The ‘talent war’: What is it good for? Absolutely nothing

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article The ‘talent war’: What is it good for? Absolutely nothingOn 7 Aug 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Forget the old combative talk, we should now be trying to developco-operative recruiting relationshipsWinning the people wars. The battle for human capital. Fighting the braindrain. Read through any HR magazine, scan the business section of any bookshop,visit the website of any management consultancy and you are sure to find yetanother reference to what McKinsey & Co dubbed the “War for Talent”in its 1997 report of the same name. This metaphor has served a useful purpose by galvanising corporate thinkingin response to growing skills shortages. But by defining that challenge interms of conflict, it has done so at a high cost. A war suggests a clearly defined enemy. It presupposes a measurable andstable terrain with disputed but identifiable borders. It evokescommand-and-control organisations with set rules of engagement. It is based onthe logic of “either/or”, a win-lose game over finite territory. Such polarised thinking has limited relevance to a world where the oldhierarchies, organisational models and industry boundaries are giving way touncertainty, complexity, permeability and indeterminacy. Mechanisticorganisations with their clear edges and formal lines of authority are givingway to web-like organisations which draw power from the interactivity ofelements within formless operational and industry environments. This world is competitive. But it is characterised by collaboration betweenorganisations concerned to ensure their prosperous survival in the face ofchange. Hull’s social services department, for example, has developed apartnership with local universities, colleges and the voluntary sector tocreate and sustain a pool of social workers that can take up posts when theybecome vacant. This has prevented time-to-fill delays of up to six months. Co-operative recruiting relationships, as management thinker Peter Cappellisays in his book New Deal at Work, have been around since the 1950s whencompanies in the US aircraft industry “lent” entire teams tocompetitors which won government contracts. This allowed the lending company toavoid layoffs and gave it a stake in the development of its people. Morerecently, AT&T launched the Talent Alliance of about 30 organisations whichmarket talented individuals to other alliance members rather than lay them off.All of which runs counter to the logic of the war metaphor – a linguisticconstruct that blinds us to the web of relationships that links competitors,suppliers, candidates and the broader employment market. This can result inrecruitment tactics that serve little long-term purpose. Take the MetropolitanPolice, which is poaching officers from regional forces by offering additionalbenefits worth £6,000 – but weakening the wider policing framework. And that is the problem with the war mentality: it creates turf disputes,encourages short-term- ism and promotes corporate raiding. Recruitment problem?Don’t worry – just steal nurses from Malaysia, programmers from India, teachersfrom Australia. Move beyond the war metaphor and in place of aggressive short-term tactics,we can build relationships with prospective candidates using the Internet andtraditional media. We can invest in the schools, colleges and universities thatwill provide talent. We can open up fertile recruitment fields inhabited by olderworkers, the retired, asylum seekers and others. Make no mistake: there is a real recruitment crisis and competition willcontinue to shape the landscape. But so will co-operation, collaboration,partnership and the impact of evolving business models driven by globalisationand technologies. Organisations trapped in the war metaphor simply mistake asmall segment of the strategic whole as the entire strategic landscape. The persistence of the metaphor points to the failure of organisations tograsp the changes. And until they respond to these changes they will continueto pursue flawed recruitment and retention strategies. It is time to change the metaphor. By Shaun D’Arcy a partner at Lighthouse Communications, a full-servicerecruitment advertising and communications last_img read more