Transformational talent working hard
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What is transformational talent and how can we get it?

27 Mar 2017

Transformational talent brings maximum impact and top results, but many companies are looking for it in the wrong way.

We all know about top talent, and we know about the importance of retaining the very best. But have you heard of transformational talent?

If top talent is a cut above the rest, transformational talent is several cuts above the best. They are high-performing, high-impact employees with initiative and a desire to progress.

Finding transformational talent

But what exactly is the measure of transformational talent? Well, that depends on the company and how high it is measuring the bar.

According to Paul D’Arcy, senior vice-president of Indeed, there are various numbers from top companies such as Google and Apple on how a top performer compares to an average one.

He said that some companies might consider transformational talent as someone who has four times the impact of an average performer. Others might consider them to have ten times the impact.

“Google says that a top performing software engineer is 300 times the impact of an average performing one,” said D’Arcy.

While the bar can clearly change depending on your environment, there are some basic markers that make someone transformational, or at least show someone to have the potential to be transformational.

“It’s a mix of people that take initiative, people who have a bias towards action and then experience, people who have the knowledge and specialised skills to be successful,” said D’Arcy.

While one or the other can be very effective towards making a candidate a good worker and a top performer, D’Arcy said it is the combination of the two that are really powerful.

“If you have the contacts and the experience and then this innate bias towards action, that together is a foundation for transformational talent.”

The HR hunting myth

It’s widely believed within recruitment and HR that the cream of the crop have already been snapped up by companies that make them happy.

D’Arcy said there seems to be a myth, particularly in the technology sector, that the vast majority of talent is passive and not looking for opportunities, and would therefore have to be headhunted by companies that want them.

This leads many organisations to believe that a lot of outbound effort is needed to find transformational talent.

He said: “What we’ve seen is just the opposite.”

Looking at transformational talent and analysing how those people actually get jobs, D’Arcy found them to be active in their search for opportunities. “In the same way that they’re high impact in their work environment, they’re high impact in the way they manage their life and they want to be in control of their destiny,” he said.

“We looked at people who took a new job in the last year and during the six months prior to taking that job, more than 90pc of them did things that look like they were actively looking for a job.”

He said that when companies are attempting to pull transformational talent from elsewhere, they’re usually trying to do it with compensation. This is hard to do because salary is rarely, if ever, the most important thing about a job for employees who are transformational.

Quality v quantity

So how can companies find transformational talent in their pipeline or encourage them to apply for jobs in the company?

D’Arcy said that many recruitment processes for large organisations are flawed and designed in such a way that actually block out the high-impact candidates they seek.

“It’s amazing how many larger companies have recruiting processes that systematically eliminate transformational talent,” he said.

“A lot of organisations create these heavily screened pipelines where there are so many steps to go through the process, pretty much only someone who’s desperate will go through the process. Transformational talent won’t, they’ll apply elsewhere.”

He said the US were particularly bad for this type of recruitment process, putting the average length of a job application at more than 60 questions.

When conducting this research, D’Arcy and the Indeed team applied for every job from the Fortune 500 companies along with the leading companies in various other countries, including France, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and Australia.

“We found that it’s not unusual for a job application in the US to take 20 to 30 minutes, whereas in Australia [and the] Netherlands, it’s a minute or two.”

Separate the wheat from the chaff

Bringing the recruitment process down from a 60-question application to a simple request for a CV and cover letter comes with its own flaws.

“It remains a highly flawed process,” said D’Arcy.

He said that while there are ways a recruiter can look out for the markers of someone who is transformational, a bad CV could still hide these indicators.

How can companies find that transformational needle in the haystack of average or unsuitable candidates? The danger switches from turning the best people off applying, to burying the best people in so many applications that they’re impossible to find.

Xero is a New Zealand-based firm that tackles this problem well. For every new position, they create up to three questions that are very specific to each role. It’s still a relatively quick process for the candidate, but gives the recruiters a way of screening correct applicants for the role.

What to look for

For companies and recruiters, the main marker of a transformational candidate, according to D’Arcy, is a bias towards action.

In terms of a CV or letter, this can be found when the applicant took initiative, when they got results or when they took progress into their own hands.

“Bias towards action doesn’t have to be a forcefulness,” he said. “It could be just someone willing to ask the next question or do the next thing.”

He also suggested that companies look inward and decide what their own ‘bar’ is for what they consider transformational. Identifying what makes someone transformational by your organisation’s standards can go a long way towards identifying new candidates.

It is important to know that the motivators for these candidates are different to other talent. “[Transformational people] tend to be more focused on impact, responsibility, the meaningfulness of work – and they’re significantly less focused on salaries.”

Look inward

While some people might have a natural inclination towards success, and an innate bias towards action, a lot of the fundamentals of transformational talent can be learned.

Therefore, it is important for companies and recruiters to look at their current talent and encourage them towards becoming transformational.

D’Arcy said that giving employees the tools to become transformational can be just as important as finding them in the first place.

He cited three important actions for companies aspiring to have a team of such talent.

First, they must identify the markers of transformational talent within the company and encourage those with potential to have that important bias towards action.

Secondly, they must ensure that they have the right environment to retain this talent. An employee’s experience, the company leadership and the opportunities to progress are most important. “People who are transformational have options so they’re more likely to need to be inspired to stay,” he said.

Finally, when you’re looking to recruit, the application process is crucial. “Look at the complexity of the apply process and the information that is being gathered … simplify it, and align it with the markers of transformational talent.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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