Thursday, 10 January 2008

McKinsey's War for Talent: still a strategic priority ten years on

It was ten years last year that McKinsey's seminal War for Talent research was conducted, but a decade ago this year that their research was published in the McKinsey Quarterly. Now this journal has published an important update based upon more research undertaken in 2006 and 07.

In this latest article, McKinsey find that the talent management problem remains as business leaders believe that competition for talent is only going to increase. In fact the problem has become more acute. This is driven by three external factors - demographic change, globalisation and the rise of the knowledge worker, but also the enemy within - short termism: too much time is spent on 'today's business' with little value attached to building for the future (see also my earlier post on this).

The consequence of this short-term focus is that most talent management programmes have been 'insufficient at best, superficial and wasteful at worst' and therefore that expensive efforts to address the problem have largely failed.

This is compounded by 'minimal collaboration and talent sharing among business units, ineffective line management, and confusion about the role of HR professionals' (I'm going to come back to this in my next post).

The article is a depressing read. Talent management shouldn't be this hard! As McKinsey advise, organisations just need to to 'ensure talent management is addressed as an integral part of a long-term business strategy, requiring the attention of top-level management and substantial resources.'

Supporting this, they also recommend:

  • Investing in the whole workforce, not just the 'A' players to support inclusiveness
  • Developing multiple employee value propositions for different groups of staff
  • Bolstering HR.

Perhaps 2008 will be the year that companies finally start to seriously tackle this problem. If they need to, they should certainly think about asking McKinsey to help, although I come slightly cheaper.


  1. Thanks for the updated info on McKinsey Jon! I had not seen this yet. I read awhile back an interesting ditty by Malcolm Gladwell who opts to wear the contrarian hat when it comes to the popular War for Talent and its core recommendations.

    Would love to know if you've seen this before and what your thoughts are on this...Download the free pdf here:


  2. Hi Adam,

    Yes I have - I'm a big fan of Change This.

    I think his points are largely valid, and link closely to Jeffrey Pfeffer's warnings about the danger of promoting an exclusive group of talent.

    Of course, as in so many things, it's how you do talent management, as well as what you do, that counts.

    Enron was a bad organisation, but this doesn't mean that a forced normal distribution / rank and yank approach to performance management is wrong if the context is right and it's introduced appropriately.


Please add your comment here (email me your comments if you have trouble and I will put them up for you)