Lord of War – The Race for Talent

on 12 | 05 | 2010

Posted by Michael A. Morell

Chances are you don’t know any international arms dealers. What the arms dealer does is pretty straightforward: He sells arms. But there are obviously plenty of aspects of this profession that remain hidden to most, I thought I would share a couple of those secrets.

In recent months, the Silicon Valley has been riddled with articles about the talent shortage, but the War for Talent is nothing new.  According to recent reports, Google is offering its employees a 10% pay increase for 2011 and $1000 holiday bonuses company wide.  Twitter and Facebook are offering stock packages to employee’s that have the potential to create generational wealth.  Zynga is in a land grab great engineering talent, creating a large sucking sound in San Francisco’s SoMa area.

In my 10 years of executive search, I have always thought of myself as curator of talent, sifting thru 100’s of perspective candidates to find the top 10% for my clients.  In today’s “War for Talent” market, I feel more like an arms dealer.  Although my job has not changed much in that area of curation, the demand for that talent has increased ten-fold in the past 18 months, creating a number of interesting challenges.

So the real question is not is there a shortage, but rather, what are you to do, if you want to build a world class engineering team.  If you are not running one of the aforementioned companies – become one of them.

There is little science behind what I am about to say, but my experience shows that with the right combination of the following attributes, companies will be far more successful in recruiting great engineering talent.

Culture  –
Some of the most successful companies in recent history have been built around creating great cultures…Zappos, Amazon, Google, Netflix and Apple are all companies that emphasize culture more than anything else.   If you get the culture right, you will attract and retain great people.

Leadership –
As a former military officer, I have seen many great leaders in my day.  This is arguably the hardest thing to determine in a 4-5 hour interview process.  Leadership v Management skills are often tough to discern, but the two are quite different.  Remember – Leaders have followers and Managers have subordinates.  Regardless of the position, you need to seek out those that have great leadership qualities.

Potential –
If I had a nickel for every time a client pointed to a VP, Engineering or Engineering Lead from Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix and said “I want that guy, but 5 years ago” I would probably be writing this from my Italian Villa.  The trick is not to ID great leaders that someone else has already taken a risk on (because your chances of acquiring them is low), but to identify the next great leader, yes, you’ll have to take some risk, but if you are right in your decision, you will be the next great company.

Success –
If you look at some of the greatest sports franchises and athletes in history, you may wonder what makes them special.  The answer – They know the recipe of success and are willing to do what it takes to replicate that success.  Silicon Valley has the greatest ecosystem in the world for creating successful start-ups.  You don’t need to hire Chuck Knoll to win a Super Bowl or Jeff Bezos to build a great e-commerce company , but you should look for individuals that understand and have been involved with Chuck Knoll or Jeff Bezos – Look for talent from companies that have build significant value and find the up and coming leaders in those organization to replicate success, they know what success looks like.

IQ and Curiosity –
If you can find smart people that are naturally curious, the rest will take care of itself.  One without the other, buys you nothing…PERIOD.

The War for Talent can be bloody if you are not prepared (as many companies are learning the hard way). You need to know what the most valuable attributes are for acquiring top talent, so that you can go on the offensive and deliver your own SHOCK AND AWE.  It doesn’t hurt to have a relationship with an arms dealers either.