Battle Armor for the Talent War

In the late 1990s, Steven Hankin of McKinsey coined the phrase “the war for talent.” The intent of that label was to warn businesses that a talent shortage was imminent and that if companies didn't engineer a focused effort for recruiting, retaining, and developing key employees they would be vulnerable. Well, as the late Yogi Berra famously observed: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”


Four years ago, McKinsey predicted that by 2020 “there will be as much as an 18 million worker shortfall in the world's richest countries. They'll be producing too few of the workers businesses really need, and too many with only high school or vocational training.” That’s just four years from now. It appears the worker shortfall on the horizon is about to produce yet another war for talent.  Therefore, what? What does this mean for your business and what should you be doing as a result?

At a minimum it means you need to start amassing the armor you’ll need to fight the battle for skilled workers that’s coming.  Every aspect of your value proposition needs to be evaluated and probably improved within six areas of primary focus.

Talent War Armor

  1. Standards. Every organization wants to attract premier talent, not just good talent. But "premier talent" isn't a good enough filter for a business to use in determining who will help it succeed. Beyond that descriptor a company needs specific standards to guide who it should try to attract. What is the success criteria that will guide who you will recruit? What are the cultural factors that will determine whether or not the people you’re bringing on will be able to not just do well in their role but soar? For what outcomes will your future talent have stewardship and how will they need to demonstrate their ability to achieve them? What is the underlying organizational value system new recruits will need to embrace and which will act as a magnet for the talent you really want to attract?  These and many other questions should form the basis of the recruiting standards you will follow in waging the talent war. Companies with standards attract great people who become warriors for the mission and vision of the organization. Those without them perish in the battlefield.


  1. Vision. Premier talent wants to be compelled by where your business is headed and the role you see for them. If they don’t have a clear vision of how their contribution is needed for the company to achieve its growth goals, they will look elsewhere. Top performers are looking for a unique opportunity. They want to marry their capabilities with the resources of a company and watch magic be made. They may believe you have a good product and will do "well enough" as a result. But if you can’t demonstrate where they fit in the future of the company, they won't be compelled by your story. They want to know how their talents are needed to bring the future company to reality; why they will be an integral part of what happens. (By the way, this is also true of the key producers within your organization right now.)


  1. Culture.  In the business age of innovation and transformation, you need catalysts in order to compete and succeed; people who can make things happen--will make things happen--in uniquely good ways. Not everyone you hire will be Elon Musk, but if they are true catalysts, they will have their own "genius" and experience.  Such individuals have great confidence in their ability to positively impact the trajectory of the business but they need the right kind of people around them to make that happen.  As a result, they want to know that they (individually) and everyone else (also individually) will be working in the sweet spot of their unique capabilities. They are concerned about this because they recognize it will be the combined efforts of unique teams that will fuel success. People of talent know that individual success is impossible without a culture of confidence where the right synergies are formed, nurtured and magnified.


  1. Resources. The people you want to attract will be comparing the tools you’ll give them to succeed with others who are vying for their talent. Quality people are ambitious by nature and are constantly seeking personal and professional growth. They know they will invest their hearts and minds in the success of the enterprise that employs them. Consequently, they want to know that as a result of the resources they'll be exposed to--people, products, capital, etc.--they will get better at what they do; their capabilities will increase and that will help both them and the business succeed. They recognize that as their unique ability is strengthened, they are in a better position to create value for the company. Everyone wins.


  1. Relationship. Premier talent wants to work for organizations that are seeking business partners, not just employees. As a result, uniquely talented people will be looking for a uniquely constructed value proposition. They don't just want a compensation "package." They want something that codifies the nature of the financial partnership they will have with you. They want to know how they will participate in the value they help create. They view the company as an opportunity to accumulate wealth. They feel it's a fair expectation that there be a pay mechanism that rewards their contribution to sustained business growth. They expect there to be some kind of long-term value sharing plan that helps define this kind of financial partnership.


  1. MillennialsThis is now the largest segment in the global workplace and the primary talent pool in which you will be competing. You will need a nuanced pay approach that reflects the frame of reference informing this group’s career choicesThey won't be won over by a value proposition that reveals your company's monolithic view of who they are and what they value. You’ll be expected to appeal to each unique segment that makes up the millennial labor force. Those who spend the time to get this right will win many a battle for gifted talent.

These six areas of emphasis are foundational to building a strategy that will give you success in attracting and retaining the talent you seek. If applied, they will guide you to a value proposition that not only differentiates your organization from its competition but allows you to literally draw the right people to you. 

Wars are not won without the proper armor. And the talent war is definitely heating up.  So the time to put on your armor is now.

To learn more about how to win the Millennial battle in the talent war, register now for our upcoming webinar: How to Pay Millennials


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