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The talent gap, and how to hire transformational staff

Over 10 times more productive than average performers, top talent have an outsized impact on business success. But how do you hire them?

Which project do you think got better results, an operating system developed in less than two years with a team of 600 engineers? Or an operating system developed over more than five years with a team of 10,000?

If you answered “depends on the engineers” – you’re right. The bigger team was at Microsoft, and they created Windows Vista, a much derided product that had so many problems the story of its launch survives as a cautionary tale. The smaller team was at Apple, and they made OSX.

Why only one of these projects succeeded is nicely summarised in a quote from Steve Jobs.

“I noticed that the dynamic range between what an average person could accomplish and what the best person could accomplish was 50 or 100 to one. Given that, you’re well advised to go after the cream of the cream. A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”

Top talent are super productive

Measuring top talent depends a lot on where you companies make their cut off points. Thankfully some research gives us a good idea. It says:

  • The bottom 10 per cent of your workforce is responsible for 0 per cent of output
  • The next 85 per cent is responsible for 74 per cent of output
  • The next four per cent are responsible for 16 per cent of output (so they’re five times more productive than the average worker)
  • It’s the top one per cent of employees that are the most impressive. They account for a full 10 per cent of your output (making them more than 10 times productive than the average worker)

Transformative employees have these attributes

Research from Indeed reveals the five leading attributes of transformational talent across Australia. For instance, they asked 1,000 hiring managers: “Think about the most impressive top performer you’ve worked with at your current company or a previous company. What is the number one attribute this person exemplified?”

From the data they identified five leading attributes:

  • Problem solving – Ability to find and implement solutions for difficult or complex issues
  • Self-direction – Self-starter, someone who initiates new assignments and challenges
  • Strategic thinking – Creative thinker, thinks outside the box
  • Communication – Speaks and writes clearly and effectively with internal and external stakeholders
  • Passion – Demonstrated enthusiasm or excitement for a task or role

What makes these traits so transformational is that they demonstrate a bias towards action, and the experience and capability to learn how to do things effectively.

So how do I hire them?

Further research from Indeed shows when people look for jobs. For most talent, they begin their search when they’re dissatisfied with their current role (29 per cent), feel discouraged about their current job situation (26 per cent), or when they see posts about jobs/companies that interest them (25 per cent).

But that’s not how transformational talent think.

They are six per cent more likely to be attracted to a new job by a clear path for career advancement. They are 11 per cent more likely to be attracted to a company’s reputation. But the most significant difference was that they are a full 20 per cent more likely to change jobs because of a company’s mission or vision.

The most fascinating finding though, is evidence that they are four per cent less likely to accept a job for better compensation or benefits. That’s not to say money isn’t a driver, but that compensation is more important to average workers than transformational talent.

Companies that are currently maximising this include Xero. In their employer branding, they don’t places extrinsic rewards at the forefront. The headline for their careers page is “Do beautiful work”, which may seem simple, but is the kind of sentiment that is more likely to attract top talent.

Another example is Atlassian. On their careers page, they take the time to give you an idea of their culture and mission. First they give you an idea of the kind of driven but supportive environment you’ll be working in “When talented individuals team up, they make great things happen”.

They follow this up with a statement of their commitment to diversity, “Atlassian is for everyone”.

Again, it might seem simple, but by forefronting meaningful work above everything else these companies maximise their chances of getting transformational talent.

Want to know more?

For more ideas on how to attract top talent, and for further insights into how impactful they can be, check out Indeed’s webinar on Transformational Talent: Portrait of the High-Potential Workforce.

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