How to steal your competitors’ top people

Geoff Colvin, Fortune senior editor, has an extraordinary breadth of knowledge on the most vital issues facing business and the economy. Top business leaders confide in him. For obvious reasons a top CEO did not want to be named when in late 2008 he said “Any CEO that is not panicked about the economy, should be.” Colvin now sees opportunity.This fall Colvin told over 250 sales and marketing executives at the Distinctive Purchase Experience that “It’s a huge opportunity: The longest downturn in 80 years has profoundly changed markets, customers, governments and the whole business environment. This is your moment to roar past competitors and seize new markets”

In his most recent book, The Upside of the Downturn, Colvin presents strategies to prevail in the recession and thrive in the aftermath. As a journalist, he knows the power synthesizing the message into quickly digestible sound bites. He joked that “if Moses were to come down the mountain with 10 commandments today, the front page headline would be: 10 New Commandments, Here are the top three.”

At the conference, he presented a few strategies, but one drove the hallway conversations. He challenged all leaders to use this opportunity to upgrade their talent – the most important asset – their people. Fortune Magazine has asked many companies to talk about their most important assets. People are always at the top. Even companies with thousand of patents know the top asset. He was candid – he told everyone “steal you competitor’s best people.”

Simple advice, but he followed this with, a strategy for building an environment that attracts and retains the best people. Colvin reinforced that companies have to “Give people purpose.” Sounds easier for some companies that other but he gave two examples to reinforce every industry can do this.

Medtronic – this company produces medical devices that are implanted in people and give them life. A noble business for sure. But when Colvin talked to the CEO about the companies purpose, he was told about a meeting held every December where the company invites surgeons and their patients to a dinner and the patients get up and tell their stories. It’s a night the always end in happy tears. They have taken a noble business and found a way for their teams to connect with those they are helping. The CEO says it is the most important day for the company every year.

Coca-Cola – This may not be as apparent but a their CEO called Coke “the most noble business on earth.” He described the millions small merchants that made their living selling Coke products, the many businesses that are touched in the distribution, and the charities that are supported. He is also know for saying that they will not have fully succeeded until the faucet with the letter C on it dispenses the correct brown liquid. Growing the enterprise and helping businesses grow became their purpose.

Find a way to give your people purpose and you will find it easier to steal talent and increase the value of you most important asset.

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photo by Katrina Snaps

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