Your talent is your tomorrow.
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“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” — Steve Jobs

Imagine if a music label stopped searching the world for the next sensation. Or fast-growing tech executives stopped tapping their networks to find the best engineers and marketers.

It’s pretty easy to see what would happen. Each organization would eventually stagnate and die.

You don’t need to be Sony Music or Steve Jobs to see that the same principle applies. That’s because in most organizations, the quality of the people you hire — particularly in key roles — can make or break a great organization. After all, today’s new recruit is tomorrow’s superstar.

Bottom line? If you manage people — whether you’re an entrepreneur or Fortune 100 executive — you must also be a part-time talent scout. Because the task of future key hires is simply too important, too strategic — and too time-sensitive — to leave fully in the hands of others.

Instill a culture of talent scouting

“I have three open positions; I was close on one, then the candidate said no. So, three months later, I’m back to square one.” — CFO

What you sense is true: employees today are much harder to find and harder to keep. According to 2016 US Bureau of Labor Statistics, average tenures in America have decreased to 4.2 years — while a recent CompData survey shows a 13.5% voluntary exit rate (up sharply from 10.4% only 5 years ago) across all industries.

That means if you’re not scouting for your key roles on an ongoing basis, you’re running the risk of a gap — and a long journey from a cold start — when a key person resigns. Then it’s a matter of hurry-up-and-wait: the process takes too long, promising people get snapped up by rival companies, and everyone ends up frustrated.

That’s why it’s critical to instill a culture of talent scouting within your organization. After all, the opportunity cost of dealing with talent in a reactive, transactional way — of not having already scouted potential candidates, in collaboration with your search partners or internal recruiters — is probably higher than the incremental cost of making the mind-shift I’m suggesting here.

Always be scouting

Just as sales people need to mind their “ABCs” — always be closing — managers and leaders should spend a chunk of their time every week either looking for great talent to hire, or keeping their eyes peeled for talented people on the inside they could cultivate.

The task is not as daunting as you may think. We’re living in an era of unparalleled connectivity and accessibility. Never before has professional talent been easier to scope out and contact. LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media can give you a great idea where to look. And they’re only the tip of the networking iceberg.

Maybe part of the problem is that managers are not compensated for the scouting they’ve done, nor do they get bonuses for being “scout of the year,” or “closing” on candidates that were on scouting lists. Maybe they should.

Be proactive: Take (more) ownership of recruitment

If you’re scouting consistently for your key current roles and future needs, you should be sending a list of interesting potential candidates to your recruiters or search partners, and getting their feedback — not vice versa.

Isn’t it more strategic to tell your recruiter or search partner, “Find out how we can get her in here in the next year or two,” than to say, “Go source me a list of people for VP of Sales”?

And one other note: people sometimes return. So-called “boomerang hires” are increasingly commonplace — those high voluntary turnover rates also mean talent will sometimes fly right back to you. Part of instilling a scouting culture involves welcoming your best people back on their way out. When it comes to onboarding, you’re already halfway there.

Great talent elevates everything

Why is it worth it for managers and executives to incorporate scouting into their mindset and workflow? Because great talent is immeasurably valuable to an organization — a source of competitive advantage whose benefits accrete over time.

Great talent elevates everything — your results, culture, morale, and your ability to lead. Instill in yourself and your team the expectation that scouting out great talent is a top priority. And you will, over time, advance what your organization is able to achieve, in a sustained way.

In that sense, you can look at scouting as a gift that keeps on giving.

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