Workplace Culture

The Talent Shortage Myth

Organizations are who they hire. Whether an organization succeeds, or even survives, ultimately comes down to the talent and cultural fit of the people who work there. I work hard, I am dedicated, and I am a driven leader, but I can’t run my organization alone. Much of what we have accomplished as an organization is a result of who we have hired.

When organizations struggle with finding and retaining great employees, it’s easy to blame bad hiring experiences on a shortage of talented people to draw from. In recent years, commentary has increased around the notion that talent is in short supply. I have always had a cynical view of this belief.

I don’t think there is as much talent shortage as some would have us believe. I have come to understand that the issue is not so much a talent shortage, as it is a shortage of great places to work. Talented employees have choices, and all things considered, they will choose an organization that is great to work for over a lot of other benefits, sometimes including higher pay.

People want to work in organizations that are healthy, innovative, and inspiring. An employee who took part in our 2016 survey noted it this way: “With my qualifications and education, I could be making more money, but I stay here because I am valued, I enjoy the work, and I love the people I work with.” Talented individuals seek out great organizations – they won’t settle for less, and they don’t have to.

Employers are prone to complain that there is a talent shortage when they can’t find someone with the exact background they desire and who has the precise skills to do the specific task they want done. Employers who think this way need only shift their perspectives slightly and focus on aptitude instead.

I have experienced how one of our new employees with a natural aptitude and talent (but not an exact match) quickly developed the skill set to do what we needed. I had planned on it taking a year for her to be functioning at the level I desired, but in only a few months she had the very skills and experience that were needed. Her natural aptitude for the role was so high that she quickly mastered the complexities of the job.

Specialized talent often costs more, and frankly, it deserves more money. Employers may complain of a talent shortage when they can’t find someone they desire at the price they would like to pay. If employers are not willing to pay for talent, that does not equate to a talent shortage.

Great talent is sometimes hidden, but the good news is that people with talent tend to know each other. The best talent is often found through referrals, networking, and building relationships. The kind of talent you need is not always looking for work, so job ads are often an insufficient way to find superior employees, and they should not be your only source. When looking to find hidden talent, look for it in nontraditional ways and be sure to tap into your networks.

Start with Culture

Before organizations can hire effectively, they must be able to clearly articulate what their culture is like. Every organization has its unique culture – a personality, if you will. This culture is made up of elements such as the organization’s values, mission, leadership style, and expectations for how employees treat customers, clients, and each other. Organizational culture flows from the values and beliefs that guide how people behave and interact. While leadership can set the tone for culture, it is ultimately the collection of everyone in an organization that truly defines its culture.

Values are the key to a strong organizational culture. Organizations with values that are clearly defined and truly enacted (and not merely aspired to) are in the best position to hire the right people for their culture.

Values provide the framework for how things are done and how people interact. They are most relevant when leaders promote them as nonnegotiable. While it is good for values to be visible, they need to be more than merely a poster on the wall. In our organization, we regularly refer to our values in meetings and performance reviews, and of course during the interview process. They truly guide us in many aspects of what we do.

A candidate’s skills, aptitude, and experience are all important considerations when it comes to hiring, but these factors are less significant than how the new hire fits with the organization’s culture. We have learned that it is vital for a new employee’s personality, behaviours, and attributes to fit our culture.

If there is not a match, regardless of the skill set, the chances of long-term success will be limited. We believe in this so strongly that we have at times selected candidates who have less experience and skill, but fit better within our culture. To be clear, the successful candidates did have the aptitude and drive to become more skilled.

While skills can be learned and improved upon, especially for those with the aptitude for the right skill set, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to train someone to fit your culture. Fit is about personality, attitude, and lived values. These three things are very difficult to change or teach.

The good news is that great talent is also looking for the right fit. High-caliber employees are looking for much more than just a job. They are looking to work in organizations that match their personalities and attitudes. In our new hiring process, we ask candidates to respond to the following question in writing when they apply, and verbally during the interview: “What do you do to contribute to a healthy, vibrant work culture?” Candidates have indicated that they were drawn to apply for a position simply because they saw that question in the job posting. They read the question as an indication that we care about organizational health – and they were right.

Most leaders I meet are like me when it comes to hiring new employees: We dislike the process, and we would rather be working on far more “important” and “interesting” tasks. Yet the irony is that our organizations won’t be successful without the right people in place.

When leaders don’t value the hiring process, we risk costly mistakes. While leaders don’t need to participate in every hiring decision, they should recognize the importance of talent and lay the framework for how new people are brought into the organization.

Too often, speed and cost are considered the most important indicators of a successful hiring process. Yet the hiring of new employees needs to be much more thoughtful and intentional than simply finding adequate people to fill jobs as quickly or cheaply as possible.

When efficiency is the barometer of success, poor decisions are often made. Instead, we need to center the hiring process on how to reliably find the right people for the right roles – candidates who will not only excel at the job but also fit the organization’s culture. Quality and fit are more important than speed and cost. The reality is that talent surrounds us. If you believe there is a shortage of talent, you are likely missing opportunities.

This post is an excerpt from Randy Grieser’s book The Ordinary Leader. Available on Amazon.

ACHIEVE is conducting a study for a book we are working on and we would love to hear your input.

This book will draw heavily on “A Great Place to Work” Survey.  We would love to hear your input.


Randy Grieser

Founder & Advisor

Randy is the founder and CEO of ACHIEVE and author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Ordinary Leader: 10 Key Insights for Building and Leading a Thriving Organization, Randy is also the co-author of CTRI’s book, Counselling in Relationships – Insights for Helping Families Develop Healthy Connections. These books are available on our website.

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