Being a direct-sales manufacturing company, Big Ass Solutions generates a lot of data, from measuring marketing effectiveness to tracking parts leaving the warehouse. We're a bona fide "big data" company. This means we have a genuine need for smart, talented people who can help manage, manipulate, and most importantly, monetize this data. Otherwise, why collect it?
Right now, these people are such a hot commodity that they're similar to one of those super rare Pokemon -- they're widely referred to as "unicorns." Luckily, we've built a culture that doesn't place many arbitrary limits on advancement, and we have buildings full of eager-to-learn, smart, motivated people. So when my analytics team needed another data scientist, instead of spending many months and many bucks searching or using a recruitment firm, we stayed in-house.
We held a competition letting employees complete a series of data-related tasks to prove their ultra-rare unicorn status. We took advantage of the extended format this approach offered and made it a month long competition with plenty of number crunching, model fitting, and coffee consumption. We also didn't make it all about the technical skills.
One curve-ball we threw was rewarding competitors who got up from their computers and talked to other humans. For example, if they talked to our finance manager (a confederate in our contest), he gave them a shiny clean data set. If they just pulled the data from his file, they instead got stuck with a horrible mess to clean up. The whole competition was laced with shortcuts for the clever and traps for the stubborn or inflexible.
The benefits to the company were numerous. We identified a talented young woman to promote, spent zero time sorting through useless resumes, and tailored the competition to find the exact skills we wanted. An unexpected benefit came from the fact that the competition was really close right up until the end. We not only found our unicorn, but also identified a few people who, with a little mentoring and guidance, might be our next unicorn (or possibly a whole blessing of unicorns, which is what I am told a herd of unicorns actually is called).
Evidently some lucky Pokemon enthusiasts are ending up with coveted little beasts materializing right in their own backyards. For those of you too busy running a business to hunt digital monsters, there still is a lesson here. Before you go wandering out into heavy traffic hunting that unicorn, check your own backyard. You might find exactly what you were looking for and help build a better company culture at the same time. You might even discover that your talented employees are, in fact, blessings in disguise.