• July 2013

The Art of Competing for Talent

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook

Several years ago, I heard a speech by Mariah Burton Nelson that has stuck with me to this day. A former Stanford University and professional basketball player, she was also a competitive swimmer and is now a published author and motivational speaker.

Nelson tells a lot of very powerful stories about her career in sports—but what I remember most was what she said about competition.

If the person in the next lane was swimming faster than she was, it made her swim faster and better. The concept of “competition,” Nelson said, has a negative connotation in many situations—but she explained that if competition makes you perform better, it can be a great thing.

I had never thought of competition as beneficial, and her speech caused me to think about people or situations that make me work harder or smarter because someone or something is better than I am.

This reminded me of when I was learning to ski, and I was part of a group that took lots of weekend ski trips in California. My friends were all better than I was. At first it was totally intimidating to ski with them, but then I realized they were taking me places where I had to step up my game just to stay with them.

Their skill made me ski better and, while we weren’t competing, we all had to get to the bottom of the mountain one way or another.

My skiing ability never reached the level of my friends, but I know skiing with them made me a better skier than I would have been otherwise.

Successful organizations utilize the beneficial side of competition by bringing in the best available talent. Good people want to work with other good people, and strong performers will push each other to be even better.

In the staffing world, we talk a lot about the competition for talent.

While there are too many unemployed people in our world, many organizations are still not able to find people with the right skill set for open positions. This kind of competition forces organizations to look at total rewards strategies to be able to compete for the best talent.

This means ensuring that salaries and benefits are competitive. It means listening to current employees to find out what is important to them. It means being innovative in finding new sources for talent.

Are you doing everything you can to recruit the best talent available? For more information on innovative staffing strategies, see The Big Book of HR, which I wrote with Cornelia Gamlem.


About Barbara Mitchell

Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for a variety of organizations around the world.

She served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding the Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR. Click here to buy the book.

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