The War for Talent is Passé, Collaboration with Talent is the Future

January 28, 2014

It’s 50 years this month since Bob Dylan released “The Times They are A Changin’.” As a simple statement of fact and prediction, they sure have - and arguably, they’ve changed more in the last five years than in the previous 45. The world is moving East and South; people are living differently, we’re living longer, and in six years time another billion people will be living on the planet. Our environment is under stress. By some estimates global demand for food could increase by up to 50% by 2030, yet we currently waste 30% of our food in developed economies at a time where the world’s agricultural land is being seriously degraded. Increased energy demand is being fuelled by emerging markets at a pace that renewables arguably can’t sustain.

Finally, the digital landscape has permanently changed the way that we communicate, consume and do business. By next year there could be two networked devices for every person on earth, and by 2020 some predictions are that data will amount to 35 zettabytes, about 30 times that available today. VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) is the new normal. On the positive side, the increased connectivity between people, organisations objects and places presents a wonderfully fertile opportunity for innovation and productivity on a scale not yet seen.

The VUCA world profoundly affects the way organisations behave, but also the way talent behaves. It also informs strategy - the proportion of talent that is built, bought, borrowed or bounced. The concept of an organisation’s talent is changing and has been for years. Organisations serve their customers, consumers and people. In people we trust. There is much evidence that values-driven businesses drive superior results.

In a VUCA context, McKinsey’s concept of “The War for Talent” is so last century. Yes the idea is built upon demographic inevitability and skills shortages, but if it ever existed, talent won before the first skirmish was undertaken. In any case, how engaging and edifying is it for talent to be fought over?

Today’s reality suggests a different approach is required. The skills needed for a great marketing person today may be considerably different to those necessary for a marketing leader in 2020. Today’s child can expect to have 20 different jobs and five different careers during their working life. If you have a teenage son or daughter, their first job might not yet exist. 20% of top talent will often leave an organisation within a year of being identified as top talent, yet 75% of leaders don’t have an engagement plan. 46% of new hires fail within their first 18 months - very expensive as replacement can cost up to 150% of the departing employees salary. All very VUCA.

With talent demand continuing to outstrip supply, let’s consider another approach to hiring the right talent. Ironically McKinsey & Co hit upon it in 2011 with the G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit, but in the context of the socioeconomic potential of entrepreneurs - “The Power of Many”. This is an approach that recommends leveraging a relevant talent pool through better skills alignment, fostering exchange of talent, and encouraging cooperation between established and entrepreneurial companies.

We could accomplish something similar via the concept of competitive talent collaboration. Progressive organisations do not fear that the mutual development of talent will lead to them being headhunted; rather they fear the consequence of talent remaining if not actively invested in.

Ultimately companies could be thought of as talent academies that serve their customers and employees. If the approach is taken collectively, competing companies will collectively succeed. It’s a far more sustainable approach which could lead to the virtuous circle of mutually assured success.  The technology infrastructure exists to provide social, shared and professional learning which enables organisations to build continuous and growing relationships with talent - whether owned, outside, freelance or nomad.

The language and spirit of collaboration is far more likely to lead to successful outcomes than that of war. In the words of Charles Darwin: "In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."   Progressive organisations will collaborate with talent as opposed to fight over it.

* image by w0LD

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