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Science Matters: Competing for Gold Medal Talent

Unfortunately in the world of business, whether it’s in the sciences or any other large global industry, managers don’t have the luxury of being able to sit back, analyze the workplace every four years, and understand just a portion of what’s going on in the competition.

by Mark Lanfear
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It Takes a Strategic and Tactical Approach

For two weeks the 2012 Summer Olympics held the attention of audiences across events in well-known– and not-so-well-known–sports. In more familiar competitions such as gymnastics and swimming, spectators largely understood the high stakes because of the year-round popularity of these events. But while the more obscure events might have been entertaining, how often do we really think about what it takes to win at track cycling?

Unfortunately in the world of business, whether it’s in the sciences or any other large global industry, managers don’t have the luxury of being able to sit back, analyze the workplace every four years, and understand just a portion of what’s going on in the competition. This is especially true in the war for talent, where the best people will be harder and harder to come by, and competing for their loyalties is already turning into a complex feat requiring both brawn and brains.

The talent “Olympics,” in fact, happens every day, and hiring managers must be able to uniquely compete in this battle on every front as technology, social media, and an increasingly diverse workforce pose extreme challenges for finding and retaining the right people. As in the Olympics, we are seeing the bar raised and “world records” being broken every day. There are obviously some key areas in the talent war where all serious competitors need to excel. Start with where you are now. You probably have some world-class talent on your team now, but too often companies neglect opportunities for internal training and development. Recent studies have shown that those in highly technical fields, such as science, and even those at the tops of their games place a premium on being able to develop skills on the job. If current colleagues and consultants don’t get these opportunities from their current employers, studies also show that they are certainly willing to go elsewhere. Building an environment where your talent resources feel they are valued will not only build your credibility as an employer but will also serve to attract top talent when it becomes available.

Be the employer of choice, because there is nothing wrong with going to the market to find the needed worldclass talent your team requires. Fine-tune your network of potential acquisitions who may be looking for their next opportunity to shine. History has demonstrated that some of the current “best in class” talent with great experience exists in the passive market, and this can be a wise investment in your search if they truly possess the knowledge you need to take your organization to the next level. An investment here can fill the immediate gap you have in your team and get you the “gold.” At the same time, don’t be afraid to go after new talent, new ideas, and different experiences.

This means, don’t be afraid to take risks when you’re considering the younger, less experienced talent. Little bets here and there can pay off, and those who have the greatest potential and are hungry to prove themselves often don’t have the most prestigious degrees to back them up. In fact, the next Steve Jobs—or any great employee—isn’t necessarily waiting in the hallway of an Ivy League college or university. Make it a priority to look at schools that have newly developed programs in your areas of need, and take the chance that these new thinkers may be just what you require to help jump-start that next important project. They may be the anchor leg to the relay that puts your team on the medal podium.

While all these tactics in the war for talent have unique merits, how you go about using them may be just as important as using them at all. This is where the way you compete for talent needs to stand apart from the crowd. Your organization’s culture and goals are unique, and so must be the ways you attract and retain talent on a consistent basis. You’ll need to eventually understand that no decision is ever too small for your attention when it comes to recognizing talent. Winning the talent war requires a cultural shift and team effort—not just a tactical job hunt, but a strategic and disciplined one as well. True strategic thinking, coupled with a customized action plan, is usually the missing component that could transform a good hiring plan into a culture of talent acquisition that leads to a high level of success for any corporation.

So know the competition—and know how to compete— but strive to be better than the competition. In 2012 we saw a number of the best individual Olympians and teams breaking their own world records, which shows us that after a lifetime of training, they’re not really competing with outside forces or the person in the next lane, they’re competing with themselves–to be the best now and for all time.

Mark Lanfear is a global practice leader for the Life Science vertical at Kelly Services, a leader in providing workforce solutions. He has operated clinical trials around the world for almost two decades. In addition, Mark is a featured speaker at many of the Life Science industry conferences and a writer for its periodicals. He can be reached at or 248-244-4361.