Experts Address Myths and Truths About the Battle for Talent

Graphic notetakers captured key takeaways during the Productivity@Work event.

How can companies from startups to big enterprises compete for talent with the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google—collectively known as the successful FANG stocks?

In reality, no company has a lock on today’s competitive talent market, according to two industry experts who participated in a panel discussion at Productivity@Work in New York, part of a CNBC event series examining how new technology affects human resources, IT, and finance.

Morgan Brennan, co-anchor of “Squawk Alley” on CNBC, spoke with Juliet de Baubigny, formerly with Kleiner Perkins (and now with Bond, a new venture capital fund), and Rahul Samant, executive vice president and CIO, Delta Airlines about attracting and keeping solid talent, busting myths about Millennials, and the importance of teams.

Location, Location, Location? Not So Fast

Recruiting has never been easy, said de Baubigny, and it’s only getting harder. She should know—she’s been in the business for 25 years and has worked with Amazon, Google, and other tech industry stars. But if you adapt your organization and culture to be more attractive, you’re far less likely to lose top candidates to tough competitors.

Kleiner Perkins, she explained, backs companies in Europe, and also in states like Utah and Colorado. Businesses don’t have to be headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area to be competitive. She says,

 If you look at a company like Amazon, which started in Seattle and actually created an ecosystem, you realize you can survive and nurture, whether you’re on the East Coast or the West Coast or anywhere in between.

Samant agreed. He views the geography of Delta’s two global tech hubs, in Atlanta and Indianapolis, as a benefit because they’re great, livable cities with a good quality of life. He explains,

My attrition rate is in the low single digits. I’m not looking for hundreds of AI people or machine learning people or data scientists, I’m looking for a couple dozen. As long as I find my way to a couple dozen people for whom Delta is the destination—they love travel, they love the purpose that we bring—then that’s who we want. Once they come, our culture takes care of the stickiness.

It Takes a Village—With a Good Leader

Having the right leadership and a strong culture of teamwork, the pair agreed, are critical ingredients to any successful company. If you don’t have the right leader, said de Baubigny, the company is unlikely to survive. It’s that simple. She says,

The key steps include starting with a great founder, creating the culture, and then hiring that first generation of your leadership team.If you examine the leadership teams of great companies, they have longevity, which creates a strong culture of values. In addition, the leadership is attractive to new team members who come on board and have the opportunity to learn from icons in the industry.

The strength of teams is also pivotal. Samant was a frequent flier before joining Delta, but when he got a glimpse behind the curtain, it changed his perspective.   He says,

I saw what it takes from a teamwork perspective to get a single flight pushed out of the gate. There are literally a couple dozen teams, from the janitorial staff to catering to the gate, the lobby, the tower, baggage. Teamwork is ingrained in the business—if you don’t have teamwork, you’re not going to be successful.

De Baubigny also emphasized the strength of teams with an example from Google. After studying its own organization, Google defined five important elements that allow teams and, by extension, organizations, to flourish.  She says that,

One is having a safe space where you can throw out new ideas; where you can challenge and be challenged. You also have accountability and responsibility within your team; you’re actually going to get things done. You’re working on projects that are meaningful to the organization and have a purpose. Lastly, you can continue to learn and iterate.

Samant, meanwhile, challenged negative stereotypes about Millennials, such as the notion that they’re self-absorbed. In his experience they’re team players, and just as value- and purpose-driven as other generations. He says that,

They want meritocracy. They value face time with managers and mentors more than the generation that preceded them. They want to make an impact, they want a values culture, they want alignment, they want good managers, they want good leaders . . . . The Millennials who are joining Delta are blending really nicely and working together as one team.

Flexibility Creates Opportunity

Flexibility is another important aspect in this environment of rapid change. With the on-demand gig economy predicted to reach 43 million workers by 2020, according to de Baubigny, we’ve reached a tipping point—not just with Uber drivers and Airbnb, but also with companies like Etsy and DoorDash.  She says,

What I get excited about is that there are so many women who are able to participate in that, and there are so many women who are allowed to get back into the workforce. They can create businesses, develop new skills, and repurpose themselves.

The same is true for the older population. Flexibility is important for recruiting and retention, too.  De Baubigny concludes

If you ask anyone right now, they will say give me a job that is meaningful, flexible, and well-compensated. We’re all living longer, we’re all going to be working longer. We all have rising costs. I think flexibility will keep people engaged and relevant far longer. I think flexibility will allow people to opt in and out of the workforce, and that’s good for business.

Workday is a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources. Founded in 2005, Workday delivers financial management, human capital management, and analytics applications designed for organisations ranging from the world’s largest companies to medium-sized businesses.

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staff writer at Workday.