The George S. Patton Guide to Winning the Talent War

Franklin D. Roosevelt called George S. Patton America’s “greatest fighting general.”

Hitler called Patton “the most dangerous man [the Allies] have.”

Though controversial, Patton achieved some astonishing and unsurpassed achievements in his day.

If you want to win the talent war…when sometimes it feels like it’s just impossible to compete…then look at Patton to see how he did things no one else thought could be done.

At 5:30am on December 16, 1944, the Germans launched a massive last-ditch offensive across Belgium, Luxembourg and Northeastern France.

This offensive would become known as the Battle of the Bulge, and was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the Americans in World War II.

As a result of excellent planning and personal leadership, Patton was able to disengage 6 divisions from frontline combat in the middle of winter and redeploy them north to relieve the besieged town of Bastogne in only 24 hours.

Patton led from the front, constantly leapfrogging ahead in his command car to urge his men on. One tank destroyer sergeant remarked that “the only time he stopped in the field was when he ran out of gas.”

The War for Talent

OK, so hiring is not World War II. But it is a battle for your company’s survival.

It’s never been easier to start a company. And because of this, its never been harder to hire rockstar startup talent.

And as if that weren’t enough, venture capitalists say they are now denying funding to entrepreneurs who cannot show they can hire the talent needed to be successful.

As Vinod Khosla said in a recent Square board meeting, “The team you build is the company you build.

Have you thought about what kind of company you’re building?

Do you have the team you need to get there?

Here are 5 ways you can use Patton’s strengths to build a winning startup hiring process:

1. Make Sure You’ve Defined the Job

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
~George S. Patton

Not adequately defining the job is the most dangerous threat to your startup hiring efforts.

Without a well defined job, it’s very hard to create an awesome job description that will make the opportunity at your company stand out. The best candidates are looking for careers, not lateral job moves.

Putting out a generic job description that doesn’t spell out the unique and specific expectations for the role is like creating a landing page for your product that leaves out the key benefits. It will convert poorly and will probably attract the wrong people.

Not having a well defined job also creates problems during the interview process. If interviewers aren’t sure exactly what the candidate is going to do, each interviewer will focus on whatever he or she feels is most important. This creates a poor impression and results in an incomplete set of information on which to assess the candidate.

Your job description needs to tell people exactly what you expect them to do. What you need is a “Job Description 2.0,” also known as a success profile. Learn more about how to create success profiles here.

This approach to job descriptions applies to companies of all sizes, including early stage startups and companies using Lean Startup methods.

2. Be Creative in Your Sourcing

Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man.
~George S. Patton

If your process for sourcing candidates is to put the open position on the company web site, crank up the job board advertising, unleash the contingency recruiters and sit back and wait, you are probably not getting very good candidates.

Connecting with top talent is a long term process, not a short term transaction. It requires being nimble and “getting out there.” Sitting behind the fortifications and waiting doesn’t work. As Patton said, “My men don’t dig foxholes. I don’t want them to. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving. And don’t give the enemy time to dig one either.”

In Reid Hoffman’s recent book Startup of You, Reid says that Mark Zuckerberg spends half his time recruiting. Like Zuck, you need to make sure that you are personally involved in driving the recruiting effort.

You need to make sure you have stepped up your personal networking, that you are active on Linkedin and Facebook, and that you are spending more time in the places great talent hangs out. Read more here about simple ways to improve your sourcing.

If you want even more leverage, consider one of the companies working on social recruiting.

3. Rigorously Collect Data in Interviews

A pint of sweat, saves a gallon of blood.
~George S. Patton

Make sure your interviews focus on collecting data about the accomplishments that qualify a candidate to achieve the performance goals of the position. Doing this will be much easier if you have a well defined job.

It is the interviewer’s responsibility to dig deep into the candidate’s experience. A useful process might be thought of as the “5 Hows,” a twist on the 5 Whys questioning method originally developed for use within Toyota and recently re-popularized by Eric Ries as part of the Lean Startup process.

When a candidate gives an example of an accomplishment, continue to dig deeper by successively asking “how”. Keep asking until it is 100% clear exactly what role the candidate played in the accomplishment and what impact this accomplishment really had.

Few things are worse than making a bad hire. And it’s hard to know you’re not making a bad hire if you do not collect enough information during the interview process to make a good decision.

Is this more work? Yes. Is it worth doing to ensure you are making a truly great hire? Yes. A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood.

4. Do a Structured Assessment as a Group

I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.
~George S. Patton

Once the interviews are over, do a formal debrief session with your team. Lou Adler has a great baseline process for candidate assessment and a 10 factor candidate assessment scorecard you can modify for your use.

In doing your assessment, think carefully about what things really matter. Is Phd level technical depth really required for success? How are you measuring the candidate’s ability to succeed in a startup environment? One measure you can consider is “grit”, defined as the candidate’s passion and perseverance for long term goals. Are you adequately measuring motivation and other “soft” traits?

Too often I have seen people who are very smart and highly capable of doing the work but are unmotivated to do it, have attitude issues or other problems that can slip through an interview process if you’re not looking for them.

Think about whether you’re judging a candidate’s success by “how high he climbs” or by “how high he bounces when he hits bottom.” The startup curve has many dips. Make sure that no matter what happens, your team has the grit to bounce high enough to get through the “trough of sorrow.”

Whatever you do in your assessment process, do not settle for mediocrity. Seth Godin recently said that “a great programmer is worth thirty times as much as a good one. Which means hiring a good programmer in a competitive field is a killer error.” Make sure you’re hiring great talent.

5. Sell Careers. Buy Talent

Always do everything you ask of those you command.
~George S. Patton

How do you compete against Google, Facebook and other well funded companies who are paying top dollar for talent? You must differentiate on the opportunity, not on monetary compensation.

As basic economics tells us, when a product is only differentiated on price, price keeps dropping until it equals cost and the business is no longer profitable. If you do not focus on selling the career opportunity in your conversations with a candidate, you will end up focused on “price” and will overpay for the talent.

And no matter how good the talent is, remember that you’re buying the talent. Never allow the balance between you and the candidate to be more weighted towards selling the career than buying the talent. If someone is overqualified for the role, think about making the job bigger.

In the negotiating and closing stage, personal leadership is what makes all the difference. A candidate wants to believe in you and your team. Are you leading from the front like Patton, indefatigably waving your team on? Do you work the same long hours you expect your team to?

You’re being judged by the candidate at every interaction. Make sure you walk the walk. Tough but fair interviews will build respect. Tough and unfair or haphazard interviews will quickly destroy it. Sell career opportunities.

If you think deeply about your hiring process and make sure you’re excelling at each step, you’ll have a considerable edge in the war for talent and be well on your way to building your rockstar team.

How about you? Do you have any war stories to share? We’d love to hear your successes and frustrations!

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