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Which Comes First, Talent or Transformation?

Via LinkedIn : Lately I’ve found myself hooked on the new podcast “StartUp,” which is hosted by NPR alum Alex Blumberg. When I started listening to the series, I expected to hear about Blumberg’s own experience launching and running a company, but the podcast also looks at questions about the greater business landscape outside of startups. The most poignant episode for me (I promise, no big spoilers here!) was one in which Blumberg recognizes the burnout his employees are facing. The amazing thing is that despite the fatigue, his team still feels loyal to their company and their cause.

This communal dedication to a goal is what makes startup life so appealing to young tech talent, in addition, of course, to the perks and paychecks. Confronting his team’s burnout led Blumberg to consider the work environment he had created and to explore the environments that are attractive to technologists and innovators. He wonders why startup-minded talent is clamoring to work for a big, global company like Google, but tends to stray away from other big, global companies like GE. This question caught my attention because of my team’s tech talent recruitment expertise; we’ve seen how common it is for older, more established companies to have trouble recruiting Millennial employees.

A decade ago, technologists were barely on the radar of C-suite executives and only a few Innovator titles were sandwiched by “chief” and “officer.” Now through the advent of social media and advances in technology, consumers have been given ultimate influence over business. If a company is to be truly customer-centric, then it needs to communicate and influence audiences in the channels and mediums they’re using in their daily lives. Enter the new era where every company now has to employ technology talent in order to keep up with ever-changing expectations to stay relevant. When corporations go to recruit these employees, however, they face a lack of interest among the talent base.

My team and I see this issue as a chicken and egg situation: companies need tech talent to keep up with technologic disruption, but the right talent isn’t interested if the company isn’t already perceived as being transformative. Getting the first few employees hired, and keeping them happy and engaged, is crucial to maintaining the momentum needed to adapt to disruption. We’ve seen that Millennial employees–tech or otherwise–want to rally alongside their colleagues in chasing a defined goal. Multi-department, siloed companies, however, typically don’t embody collaboration and unity, yet they can’t be expected to uproot all processes in favor of a lean startup model. Our challenge, therefore, is navigating the existing infrastructure while creating a culture that deliberately works together in pursuit of meaningful goals.

Blumberg theorizes that Google is attractive because many of its employees “remember what it’s like to be the guy in a closet working to build a company;” by contrast, “no one from GE remembers sitting in a room with Edison working on the light bulb.” Essentially, common experience and unified objectives are the glue that holds innovative workforces together. While, in my opinion, GE may not be a fair representation of tuned-out corporate America (they have basically set the bar for big business engaging younger audiences and talent through their Imagination at Work campaign), Blumberg is recognizing one of my all-time guiding principles in business: people beget people.

A good talent “fit” encompasses more than skillset and basic cultural compatibility. Today’s generation wants to work with others who share similar experiences and work styles, or who at least appreciate and can adapt to inherent differences. If you’re looking to recruit young talent, especially young tech talent, take a page from the startups. Engender community and passion by looking at who your existing employees are and hiring leaders who can work to challenge the status quo while still appreciating the experience that existed before they joined. If they have the support and resources, they will change the system little by little, fostering an organic culture change that propagates transformation naturally.

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