Talent in the Tech Age: The Road to Finding and Keeping the Best May Surprise You

When we talk about talent we are talking about employees, but it’s about so much more than that. Talent includes team members, the C-suite, and also the board, investors, advisors, and beyond. The impact that our people have on our businesses and initiatives is incalculable! Without the right people, what do we have?

So, how do we identify, select, and acquire talent for our organizations? We have so many tools and tricks these days. The Internet has given us more than we could ever possibly process – we have access to people’s entire lives and professional histories (whether they like it or not) through social media, LinkedIn, corporate websites, Who Is databases, background checks, and more. The temptation to leverage all of this is strong – it’s there, it’s abundant, and it’s free. But finding and keeping the right talent people who bring the appropriate skill set and integrate with your culture, too could quite possibly be the most important thing you do in terms of setting up your business to succeed or fail. This is why tech tools will never replace the human touch when it comes to finding and keeping talent.

This month, we had the opportunity to find out why low-tech, high-touch is sometimes the only way to go when it comes to putting the right talent in place when we sat down with the team from Connectivity Capital Partners, an advisory firm that leverages its network to make talent introductions that add real economic value to companies.

(1) How has the process of identifying, selecting, and acquiring talent changed in the last five years?
For companies looking to hire a specific skill set, the process has changed a lot. The use of big data and algorithms allows companies to search and spit out answers to talent problems in a matter of minutes. However, when the hire is more senior in nature, as is often the case with our business, far less has changed. Plenty of companies think that because of LinkedIn, they can do searches on their own, but identifying who the candidates are is only a small part of the process. The real challenge comes when you have to assess the relevance of the candidate and his/her ability to fit in culturally. That requires loads of human hours and years of judgment experience. It also requires an ability to check people out through relevant networks of individuals that know and have worked with the candidate. There is nothing like old-fashioned networks when it comes to references. It is not enough to check the references that a candidate gives you, as those are likely to be nothing short of glowing. It is imperative to find the references the candidate did NOT give you to ensure you really know who you are hiring. Getting the thumbs-up from people who the candidate doesn’t know you are accessing is the key – and the way to do this is through people leveraging people.

(2) What role does social media play in this evolution?
Social media can be viewed as a blessing or a curse. On one hand, it gives employers a fuller picture of the candidate, but on the other, it can bring in irrelevant material to the decision-making process, and cloud an employer’s view on a candidate if he or she shares potentially inappropriate or controversial photos and opinion. The fact is, social media makes everyone more visible, and gives every candidate the opportunity to screw up in public. It’s a slippery slope. Whereas many college kids have done things like keg stands (or worse!) at some point in their lives, not all have been featured on Instagram. So, clearly, having a public profile or presence on social media certainly increases the “noise” around a person’s candidacy. The onus is on the employer to sort through this “noise” and make a judgment call. On the positive side, for example, to the extent that a potential candidate is using Twitter or another platform to share opinions on an industry, they are helping their candidacy in showcasing thought leadership. Looking at who a candidate engages and interacts with on Twitter is also useful information for a potential employer in trying to understand the level of one’s game. What is the quality of their conversation? Who is responding? Are credible people engaging? All of this data feeds into the ultimate decision to hire or not.

(3) What other trends are you watching in the talent acquisition area?
There are two other major trends we have noticed when it comes to acquiring talent in our new economy. The first is the notion of the fractional hire, or the “rent versus own” concept. In today’s shared economy, just as you would rather rent a car versus own one (Zipcar), many companies are making the same choice with respect to their talent. Whether it’s their executive assistants (www.zirtual.com), their lawyers (www.hireanesquire.com), their financial analysts (www.sparehire.com) or their accountants, many are opting to bring someone on in a non-committal way. We think this is an interesting trend to watch, and one that will continue to evolve until the inefficiencies related to making expensive fixed-cost hires are driven out of the process.

The second trend we have witnessed is the notion of using big data analytics to analyze who has and has not been successful for you and then creating an assessment process around these very items. Companies are finding that using predictive models like these increases their ability to hire and retain the right talent.

(4) How does identifying and acquiring talent differ when you’re in the start-up world versus part of an established Fortune 500 organization?
While many people claim to be tired of the bureaucratic corporate world, most don’t know what life in a start-up entails. Many don’t realize until it is too late that they do not have the right risk profile for the start-up life. So, the main challenge for people focused on acquiring talent is to effectively screen for a candidate’s risk tolerance and appetite. Many don’t know how to get things done without teams of people and limitless resources. An entrepreneur’s game is quite different and someone needs to be screening for a candidate’s willingness to roll up his/her sleeves and wear a lot of hats to make things happen.

(5) What should all companies, regardless of industry or size, always keep in mind when it comes to finding the right talent?
Honesty is the best policy. Don’t embellish the job opportunity because chances are both you and the new hire will figure out this was not the match you were hoping for. Present the opportunity as it really is.

(6) What’s the best advice you can offer to leaders and managers about keeping and locking in the best people?
Try to understand what job satisfaction means to each person at the individual level. Fulfillment means different things to different people, so don’t make it a one-size-fits-all proposition. Remain nimble in what you can offer employees. Educate yourself on alternative options. Try not to become insular. Don’t wait for someone to resign to give them what they deserve – by then, it is too late. Reward good people with the respect, responsibility, opportunity, and compensation they have earned along the way, which will keep them from resigning in the first place!

This article was a collaborative effort by the four founding partners of Connectivity Capital Partners: Michael Flood, Joyce Fensterstock, Jaahred Thomas, and Ellen Hoch. For more information on CCP, please visit their website: www.connectivitycapitalpartners.com