Attracting and Retaining Talent in a Hyper-competitive Market

By Pepper de Callier

These are trying times for many corporations that are attempting to expand and participate in a growing economy.  One of the reasons is pretty simple: there are a dwindling number of qualified people for an expanding number of jobs being created in the marketplace.  I have spoken with a number of business leaders recently who are deeply concerned not only with how they are going to find the human capital they need to grow their enterprises, but just as important, how they are going to keep them once they hire them.

For more than twenty-five years I have also talked to people who are top-performing talents in their industries who were leaving their companies to accept new challenges.  It was in those conversations and in one I had recently with a senior human resources executive, for whom I have a great deal of respect, Vladimira Josefiova, that a different perspective on this arose.  First of all, let’s turn the syntax in the question around.  Let’s change it from “How do I attract and retain talent?” to “How do I retain and attract talent?”  There is a big difference in this subtle change.  Josefiova: “If you don’t have the right environment in your organization to begin with, then any money or other resources that are deployed into a retention program will be wasted.  Period.” 

Look, changing jobs is not an easy thing to do for most people.  This is not something that just happens over night.  Whatever brought someone to the point of leaving was, in all likelihood, just the last event in a series of things that has built up over time.  And in most cases, this series of events could have been reversed with the proper intervention.  The reason I’m starting in what seems like the reverse order is to draw your attention to the fact that your recruiting effort and your retention effort really begin in the same place and one feeds the other in a continuous cycle of growth.

Confused?  Let me explain.  The real question leaders should be asking is “How can we differentiate ourselves in the marketplace so that the best talent wants to work for us and wants to stay with us?”  The answer lies in why people have wanted to work for leaders like Jack Welch, Petr Smida, Tomas Sabatka, and John Chambers.  They created a culture of appreciation.  When people feel appreciated, respected and honored, they create a collective feeling of pride, excitement and dedication to the organization they work for. This is the most powerful recruiting tool you will ever create for your organization and it starts at the top.  When you, as a leader, place an emphasis on creating a culture of appreciation and do things, personally, to enable and support it, you are setting the example for your subordinates to follow—an example that will truly differentiate you in the marketplace and make your organization its own ‘center of excellence’ for talent.

Then, when people come to interview for positions with your company and are exposed to its culture they will immediately pick up the ‘vibe’ of enthusiasm, pride, dedication, and respect that will attract solid long-term talent.  It will also be what will make people want to stay with your company when others try to lure them away.

There are many ways to build a culture of appreciation, but let me share a few with you that may help you begin, or add to, your effort to create a robust and vibrant culture that will separate you from your competitors.  Recognize the efforts of your team. Encourage your managers to communicate frequently with their people and ask them how they’re doing.  Create a ‘rising to excellence award’ like they have at Quidel corporation.  People who are in the early stages of their careers at Quidel get public recognition for their ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ contributions directly from the CEO.  I also heard about a leader who, at the end of a particularly challenging year that had required many people to put in long hours, sat down and hand wrote thank you notes to the families of her team members.  She told them how much she valued the outstanding contribution their family member made and she thanked them for the support they gave their family member which allowed them do so. 

Wouldn’t you want to come work and build a career at a place that treated people like this?  That’s just the way others feel, too.

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

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