The War for Talent

Published October 24, 2016

The “War for Talent” is real. Kevin Hankin coined this phrase almost 20 years ago; however, the battle for top talent is actually much older. For decades, the best leaders have understood that the organizations with the most talented people have the greatest chance of winning. Of course, winning is defined differently if you are a business, an educational institution or a church. But the truth remains – people ultimately determine an organization’s level of success.

We’ve surveyed leaders for decades and – you guessed it, finding and keeping people is always on the list of issues/concerns. Leaders can never settle or become complacent in this arena, or they run the risk of losing any hard-fought competitive advantage they may have attained.

As the work becomes more demanding, demographics shift and employment levels fluctuate, the challenge of finding the people you need can be increasingly difficult. You may think your competition for talent is confined to your industry or geography, but the War for Talent has crossed industries, job categories and oceans. The battle is now global!

Even in the midst of this reality, some leaders appear to attract top talent consistently. How do they do it? Honestly, I’m not sure, but we’ve just launched a major initiative to find the answer.

Over the last 90 days, I have personally met with dozens of business leaders across the country who excel in this arena, and I’ve also conducted almost 20 focus groups with top performers. It’s premature to declare any insights, but today I’ll share some of the more pragmatic ideas that may be helpful as you wage your own battle for the brightest and best. Nothing radical here, but these early findings certainly underscore the importance of the fundamentals.

Priority of People – There are many things a leader can delegate. Even in the people arena, the best leaders appear to delegate extensively – to a point. However, the leader(s) sets the tone and the priorities for his or her organization. When you talk with the best leaders about their success, they may mention many things, but people will be central to the conversation. If people are not one of your top priorities, the War for Talent will likely become a protracted and costly campaign.

Clear Profile – Leaders who find and keep amazing people have identified specifically what they want and need in a hire. On the surface, this may sound strange, but I’m reminded of what H. L. Mencken said, “A problem well-defined is half-solved.” These leaders KNOW who they are looking for and most don’t settle just because it is hard. If you compromise on a selection, you lower the bar. If you lower the bar, you can lose the culture. Specifically, what are you looking for? This is where Pat Lencioni’s latest book, The Ideal Team Player may be helpful.

Strong Process – Over the years, I’ve probably seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of unique ways to search for, screen, select, and on-board talent. Not surprising, the organizations that excel in the people arena have a well-conceived process, executed with diligence. Yes, there are exceptions. I met one top performer recently who was selected outside the organization’s process. He was so sharp, the interviewer jettisoned the process and made the decision on the spot. Even in this example, the leader making the decision felt empowered; in part, because the profile was so clear, the decision to circumvent the process made sense.

Fast Start – The battle is not won when a person is selected. What do you do to ensure your newfound talent gets off to a fast start? On-boarding (orientation), is critical. This is the step to ensure your top talent “sticks.” Horst Schulze, a popular Summit speaker, has long advocated, “The first 40 hours of an employee’s tenure is the most important of his/her career.” How much thought and attention have you given to this critical part of the process?

I hope to have more to share on this topic in the future. But for now, let me encourage you to keep people near the top of your list of priorities – finding them, selecting them, orienting them and growing them. If you do, you can win the War for Talent!

About the Author(s)
Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Vice President of High-Performance Leadership


Mark Miller is a business leader, international best-selling author and storyteller. He currently serves as Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A, Inc. As an author, he now has over one million books in print including The Heart of Leadership, Chess Not Checkers , and his latest, Win Every Day, to be released in March 2020. Over the years, Mark has spoken to countless groups around the world—his message is consistent with his calling: He wants to encourage and equip leaders to change their world. Learn more at

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