5 Lessons from Hamilton on Winning the War for Talent
hamilton performance with lin manuel miranda

5 Lessons from Hamilton on Winning the War for Talent

Some companies are younger, scrappier and hungrier than others, but no matter your organization’s size or stage, there are 5 critical components to winning the war for top talent – and they map back to the themes from Hamilton: An American Musical. The Broadway hit written by Lin Manuel-Miranda has been a runaway success that only seems to be building steam with its American tour. And the messages from the musical have broad application that can light a fire under the most entrenched among us.

If you haven’t caught the show live, take a listen to the soundtrack to reacquaint yourself with what makes you and your teams great at recruiting. The kind of inspiration, connection and engagement you’ll take away from the experience can be applied management, recruiting and building your company culture.

1. Make what you stand for known.

“Talk less, smile more.” This is Aaron Burr’s advice to young Alexander Hamilton. “Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” Hamilton, of course, does quite the opposite. No founding father was more outspoken about public issues, regardless of the personal or political consequences. “Burr, drop the niceties,” Hamilton says later in Farmer Refuted, “I’d rather be divisive than indecisive.”

Hamilton takes it to the extreme, of course. The most effective leaders strike the right balance, being decisive without being divisive. But there’s a lesson here. It’s more important than ever for employers to take a stand on social issues in America, according to a new survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Glassdoor.

Younger workers are most passionate about employer commitment to hot-button topics: 75% of those ages 18–34 expect their employer to take a stand on important issues affecting the country and their constitutional rights, including immigration, equal rights, and climate change, more than any other age group. In turn, the data suggests that employers who pay attention to taking a stand on such issues may have a recruiting advantage.

Furthermore, nearly four in five (84%) U.S. workers believe companies have an important voice in proposed legislation, regulation and executive orders that could affect the employer’s business or the lives of employees. Read more about why it’s good to make it clear what you’re for here.

2. This is the sequel. Go after diversity and include women.

Angelica Schuyler, says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel.” And on the cusp of the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, Hamilton and his friend Lafayette reunite and look back at their accomplishments in the song Yorktown. “We’re finally on the field, we’ve had quite a run – immigrants, we get the job done.”

Diversity and inclusion programs are not just a current trend, and their importance goes far beyond complying with laws or “doing the right thing.” There’s serious data to support that hiring a diverse workforce is good for business. And there’s quantifiable proof that it’s good for company culture, too. Two-thirds of active and passive job seekers say that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.(1) No matter the size of your company, making diversity a priority is a critical step toward becoming a recruiting and branding powerhouse.

Highly inclusive organizations generate 1.4 times more revenue and are 120% more capable of meeting financial targets.(2) And two-thirds (69 percent) of executives rate diversity and inclusion an important issue in 2017, up 32 percent compared to 2014.(3)

For more on how to recruit for diversity, build an inclusive culture, and manage bias, download the Guide to Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace.

3. Be real. Show vulnerability. And look at adversity as a time to shine.

In the song Right Hand Man, General George Washington bellows: “We are outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, out-planned.” From the timbre of his voice and his presence on stage, there is no doubt that he is a determined and capable leader. And it’s from that well-established position of strength that he is able to admit a shortcoming. “Can I be real a second?” Washington says. “Let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second?” He then admits, “I’m in dire need of assistance.”

Washington, like every leader at one time or another, needs to call in reinforcements. “I cannot be everywhere at once, people.” In fact, the more responsibility you have, the more you should delegate. You’re “gonna need a right-hand man.”

Likewise, Hamilton, saw conflict as a time to shine. In a letter he wrote to a friend in 1780, he said: “A man of real merit is never seen in so favorable a light as through the medium of adversity; the clouds that surround him are shades that set off his good qualities.”

The same goes for company reviews on Glassdoor. Employees and job seekers don’t expect a company to be free of flaws, they just want to know that leaders at the company listen to their employees and work to get better. While intuition may say a bad review tarnishes your image, the fact is that job candidates are more likely to convert to hires after having read reviews that outline both the good and the bad about working for your company. A well thought-out approach to responding to reviews will strengthen your employer brand. Your consistency, gratitude and authenticity will build trust with employees and candidates alike.

To be more like George Washington and let any clouds around you set off your best qualities, download Templates for Hiring Pros: How to Respond to Reviews.

4. Don’t give away your shot (at informed candidates).

Perhaps Alexander Hamilton was the ultimate informed candidate. He studied politics from every angle and did all his research – and Washington recognized it right away. He was also clearly sharp witted, learned lightning fast, and wise beyond his years. His personal values were also well-aligned with the mission of the revolution, which kept him motivated even when times were tough. And Washington was the ultimate recruiter. He immediately saw Hamilton’s raw talent, scooped him up, mentored him, and made him his right-hand man.

The informed candidate is – like Alexander Hamilton – a person who is internally motivated, well-researched and engaged with your company. Because of these attributes, he or she will turn out to be the right fit and – once hired – get onboarded faster and exhibit greater productivity. Today, nine in ten (88%) hiring decision makers agree that an informed candidate is a quality candidate. A recent survey proved that informed candidates are prepared, have the right experience, and understand the role.(4) They’ve done their homework, and they stand out in your initial screening all the way through the interview process.

Imagine if Alexander Hamilton could have had access to Glassdoor! His research would have been even more exhaustive, and his reviews that much more prolific.

5. Prioritize in-person conversation.

Hamilton was known to have skill with the quill, but he may have leaned on his ability too much. In the song Non-Stop, it’s asked of Hamilton: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” Perhaps he should have spent more time investing in relating to people one on one. Burr may have been right to criticize Hamilton’s prolific writing.

There’s nothing wrong with sending formal communications from time to time, but there is something wrong with it if that’s all you’re doing. Make a conscious effort to occasionally speak informally and put some personality into your communication with others. The more we train ourselves to talk the way that normal people do, the less we’ll feel like our job is slowly turning us into a robot.

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz does a great job of breaking down communication barriers. As CEO, he could certainly hide behind formal communications handed down from on high, but he knows better. For a company built on millions of small human interactions daily, making human connections with employees is paramount. After bad press this past year, he fulfilled the company’s key objective of regaining the trust of employees by listening. By spending time with employees at every corner of the business, reflecting back on what he heard, and listening again, he was then able to lead the company in a way that addressed employees’ most important concerns.

Learn from visionaries like Oscar Munoz in Actionable Advice from Top Company Leaders.


Perhaps drawing a connection between recruiting and a hit Broadway musical is a stretch. And it is! But finding connections between what we’re passionate about and topics that matter will never go out of style. And it’s a big part of why Hamilton works – after all, Lin Manuel-Miranda himself took grand leaps by casting non-white actors as Founding Fathers and borrowing hip hop, rap and pop music to bring Ron Chernow’s history to life. It’s up to us to look beyond our organizations from time to time to find inspiration for how to really get people invested, engaged – and maybe even borderline obsessed with what you’ve created as a company.

Don’t give away your shot!


(1) Glassdoor site survey, June 2014
(2) Bersin by Deloitte, Predictions for 2017, December 2016
(3) Deloitte, Global Human Capital Trends 2017, 2017
(4) Aptitude Research Partners, Informed Candidate, 2017