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“The war for talent is over — talent won,” J.D. Roux, vice president of human resources at Activision Blizzard, once quipped to me. It’s a common turn of phrase these days, used to express the difficulty many employers face when trying to recruit talented candidates in today’s highly competitive market.

As droves of baby boomers retire and take their experience with them, companies are setting their sights on future employees, both those currently in the workforce and those now exiting college and graduate school. As companies race to fill their soon-to-be-vacant roles, they face the reality that, today, the most knowledgeable and skilled candidates also hold all the cards in employment negotiations. It’s a buyer’s market, so to speak, and old recruiting models don’t cut it.

How are employers and HR teams to move forward in this new environment? What steps can they take to attract and retain tomorrow’s talent in the midst of such fierce competition?

Surprisingly, the answers may lie, in part, within the premise of a popular reality TV show: The Voice.

Lesson 1: A New Model for Blind Interviews

A twist on traditional reality TV talent competitions, The Voice uses blind auditions to evaluate the vocal ability of aspiring singers vying for a chance to further develop their skills with some of the biggest stars in music. With their backs to the contestants, the coaches — including A-list celebrities Alicia Keys, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, and Gwen Stefani — assess only the quality of the contestant’s voice to decide whether or not they want to develop the individual’s talent via one-on-one coaching. It is not until they make a decision that the coaches are spun around to finally see the singer they have either expressed interest in mentoring or passed on.

The blind audition method used on The Voice cuts out much of the conscious and unconscious biases that could otherwise impact the coaches’ decisions. If the coaches could see the contestants as they auditioned, they might — knowingly or not — allow irrelevant factors to sway their decisions, such as whether or not a contestant fits the typical “model” of past stars.

In the professional world, the blind audition approach is also a great way to remove unconscious bias from candidate selection. Techniques such as removing gender markers from candidate profiles can help companies assess candidate viability based purely on relevant career strengths. Similarly, platforms like GapJumpers provide employers with a mechanism to host blind auditions that allow them to focus only on an applicant’s skills and experiences. Again, the search is distilled down to one criterion: pure talent.

Lesson 2: Servant Leadership and Two-Way Fit Evaluations

The Voice is not the only popular reality talent show on TV. Shows such as American Idol and The X Factor have been auditioning talent, albeit not blindly, for years. However, unlike American Idol or The X Factor, where aspiring singers are assigned a coach and mentor by the show’s producers, in The Voice, the power to decide is ultimately given to the contestant, who chooses their coach.

Just as with the raw talent emerging out of today’s economy and tomorrow’s graduate schools, the most talented candidates in The Voice have many options available to them. As a result, the celebrities — industry leaders in their own right — must vie for the attention of this talent, offering them development plans focused on their specific needs and abilities. The Voice coaches who are most successful at convincing talented contestants to choose them are those who provide the most persuasive arguments for how they are uniquely qualified to offer support based on the contestant’s needs.

As the show progresses, the audience observes these famous coaches embodying a “servant leadership” mindset, a concept coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader.” The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. This servant leadership mindset is a crucial factor in the coach-contestant relationship, and ultimately, in the contestant’s development and success.

The matching of talent to a leader is a two-way conversation. The talented contestant clearly has a need for the guidance of a seasoned music industry leader. If a contestant becomes “The Voice,” their coach earns intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, and is thus deeply invested in their talent’s success.

In the aftermath of the war for talent, in which talent has emerged victorious and in a place of power, executives must think critically about how they will attract and retain the next generation of leaders. If American Idol was the pre-war-for-talent hiring method of choice, then The Voice may just become the postwar method. In the past, offering financial incentives — healthcare, stock options, signing bonuses, memberships to elite gyms, on-site chefs, and other perks — was the primary means to attract and retain talent. Employers should now consider personal investment in the candidate’s success through a servant leadership approach a key incentive to attracting and retaining tomorrow’s talent.

Marissa Waldman is president of Brainard Strategy.



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