War for talent? Nope. War ON talent.

Image for post
Image for post

1998 was when McKinsey released a paper on “the war for talent.” To the best of my knowledge, 1998 was about 19 years ago. In the intervening time, we’ve had much less a war for talent — i.e. getting good people — and much more a war on talent, i.e. alienating the hell out of job-seekers. That’s not good. Let’s explore briefly, shall we?

“The war for talent” is a buzzword

  • Cost
  • Processes
  • Products
  • Services
  • Scale
  • Repeated processes

You know what word is missing? People. For a long time now, people have essentially been interchangeable to businesses. If the revenue model is strong and costs can be kept down, who cares whether Tom or Allen is the VP of So-and-So? Tom or Allen probably don’t move the needle a ton. So because we have this attitude that people don’t matter so long as the above are all good, then any “war for talent” discussion is a buzzword.

The war for talent becomes the war ON talent

Nice money quote in Fast Company here

Instead of winning a war for talent, organizations appear to be waging a war on talent, repelling and alienating employees more successfully than harnessing their skills. The result is a highly inefficient job market where most companies complain about their talent shortages while most employees complain about their pointless jobs. The definition of a bad deal is when both sides lose.

This one hits two major targets: (1) is the “skills gap myth,” whereby managers are allowed to bitch and moan about the quality of candidates without ever looking to fix the funnel problem. And (2) is the irony of ironies: headcount is very protected now, so you’d think organizations were only creating vital, productive roles. No. Most jobs don’t even need to exist.

Don’t believe me? OK. I had a gig once where the whole marketing deal was old-school B2B, like trade shows and magazine ad buys. They hire a “Global Marketing Specialist” or something. Really gonna “dig into” digital or something. Who knows. What does this kid do for 18–24 months? Basically just call meetings where no one cares what he has to say because it’s not tied to the revenue model that the guys in charge already understand. Jobs like this are created every day. How is that a “war for talent?”

Could we actually have a war for talent?

Problem B is that right now, most executives are probably chasing automation — i.e. getting rid of people — harder than they’re chasing any “war for talent” play.

If you’re reading this post and think you can relate to some of the ways I think about work and marketing and management and productivity, subscribe to this newsletter I do every Thursday. It’s fun. I promise.

Problem C is HR still owns it. HR doesn’t have any “seat at the table,” so them owning it means executives could give two fucks. Not rocket science to draw that line.

Problem D is that a lot of corporate hiring is still from a “busy busy busy” mindset, like “Oh my team is so slammed we need people!” Usually the team isn’t slammed; it’s more that the work is never assigned any real priority.

And Problem E is that no one seems to know how to measure anything. This is doubly true of interview questions, which are often meaningless and/or totally generic.

Why should executives care about people, though?

Short answer: you won’t, except for maybe some of your lieutenants.

Now, why should people care? Because it’s the damn human condition and we spend 12 hours/day at these workplaces, so maybe we could acknowledge other humans once in a while?

But there are KPIs to hit. Spreadsheets to update. Margins to breathlessly analyze.

Somehow, this is all representative of a “war for talent.”

Written by

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store