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A client recently made an offhand comment about a former employer that I found amusing and sad at the same time.

In discussing strategies for recruiting and selecting top talent, he quipped about the challenge that business faced in finding talent period.  He said half the qualified people in the local market had previously worked for the business.  The other half had heard about it.

Talk about a recruiting dilemma!

It is a true statement that companies are only as strong as the people they hire.  In fact they become who they hire, from the CEO to the intern.  With such a critical implication, no employer can afford to let their workforce be an after-thought.  Nor can they assume top talent is a just a phone call away.

The 2014 Talent Shortage Survey by The Manpower Group reports 40% of employers have difficulty filling jobs.  Well over half of all US employers believe the talent shortage has a medium to high impact on their ability to serve customer needs.  The situation is even more critical with top talent – those who possess the right blend of technical skills, soft skills, attitude and availability that bring value to an employer which can be difficult to replace.

To recruit and retain top talent, entrepreneurs, managers and leaders do well to understand three essentials that top talent require of their employers.  Being attentive to these three areas will help any employer “keep the keepers.”


Top talent thrive in cultures that are not after-thoughts, but rather are well tended like a Japanese garden.  For them to experience concrete ways leadership protects and reinforces vision, mission and values means their very work environment matters.  Which means they must matter.  Which positively impacts their job satisfaction.  It doesn’t take cultural perfection, but merely cultural intention.

Current employees are probably one of the top sources of potential talent for your recruiting pipeline.  That works only if the culture is one that they would endorse for their friends and professional network. Maintain a positive, reinforcing, supportive, purposeful culture and you’ll find a team who is working as much if not more for the purpose than just the paycheck.

That kind of culture is a magnet for top talent.


Top talent knows what they are worth on the labor market.  It’s important that good companies pay good wages – market or better.  This is especially true in a competitive labor market, which like any market follows a supply and demand curve.  A limited supply of labor in a given discipline means that the wage rate is likely to increase.

There may be good reasons an organization is unable to pay market or better.  But know this; if there is a deficiency in the area of compensation, then there must be above-the-bar conduct in the other two essentials of culture and career – at least to find and retain top talent.

A little research can give you a detailed understanding of the market wage rates for various professional and vocational categories.  Know what your market average is.  Then make deliberate and informed decisions about what you pay people.  And don’t be an Ebenezer Scrooge with top talent, because the Bob Cratchit’s are not a dime a dozen.


The third essential expected by top talent relates to their professional or vocational development.  This may or may not mean a career ladder with the present organization.  Particularly in small businesses there are limited opportunities for advancement of the ladder type.

Yet what all employers can do regardless of size, is make sure employees feel like an investment is being made in their development and employability.  This occurs through training, mentoring, coaching and a variety of development activities on local and national levels.

This might seem counter intuitive to some.  Some business owners may fear if they invest in training for their people they will use it to look for a better job.  What I would say to that is – if that is the attitude then in fact they should.  And fast.

But the more you invest in the employability of your people the more value they will bring to you as their employer.  The likelihood of defection actually goes down the more you create an environment where people are developed and feel like they are growing.

Cultivate Your Employer Brand to Attract and Retain Top Talent

Brand matters – to both potential employees as well as potential customers.  The perception of what it would be like to work at your company will come from those currently or previously affiliated with the company – suppliers, customers, partners, industry network and especially employees.

Culture, compensation and career are three essential areas that can help or hurt your employer brand and the pipeline of top talent.  Employers would do well to be very mindful and intentional about these three.

After all, there is nothing better than being surrounded by top talent who make a difference for everyone.

Make Life Count