What is extraordinary talent? It’s the people you find who have the experience, skills and abilities to help your organization accomplish their goals. If people decisions are the very most important decisions a leader makes, then among those people decisions, talent selection is the most important.  If we don’t get the selection decision right, then all of the other decisions that follow: how talent is trained, developed, promoted and compensated will not be right either.

Over 30 years ago, when I began selecting talent for Chick-fil-A, I chose 3 criteria for selection and I used that criteria for more than 3 decades to select thousands of franchisees and corporate staff for the company.  There were many goals along the way to grow from a regional restaurant chain to a global multi-billion dollar enterprise. However, perhaps the most important charge for talent selection was to find talent that will win the hearts of customers.

The three selection criteria I chose to select the talent at Chick-fil-A was Character, Competency and Chemistry. To be selected for a role at Chick-fil-A, the candidate must possess the character that matches the organization, the competency to match the role and the chemistry to match the team. While the formula is simple, the execution is far more difficult.

First, when selecting extraordinary talent, start with Character. It always comes first. We can teach people how to do a lot of things, but if they don’t have the character that matches the purpose, mission and core values of the organization, their impact will either be minimal because they don’t fit or detrimental because they are disruptive. The culture of the organization is the result of the combination of the character of all of the individuals in the organization. Clearly define the character traits important for success in the organization and select talent that matches those traits. Select for character first and make it the highest priority.

Secondly, select for Competency. We all know what competency is: the ability to do the work that needs to be done. Search for talent that has the experience, skills and capabilities that match the specific role. However, if we are interested in building a bench of talent for the future, we don’t want to only look at the skills and abilities for the current role. Also evaluate the candidate’s potential for future roles. This is a hallmark of selection in great organizations.  Examine the track record and past performance of the candidate to predict the future performance.  Forward thinking organizations select talent today that meets the needs of tomorrow. They are prepared for leadership needs and talent challenges of the future.

Lastly, select for Chemistry. This is, sometimes, the most difficult criteria to define and to evaluate. In this case, we are looking for people who can contribute their own unique points of view, but do so with the appropriate level of self-awareness. In other words, we want to have people who are great team players, but not check their differences at the door.  Evaluate the candidate’s skill in engaging in discussion, disagreeing without being disagreeable and self awareness of impact on others. 

Leaders who use this criteria to select talent are far more likely to find talent that is engaged, contributing at a high level, growing in the role and has an intent to stay at the organization.  When the talent aligns in this way with the organization, they are able to innovate, collaborate and motivate others toward the organization’s goals. If finding and keeping this kind of talent is a challenge for your organization, try the 3 C’s criteria to see if it helps you better target talent.  

For a deeper dive into talent selection best practices, read my new book, Bet on Talent: How to Create a Remarkable Culture that Wins the Hearts of Customers.