Skip to content

Are you overlooking high performing talent?

Identifying, hiring and developing top performing talent is becoming increasingly more challenging in today’s competitive job marketplace.  Top performers at all organizational levels have options and use that leverage to decide where their next move will take them.  On the flip side of that there is a limited supply of top talent and many companies are losing out on landing those individuals.  Consequently companies might be left with the best available talent to choose from, which over time weakens organizational bench strength.


Where Are They?

So the question is, are there any hidden places where you can find high potential talent?  The answer is that for some jobs there might be and in some instances they are right in front of you.  The biggest challenge is to effectively recognize talent when you see it.  It requires straying away from the traditional recruiting focus on technical and industry specs and giving greater weight to behavioral competencies and accomplishments.  Based on our experience, surprisingly this approach is not broadly utilized and in some organizations is considered taboo. 

The argument is that it is much easier and faster to teach technical knowledge than develop certain behavioral competencies such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, leadership and strong results orientation.  Yet in vetting candidates we disproportionately focus on the technical, product and industry segment fit.  Many top performers rarely get past submitting their resume or having an initial screening, as they are filtered out early on for not matching the ideal specs.


Identifying Top Performers

The applicant tracking system and key word searches do not effectively gauge success and high performance.  Moreover, our traditional biases of only including candidates with specific experiences limit our candidate pool.  If by chance we see candidates with a strong performance track record, but outside of our traditional specs, we wonder why they are even interested in our job and company.  But in reality some individuals may have limited choice within their industry segment, they want to remain in the geographic area or they may want a change from their current career track.  Just because they do not fully match the specs does not diminish their potential to drive results and grow fast in the role.

To illustrate an extreme example of not recognizing talent when it is in front of you let’s review the case of Brian Acton.  In 2009 this software engineer with previous work experience at Yahoo and Apple was turned down by both Twitter and Facebook.  His skill set did not appeal to them.  Consequently he created a startup with another Yahoo alum, called WhatsApp, a cloud based messaging company.  Four years later Facebook purchased WhatsApp for $19 billion.

More recently we helped several people in career transitions.  These are very high producers with years of documented accomplishment.  I was amazed at the lack of traction they were initially getting in the marketplace.  From what we could tell their flaws inevitably included: lack of exposure to company’s operating systems; lower than desired years within industry; too experienced versus the “up and comers”; previous earnings were higher than target; junior recruiter screening the initial batch of candidates did not see their strengths.  Moreover, some of the interviewers were intimidated by how strong some of these candidates were and consequently they were taken out of the running.

Our strategy to help these high performers gain traction is to put them in front of more senior leaders through warm introductions.  Upon doing so we immediately saw them gain traction and move through the interview process, even where there was no formal opening.  Why?  Because some of the senior leaders recognized their accomplishments, strong skills and capabilities.  Issues related to not fully matching the ideal specs became secondary as most of those areas can be overcome if you have the right person.

Changing Our Approach

The message here is that there is a limited supply of top talent that will match the exact spec of the job.  Consequently, you will spend long periods of time chasing those specs and in many instances redefining the position to match the best available candidate.  Our approach is to be more inclusive from the start.  Look at as many candidates as possible without bias.  By placing greater value on past achievement versus technical or industry knowledge you will build a cadre of performers to fill your succession ranks.

It is understood that this approach cannot be employed for a number of jobs, particularly niche roles, but for many others it can be.  The leadership team must empower the recruiter to have greater latitude and open mind to identify high performing talent.  Identifying the best talent is all about turning over every rock and seeing if there is some hidden talent.  This requires a different mindset both from a recruiting perspective and from a corporate culture perspective.  It is a team effort.  Organizations that take this approach outperform their competition.

Beyond the business world we particularly see this creative approach to identifying talent in sports.  Successful organizations always seem to identify hidden talent not recognized by other teams.  It is a difference maker in winning and losing.

Dan Simovic is the Managing Director at TAMS Group. He works with a team of top-notch consultants to provide practical solutions to companies designed to improve employee and organizational productivity, attract, develop, manage and reward their most critical assets: their employees; and minimize workplace compliance risk.