Talent: Whose job is it?

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News

Ask any CEO or senior level executive what his biggest challenge is, and the answer is almost always finding and keeping talented people.

The world is in a talent hunt. Companies look for the best and the brightest because they know to compete and make a difference requires finding people who have unique skills. Around the world, we hear companies saying, “our people are our greatest asset”. But do they really mean it, and are they acting accordingly?

At too many companies, even the top management leaves the talent hunt to the HR department, or outsources it to headhunters. However, the HR profession is relatively new. In Turkey, it only has a history of approximately 15 years, and HR professionals themselves are still struggling to define their role in the company.

In the meantime, many HR departments are bringing factory production techniques to the hiring process. The search for talent is all about collecting CVs, and doing automated keyword searches, and testing, and screening steps, and procedures.

In a factory, this kind of process reliably removes the rejects from the production line, and ensures uniformity in the final product. It works really well for dependably raising quality levels, and making your manufacturing processes more efficient. Similarly, when it comes to staffing an organization, this approach can deliver a large number of warm bodies who are really, really good, but not necessarily great, and never completely incompetent.

But sometimes you want to staff a particular position with a unique talent that will bring fresh life to your company. In these cases, the same factory processes that guarantee “really really good, but not great” won’t bring you the outliers who could revolutionize your business. In fact, those processes will weed them out. When a manager needs those kinds of people, he can’t depend on his HR department’s factory production processes to find them. He has to take responsibility for the talent search himself.

So the real hunt comes when company management actively keeps an eye on talented employees already inside the company, and talented future candidates outside of it. Keeping your finger on the pulse like this doesn’t come from annual reviews, or job interviews. It requires being involved in your business more intimately than ever. It requires constant networking, inside your company and out. The talent hunt is not a factory process, it is a high-touch, intuitive, and human process.

This reminds me of Ora Ito, the French designer who spoke at a marketing conference here in Istanbul a few months ago. His father was famous and influential in his business, so Ora Ito changed his name, in order to find a job on his own merits and build an independent reputation for himself. He sent out countless resumes, but not one company responded, not even for an initial interview. The factory-style hiring process was weeding him out.

So he made some mock designs of his own, using the famous brands’ names, showing the world what he could do. And soon, he started to get orders for the products. Keep in mind there were no actual products, just mock-up designs he had made and put on the web. These designs got so much attention that the big brand companies started to notice him, and they started calling him. He says, “I wanted to take my revenge. These were the companies who didn’t even want to talk with me because my resume was not good enough for them.” Now he is a top designer for some of the best companies in the world, an invaluable asset who couldn’t even get his foot in the door for an interview.

Unique talent comes from unusual combinations of intangible elements. Automated, factory-like processes designed to weed out the bad apples will also weed out the most outstanding candidates. When a company needs an Ora Ito, its managers have to hit the streets and tap into their own networks. They can’t outsource their company’s search for talent, they have to take the responsibility for it back onto themselves.

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