You can win the talent war

May 30, 2021

Here are 12 things you can actually change in your business that will help you win the talent war.

Everyone is talking about the talent war in our industry these days, and it seems to me too many companies act as if there is little to nothing they can do to win. The conclusion so many have come to is that our colleges and universities aren’t turning out enough graduates who have the desire and capabilities to enter and succeed in our industry, and therefore they will be unable to hire the people they need to grow. While that may in fact be the case, it doesn’t mean any one firm necessarily has to struggle with finding truly outstanding people.

If you want to succeed in recruiting and retaining the best possible talent, you cannot do things like you have always done them. Here is what I would be doing to win this war:

  1. Be super-aggressive with your recruiting efforts. Post every job online. Go out to your employees first so they can be considered. Use every social media channel. Spend money consistently on recruitment advertising. Hire an in-house recruiter. Get an outside recruiter on contract. Talk about recruiting with your people. Track and report your numbers and results.
  2. Make good employment offers. I just had a discussion with someone who is trying to fill a key job with an architecture firm. The firm supposedly REALLY wanted to hire a specific individual but would only pay a base salary about $50,000 less than the person was already making. Why make an offer then? Face the reality that if you want to hire someone who has skills and backgrounds you don’t currently have, you could very well have to pay more than you are paying your existing people. Get over it.
  3. Ramp up your co-op and intern programs. Nothing is better than witnessing how people perform in your company over time, which is why you should consistently staff with as many co-ops and interns as you can afford. It also helps to teach at your local university where you can identify the best talent. On top of that, people who co-oped or interned with companies and who go to work there full-time upon graduation tend to stay much longer than those who haven’t.
  4. Get everyone involved in your business planning process. People want to participate. Everyone in any given company should be asked for their opinions, at a minimum, on the issues the firm is facing and how they think these should be addressed. People want their opinions to be heard and considered! The business planning process is where you do that.
  5. Have a strong sense of purpose. This alone can help you overcome any obstacle to hiring. IF you really have a strong sense of purpose – and not some BS statement full of platitudes that mean little to nothing – you will be able to hire outstanding people. The best example of this I know of is Miyamoto International, Inc., whose stated goal is to “make the world a better, safer place.” When their CEO personally goes to most every natural disaster site in the world to help out in any way he can, it sets an example for everyone else there and says, “this is real.”
  6. Use open-book management. People want to know how the company they work for is doing. It also builds trust with management. Working anywhere where you don’t have a deep understanding of the financial situation would be foolhardy in my opinion. And I don’t think I’m alone. Open-book companies perform better and they train a whole new cadre of managers through their regular sharing of key financial indicators.
  7. Cut everyone in on the profits. If the company performs, everyone who works there should benefit, period. I’m not talking about a once a year discretionary bonus program, either. It has to be paid out more frequently than that, and everyone should know what has to happen for them to get whatever it is they are getting. If someone doesn’t deserve to get their share of the pie they shouldn’t be working there. Yet so few firms truly use open-book management. It’s sad.
  8. Have a fun work environment. I recently visited the headquarters of Priority Bicycles in New York City. Besides a great location at 171 Hudson, their space is alive with happy people working in a light-filled space surrounded by cool stuff and technology. Is it any wonder they are growing like crazy and have amazing customer service when everyone works in such a stimulating and fun environment? It pervades everything they do. Too many design and engineering firms are still working in uninspired, messy, dirty, and dated environments that are boring and undifferentiated. No wonder no one wants to work there.
  9. Be flexible about your policies for when and where your people have to work. This is a must today. The pandemic proved it can work. You can’t afford to lose anyone who is good because of your rigidity and inflexibility. Let people live where they want to live and work how they want to work if you want to be able to hire and retain top talent!
  10. Train your managers in how to manage people. As my friend, Matt Lewis, general manager of Lewis Automotive Group, likes to say, “Don’t forget the word ‘management’ includes the word ‘manage!’” If people with technical or design backgrounds get thrust into management jobs with absolutely no training, is it surprising that they screw up? No, it isn’t! You have got to give your managers the training they need to deal with people effectively. More people quit because of bad managers than anything else.
  11. Drive demand beyond your ability to supply it. That means keep pouring gas on the marketing and promotion fire so you can pick and choose the clients and projects you take on. When you are in this mode, your employees will appreciate the quality of work they get to do and that is super important to keeping them engaged and working there. Not to mention all of that marketing and promotional activity will increase awareness of your company and get more people trying to work there.
  12. Spend time with your best people. Whomever is most important to you – spend time with them. Show your interest and care and you will be more likely to keep them there in your employ. It just makes sense.

So there you have it. Twelve things you can actually change in your business that will help you win the talent war. Are you doing these things? Or are you just hand-wringing about the talent shortage but essentially changing nothing that will help you hire and retain the best and brightest?

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.