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Trading Down On Talent...

The NFL Draft is upon us this week, and if you watch/listen to sports coverage at all, it's impossible to miss the endless coverage of who's going where, who needs what, whose draft stock is on the rise, whose draft stock is going down, etc.

What the NFL Draft and others like it provides is what makes it perfect to contrast with HR and Talent topics - 30 teams, each with the same money to spend on talent, trying to become the best they can be.  It's a Darwinian test tube forLeaf the Talent game as a whole.

Every time the NFL draft rolls around, I'm reminded of a talent strategy that works when you need more than one star in your business to be successful.

Trade down. Get more quantity while holding on to as much quality as you can.

The trade down strategy is pretty simple, whether you're in the NFL or semi-conductors.  You've got a fixed budget for talent, and you need multiple players to make it work.  Your competitors, who love talent as much as you do, recruit and sign the best possible individual.  As a result, they have fewer resources and less time to sign other players, which impacts the decisions they make with their 4th, 5th and 6th hires.

You, the trade down talent executive, see a gap.  You don't think the gap between the most talented individual and your 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th hires is as great as the money required to sign the best suggests it should be.

So you trade down.  Instead of signing the best available talent (and maybe getting into a bidding war - because we don't have protected draft status in business), you drop down to the 2nd and 3rd round of talent and focus your recruiting efforts there.  You sign two in the theoretical second round of your talent market, and find the effort easier - the second rounders are happy to have the attention, and the talent gap isn't nearly as big as you expected.

As a result of trading down, you've got more resources, money and time to keep acquiring talent in the 3rd of 4th rounds of your business.  You just signed two second rounders, then you sign two third rounders in your business as a result of your crafty decision to pass on the first round.  You need 10 total players for your department and so do your competitors in theory - so it's a forced choice game that everyone has to play.

Trade Down. It's a counter-culture play to what we always tell ourselves - we have to have the best talent in order to have a chance to win in our business. Maybe getting what the market tells you is the best is way too much of a dice roll for the duckets.

Maybe you do need the best.  But if the best is overpriced based on the results he/she can provide to your business at their position, getting the best might be a suckers play.

Trade Down.  It's the talent lesson I'll be thinking about this weekend when I start wondering if my son is going to grow up and have Mel Kiper Jr.'s hair.

Comments

Michelle

I think the best example of where this plays out is in college recruiting.

My company has consciously chosen to "trade down" when it comes to entry level hires. It is very costly (in time and money) to recruit the very best students from the very best schools. We find that you can hire great talent from state schools who will perform wonderfully and be very excited to join the company for a competitive salary. Instead of being one of many big companies clamoring after the best and brightest in the ivy league, we can have a huge impact on state campuses.

Aaron Ziff

I love this post. As a lifelong Pats fan, we have (at least in the early part of this century) done quite well with this exact strategy. Although the analogy is not perfect (as you mention, there isn't necessarily a level playing field as far as spending is concerned), I think another key question to consider is how to attract 'A' talent with limited resources. Think of the phenomenon where veteran NBA stars sacrifice some money in exchange for the opportunity to play for a winning team, or a championship. What resources/cultural features/benefits does your company offer that might compel superior talent to consider your workplace without entering into a bidding war?

Currency Trading Center

Think of the phenomenon where veteran NBA stars sacrifice some money in exchange for the opportunity to play for a winning team, or a championship. What resources/cultural features/benefits does your company offer that might compel superior talent to consider your workplace without entering into a bidding war?
Currency Trading Center
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Justin

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