Attract talent with talent

file0001100690782 Here’s a specific business skill I’ve learned from my R&R days. You can file this under project management: building the team.

Let's say you’re trying to get some VIPs involved in your project, program, event, or panel. You’re going after the best minds or biggest talents or most experienced professionals in your company or community. What do you do? I was faced with this task many years ago when, as a singer-songwriter-pianist, I wanted to get the best local talent for my rock band.

I started out by getting a world-class guitarist (a fellow I happened to live with)—an amazing rock/folk/blues picker whom everybody wanted to play with and learn from. That enabled me to get one of the top bass-players around who loved playing with the guitarist. Boom! I quickly had two major talents, which made it easier to get a great drummer—someone who thought very highly of the other two. I can’t say I knew exactly what I was doing at first, but I quickly realized I was assembling a who’s who of the top players in the city. This started a virtuous cycle in which having the best musicians made everyone play even better, which landed us good club gigs and concert dates, which drew more of the best players to the band. I was just a novice as a bandleader (and certainly not a singer/pianist extraordinaire) so this was a major heist to get this caliber of talent.

In business it’s the same game. You want to focus on getting that first mega-talented dude or dudess on your team. Do whatever it takes—beg, beguile, cajole, grovel, wheedle—to get that key individual aboard (even if only for awhile) which will make it easier to get the next person you want. Pretty soon you’ll be turning people down who want to be a part of it. Another way to do this is to recruit a close friend or associate of the person you most want. Having that person on the team first can help attract your main target.

In sports this is done all the time, for instance in professional basketball. The Boston Celtics assembled a talent-heavy team in 2007 when General Manager Danny Ainge traded for All-Star Ray Allen, which he used to attract an even bigger superstar, Kevin Garnett (the real prize). The two of them plus Paul Pierce were an indomitable trio who won the Celtics a world championship that season. The Miami Heat used the same trick a few years later when they built a two-time championship team which included LeBron James. Top talent loves working with top talent.

Ok, it’s not rocket science. But it works.


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6 Comments

    1. Well, cajolery is almost my name. This gets into the area of influence, persuasion, enrollment…

      Once you know the person you most want, you need to do your homework. Find out what’s really important to this person—values, goals, etc. “What’s in it for him/her?” How can your project, program, event, etc. further this person’s goals? How can this person "win"? How can this person advance his or her career from being involved? Also, once you’ve identified Person A, find out which associates that person admires—or likes working with—and speak to them to get them interested. If those folks are interested, let Person A know because that might be an added inducement to come aboard.

      Back to my music example... In a later version of the same band I mentioned, I acquired more good talent by giving them the flexibility to do different things in the band—e.g., come up front and sing lead for a few songs or play another instrument—which they might not get to do on another “team.” Lots of musicians love to step into the limelight for a song or two, or play a different instrument.

  1. many of the big bands, pre-rock, came together that way. everyone wants to play with the hottest players or the biggest names. the limiting factor with rock bands is that they're usually only 4 or 5 piece groups so the positive loop only goes so far.

  2. Talent attracts talent but look at the teams from all walks that have effectively 'collected' a bunch of talent, thrown them together and watched in bemusement as they don't magically transmogrify into a world-beating team. Teams need talent and they also need orchestrating. You might be orchestrating for friction or harmony, for short term or long term, but there has to be some guidance.

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