Monday, 23 March 2009

Cold war for talent?


   A recent post on Taleo's blog referring to PDI research suggested that talent management had fallen from 2nd to 8th place in business leaders' priorities.

More recently, Gartner made no mention of talent at all in its list of the seven greatest concerns for CEOs in 2009 (Restructuring; Can't write off fast enough; Loss of business and governmental trust; Globalization instability; New major regulation coming; Government as the new emerging market; and Green is not going away).

And today, Personnel Today reports on a PwC survey finding that the availability of workforce skills has fallen in CEOs' lists of priorities from 1st to 7th place.


Human vs financial capital

It's not too hard to see a pattern here, and of course, it's not that surprising given that human capital once again took a supporting seat to financial capital towards the end of last year.  But as I've noted several times, and as most of my readers will know for yourselves, people still remain the main long-term source of competitive success.

This dichotomy is shown through in much of the current research.  So, Personnel Today, for example, notes that

"A quarter of the 1,100 chief executives surveyed worldwide said they are looking to reduce headcount this year and 35% of CEOs in the UK want to cut jobs over the next 12 months.

While no longer an immediate matter, however, the war for talent was seen as a strategic concern by 97% of respondents. UK chief executives, in particular, expressed concerns about the limited supply of candidates with the right skills - 78% of them saw this as a problem, compared to 69% globally."


A cold war for talent

And I think another report from Stepstone and the Economist, 'The cold war for talent' expresses the tension even better.  The research for this was conducted in November and December last year, so some of its conclusions are already well out of date (for instance, I'd certainly argue that the Gulf's vibrancy is now much reduced), but I think the main conclusions do still stand, and I'd suggest the main ones are:

  • Hiring talent is now less about volume and more about targeting a few highly skills individuals for specific roles - including targeting competitors' employees who have lost their jobs (which I think is where the cold war metaphor comes from).
  • Developing existing talent is now even more critical.  I liked this example about Vodafone, although I don't know whether the programme survived the company's 500 redundancies last month:

"As a result, some companies are focusing on developing a talent pipeline from which to fill their executive ranks. To achieve exactly this, Vodafone, a mobile telecoms operator, launched an initiative, initially targeting 75 people who are on development programmes of either 18 months or three years. 'This programme is designed to fill the gaps globally that are coming up as we expand,' says Kerensa Sheen, HR director of Vodafone’s global leadership and talent. 'By year three, we’ll have 200 high performers on it who are on succession plans'."


  • HR now has a great opportunity to demonstrate the strategic value of HR to the business (although the function has to show its relevance first).


The future of talent management?

I've been considering these findings against a post by Andrew Boyd at Aberdeen Group who refers back to an Economist article from last November predicting the rise of the CEO (which itself is interesting in connection to my last post on Dick Beatty, CFOs, trust and HR).

The article notes:

"The biggest loser in the struggle for power will be the human resources director. In the past five years HR has been enjoying the greatest power it has ever had. The “war for talent”, which companies have fought tooth and nail, will be over in 2008, neither lost nor won: there will be a ceasefire brought on by lack of funds and exhaustion of the troops. An old truth will be whispered by the brave: most workers are not terribly talented and most of them don’t need to be, as most jobs don’t require it.

In 2009 a more elitist shift will occur: companies will worry about the performance of those at the top of the pyramid, while everyone else will be managed like a commodity. 'Talent' will be a word we wave goodbye to. In 2009 the word “staff” will make a comeback, as will 'headcount'."


In my view, that was almost, but not quite, right.  It's not just talent at the top that's being seen as important, but a broader range of people with key skills.   Therefore, I think 'talent', and the need to differentiate talent from other staff, hence 'talent management', are actually becoming more important, not less.

So although I didn't think much of Beatty's tone, I am still looking forward to reading his new book, the Differentiated Workforce (first review I've seen here) - I'll let you know my thoughts once I've read it.


In the meantime, do let me know your thoughts on the future of talent management...



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