Competing To Achieve Excellence: You Are Your Only Competitor!

Fact is, and I’m not happy about this, I got into a bit of a verbal tussle with my client over some “word issues.” It was a meeting of HR execs, and the topic was the, yes, the “war for talent.” Now I’ve used the term—and God only knows I believe that in this age of “intellectual capital” top talent is arguably more important than ever. (Whoops, I actually think that’s 86% bullshit; top talent has always been the difference—e.g., the quality of the sea captains in the Royal (British) Navy, circa 18th and 19th century, comes quickly to mind.) But I digress. The point is that the discussion at the meeting in question was warfare-ish to a significant degree—how to quickly nab the best people from the grasp of the competition, etc. I doubtless exaggerate, but to stick with the ancient Navy theme, it was like building tools to create the best Press Gangs for “recruiting” sailors from the pubs of Liverpool in 1790.

Well, I think that’s all (98%) wrong. I contend that the bedrock of finding and keeping and co-creating with great folks is not about clever tools to induce prospective “thems” to “shop [live] with us,” but a 99% internal effort to create such an exciting, spirited, entrepreneurial, diverse, humane “professional home” that people will be lining up by the gazillions (physically or electronically) to try and get a chance to come and live in our house and become what they’d never imagined they could become!

I.e., it’s not an externally directed “war to snatch talent from the other guy” by “being more aggressive than the competition”—but an internally directed competition against ourselves (and our outrageously strong beliefs about people) in which we aim to create an unimaginably attractive workplace. Think Apple, BMW, Cirque du Soleil, Wegmans. And back to the Royal Navy, the Brits built a model of Excellence that had no parallels in its sphere in human history—it was a model about what could be that had never been before, and it was “the other guys” who were forced into the externally aimed “competitive,” inferior, reactive, copyist mode.

“All this” led me to spend the day after the speech (while traveling to Sydney) creating and heavily (!) annotating a 36-slide Special Presentation, The Case for Internal Focus: “Brand Inside” Rules! For those of you bugging me to annotate more heavily, all yours—it was good fun, actually!

Tom Peters posted this on September 16, 2007, in Talent.
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