What Top Talent Really Wants in a Job

It May Not Be What You Think

In the face of new volatility in the financial world and a tightening labor market, how can you find and keep the talent you need without simply throwing more and more money at the problem?

If that’s the question you are asking, you’re on the right track. Here’s why: I know many leaders who’ve tried the “just pay more” approach and their gains were short-lived. Make no mistake, cash will attract Top Talent, but its effectiveness as a retention tool is shaky at best. Why is this the case?

You would think money would trump all. But the trick is not merely to attract the brightest and best. You also want to keep them! This is the more challenging assignment—and the more profitable one.

What does Top Talent want?

How do you create an organization so attractive that Top Talent will be standing in line to work for you, and be willing to stay? That’s the Rubik’s cube my team at Chick-fil-A began to solve a few years ago. Many miles, 38 cities, hundreds of interviews and one national survey with thousands of participants later, we finally cracked the code.

The key to winning the war for talent is to shift our thinking from what “we have to offer,” to “what Top Talent really values.”

So, what did we find? Three direct findings and two important lessons. I explain them in depth in my new book, Talent Magnet. Here’s a quick summary.

1. Better boss

Top Talent wants a better boss. This may appear to be a blinding flash of the obvious. Doesn’t everyone want a better boss? Sure, but for Top Talent, it is a condition of employment. Typical Talent may want a better boss but in reality, will work for a lousy one.

We also discovered the simple label “better boss” has many facets. One of the most glaring findings: Top Talent wants a boss who demonstrates care.

This takes many forms, but the bosses we heard about during our interviews invest the time to really know their people—their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. It was not uncommon for these better bosses to even know the families of their employees.

2. Brighter future

Top Talent wants a brighter future. The women and men who are your top performers have more of a future orientation than do typical performers. Therefore, they enter a job interview with a different set of questions: How will this role better prepare me for future opportunities? What will I learn? How will I be challenged? How will I grow?

What are the implications for me and you as leaders? There are several: Top Talent wants to be challenged, wants to have opportunities, wants to know how you will support their personal growth. When we can speak to these issues with confidence, we become more attractive to Top Talent.

3. Bigger vision

Top Talent wants a bigger vision. The data was clear on this point. Top Talent wants to make a difference in the world. Top Talent cares about the mission and values of your organizations. Talented, driven folks want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They are searching for organizations who they can feel a sense of connection with – a personal resonance.

The leadership best practices we uncovered included ensuring alignment to the vision (if you don’t have a clear and compelling vision, start there). Leaders also help connect people to the vision and celebrate progress along the way.

What you must do

There are some non-negotiables that are particularly relevant in a competitive economy. As we compared the responses from Top and Typical talent, we found some things they both shared expectations for: fair and competitive wages, a safe place to work, training and tools to do their job well, a positive culture and a good brand reputation.

As you might expect: If you are not paying a competitive wage, you will have trouble getting anyone to work for you, particularly Top Talent.

But there was one more indirect finding we were not expecting. Many organizations are leaving out something that is crucial to attracting Top Talent. When we talked with management about how to attract better workers, here is how a typical conversation went.

Manager: “I’m already providing the things you talk about (Better Boss, Brighter Future, and Bigger Vision), but I still can’t attract the caliber of people I want.”

Us: “When in the process are you telling your company’s story?”

Manager: “During orientation.”

That’s a problem! Orientation at too many companies occurs AFTER someone has been hired. If you want to ATTRACT Top Talent, you must sell them by proactively telling your story.

This Top Talent strategy may appear to be a lot of work. Is the effort worth the return? That’s for you to decide. But before you reach your conclusion, think about your best employees – the top 10%. What could happen if you had dozens or hundreds more of them?

You can. All you need to do is become a Talent Magnet.