Book Review – Exceptional Talent – How to Attract, Acquire and Retain the Very Best Employees by Mervyn Dinnen & Matt Alder
In 1998, when I started my first HR job, Sex and the City was the most outrageous thing on telly, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love over email in a world that hadn’t even seen Facebook yet, and my goal of slick and shiny straight hair seemed an impossible dream.
At this time, one of my main duties was to administer the recruitment process. Back in 1998 this was a pretty slow and expensive process. Jobs were advertised in print (The Yorkshire Post) and if you missed the print deadline there was no option other than wait for the next week to come around. Some people had started to use email to send in applications, but mostly there was a lot of opening of post and date stamping the applications. This was my favourite bit, there was something satisfying about the thud of the stamp. Not to mention the schadenfreude of the ‘missed deadline’ pile. Don’t judge me, I was young.
It was a slow process and a fairly linear one. The only way that applicants found out about you or the company was through the job advert, direct contact with your product or service (or adverts about them) or they knew people who worked in your organisation. We probably had a website, but what was on it I can’t remember and we definitely didn’t direct people to it to find out about what we were like to work with.
‘Exceptional Talent’ brings us right up to the present. Dinnen and Alder begin by laying out how the job search and everything that goes around it has evolved. The internet, jobs boards and most recently mobile completely changed the way in which people look for work as well as where they are when they are looking for work.
They cover a lot of ground quickly – globalization, automation, digitisation, flexible business models, disruption. As the jobs market has become noisier, it becomes harder to compete for talent. It is harder for both candidates and employers to stand out from the crowd. I’m imagining the online equivalent of a penguin colony, to the trained eye individuals stand out, but to the onlooker it’s just one great big bird cacophony.
The key task is set out early on and be warned, it isn’t a small one “The modern HR team has to cater for all expectations and preferences, in a way that is both diverse and inclusive, and enables all employees to deliver their best work”. Globalisation, automation and digitalisation – have resulted in exponential changes to the world, not just the way we work. Individuals expect a recruitment process that is as slick as booking their holiday or buying a next day delivery on Amazon – the standards by which the employer is judged become ever higher.
In addition to the process of applying, the norms of communications have changed. Transparency and authenticity are tricky to achieve, but this book makes the case that mastering these brings great advantages to those who successfully align the employer brand with the reality of working for a company. Trusting your employees to be advocates for your company on social media can be a leap of faith that not every organisation is ready for yet.
This is a world in which, if you want to find the ‘Exceptional Talent’, more investment is required to engage people who may not even be considering working for you and the job that they are right for may not even exist yet. The book encourages us to recruit to find “growth mindsets […] curiosity, courage and a restless spirit” and says “Talent is about the people who are right for the role and right for the organisation, irrespective of background or trajectory.” I would have be interested to hear more from the authors explicitly on diversity, the benefits of putting together diverse teams and their tips on how to cultivate diversity in social networks.
This book contains great practical advice and useful case studies. It sets out the new context of finding, attracting and retaining talent – attraction, hiring, on-boarding, developing and retaining talent. The why and the benefits of doing these are clearly laid out. If you haven’t even started thinking about this stuff yet, start with this book. Even if you’re not recruiting it is about ‘Exceptional Talent’ and engagement in this new context and it will definitely get you thinking.
These days it’s incredibly unlikely that you will fall in love over email, although you never know, ‘The One’ might might buried somewhere in the daily avalanche. Facebook is past it’s ‘cool by’ date, home only to us oldies and I never did manage the frizz free look – I just decided to stop worrying about it. In their conclusion, the author’s quote the Futurist, Jonathan Macdonald, “The only thing that is certain these days is change […] even the speed of change is changing!” on that note, you had better get reading quickly.
Emma Browes, HR Service Manager, Leeds City Council
Published by KoganPage