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A New Lesson in Resilience

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I had a conversation recently that still has me feeling a little unsettled. It was with a kid. A young woman, really, of 26 whose career is just starting to blossom. It’s dawning on me that anyone more than 20 years my junior will always be a ‘kid’ in my mind regardless their age. I’m also learning that I need to be careful what else I attach to that label.

Jackie, this kid I was speaking with, is on a spectacular roll. She started and owns several multimillion dollar businesses. She has the ear of the most senior people in the largest, most successful and sexiest technology companies. She rattles off Google, Facebook and Microsoft, and a dozen others less known to Luddites like me… and counts them all as clients. A ‘who’s who’ of business elites serve as her mentors.

Which of her businesses get most of her attention right now? She brokers talent. She takes the very best and brightest students and grads (TOTTs, she calls them – Top of The Top) from Waterloo and the half-dozen very best software engineering schools around the world and helps them find the right job. Let’s put it in perspective: these TOTTs each have around sixty offers to choose from. They earn $80K in a work term. Their starting salaries are north of $250K. These children, not the jobs, are the hot commodity.

So why is the conversation still ringing in my ears? I’m not sure yet; I’m still working it out. I think it has to do with my own resilience. I had my perception of everything I thought I knew ‘altered’ a little.
For the last five years, my business partner and I have been “out there”, pushing the envelope with lots of leaders in the business community. We’ve been missionaries of sorts, railing against the status quo which is so badly broken, and working hard with organizations to change at a fundamental level how they attract, select and engage people. We’ve been constructively contrarian and controversial by choice… and of course in so doing we’ve built a loyal following and turned a whole bunch of people off with our own brand of inconvenient truth. Both outcomes suit us just fine; we’re happy to work only with those who like us.

What rattled me this morning is the sudden realization that all those things we’ve been preaching from way out on a limb are true. Not only are they true… we’ve actually been very conservative and mild in our ‘radical’ message to the business community. In a nutshell, you can summarize our core positioning as follows… the conventional, résumé-based approach to selection is actually an enormous barrier to talent and to the organization’s ability to achieve its business imperatives. The prerequisite to sustained high performance in any organization is an engaged, focused and committed workforce. The prerequisite to engagement is to ensure that the four critical aspects of fit are right. In this model, fit with the manager, with the job, with the team and with the organization are the leading indicators; business performance follows.

The notion of dropping the résumé and using candidate fit as the primary admission ticket is revolutionary… but we take our courage from the knowledge that we can back it up with numerous case studies and testimonials from clients. And on occasions when we’ve felt especially emboldened, we’ve even made the dire prediction that ‘some day in the future’, organizations that don’t staff on that basis will find themselves uncompetitive. I think we might have even wagged our finger at audiences once or twice for emphasis. People over forty can do that and get away with it.

Twenty minutes into the conversation with Jackie, it occurred to me: I’ve worried occasionally about speaking to the world from too far out on the limb. Worried that my claims and predictions about the pre-eminence of fit were too fantastic, too unbelievable. It turns out that I’ve actually been too conservative.

These young Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z wunderkind that Jackie places are all about fit… and the stakes are high. The companies they go to have no choice but to break the mould to accommodate them. Their managers need to be highly adaptive in figuring out how to set them up in such a way as to engage them and harness their genius. The old rules and conventions about ‘work’ and ‘employment’ simply can’t apply, or the asset is lost.

In the tech sector, only the companies who are adaptive and who place the highest premium on fit are able to attract the very best talent and secure their return on the investment; the rest simply don’t get access to the talent stream and cannot compete. The right stewardship of the right talent is the biggest competitive advantage.

It is no different in your business or mine. The stakes are just as high; things just don’t unfold at the same crazy pace as they do in Jackie’s world. Or is it that they do, and we just don’t see it?
Time for me to edge a little further out on that limb. And the next time an HR manager tries to justify why a Gen Y candidate should be passed up cuz theres a typo in the covr letter (lol), I’ll LMAO and make a point of introducing them and their CEO to Jackie.

Editor’s Note:  Jan G. van der Hoop, President of HiringSmart™ — our go-to partner for help on how to hire more effectively, will be contributing to this blog on Fridays.  You can reach him directly at 905-338-7961 or jan@hiringsmart.com.

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