everyone, because he realized that the employees got their work done more effectively and efficiently when he was immediately accessible. They also rewrite their job descriptions every single year based on the unique career development needs of every single employee. It’s more work for the organization, but it works better for those who work there. To quote one of the employees, “This place cares more about us, so we should care more about this place.” They get that elusive employee engagement we all seek--not through perks, rewards, or incentive programs, but by embracing what we call the “digital mindset” and designing the organization with the users/employees in mind.

When you “try to attract” people, it generally leads you to making changes on the surface (actually, the same is true at an interpersonal level). But unless you’re looking for a short-term relationship, your best bet is to make some deeper changes. Get clear on what your culture is, and how it drives your success. The Chicago nonprofit is crystal clear about why their culture supports the needs of employees and how that generates more productivity and engagement. They then went and changed their office space and their processes to reflect that powerful culture. In the end, the top talent is attracted to that power and that clarity—the cool office space and having wifi on the roof deck is really just icing on the cake.

So focus your attention there. Build an amazing culture that isn’t just pretty on the surface, and watch who starts to show up.

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