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Global War for Talent

For some years now the industrialized world has faced critical shortages of knowledge and skills in the workforce. Established talent pools have shrunk while new ones, continuously forming, are as yet relatively unfamiliar.

This problem has been caused (in part at least) by a shift in the global economy, particularly the swing away from conventional industrial powerhouses in time-honored locations to the dynamic emerging markets of Asia. Economic power, formerly concentrated among a few industrialized nations, has become dispersed across multiple centers of commercial and trading activity.

In such a multi-polar world competition for new products, consumers, markets (and therefore talent) can arise from anywhere. Three factors have enabled this re-alignment of global economic power:

Arguably the most potent of these has been internet-based communications technologies. These allow people to access knowledge and execute work irrespective of their physical location. Another factor is distributed outsourcing - the ability to source work from wherever skilled people are available at the most competitive price has irrevocably altered the way multinationals operate. Yet a third factor is the changing face of consumer demographics. Over the coming decade a billion or more new consumers will become active participants in the global economy. Most of these will come from emerging markets.

Globalization of the market for talent took many by surprise. The majority of companies were not well prepared for the consequences although it was always apparent that new technologies like robotics and computing would eventually transform the nature of work, the knowledge and skills required, the manner in which work was sourced and the ways in which people were required to collaborate.

As talent shortages continue to impact business, a dual track strategic response is required. Firstly, new global alliances between businesses, governments and institutions of higher learning need to be forged with the intention of creating a better coordinated agenda to raise awareness, knowledge and appropriate skills levels among all citizens. Secondly, organizations must develop the capability to address talent issues at a whole-of-enterprise level.

There are at least four essential components to strategic talent management in today’s global economy:

1. Defining Talent – Most organizations have poor track records when it comes to identifying the expertise they are going to need in the future. Emphasis on short-term financial results usually means that insufficient time is devoted to the forecasting of human capital requirements and even less on exploring alternative future scenarios that might pre-empt significant changes in specific knowledge, skills and activities. In fact guesswork frequently takes precedence over any conscious capability building. The most essential factor in a corporation’s ability to achieve and sustain high levels of economic performance in an increasingly competitive environment is the ability to align knowledge and skills with the execution of robust business strategies. Without that link the future viability of the business is immediately put at risk.

2. Sourcing Talent – Today’s competition for talent is global. New intermediaries, like social networks, personal advocacy websites and boutique search firms have emerged, disturbing the quasi-monopolistic complacency of traditional recruitment practices. It stands to reason that diversity, too, has become an issue as the workforce acquires multicultural variety. As a consequence, the ability to appreciate and source talent strategically becomes even more of an imperative. Some firms, like Lenovo the Chinese PC manufacturer for example, have even developed a label for this phenomenon. It is called world sourcing: the ability to find and access appropriate talent wherever it happens to be in the world.

3. Developing Talent – Development of any kind is usually interpreted as being concerned with growing the skills of the people one employs. Focusing on staff development is vitally important. Yet so much hangs on the quality and preparedness of people entering the workforce. Traditionally, corporations have relied on educational institutions to prepare people for work. Today that is simply inadequate. Once again corporations are being forced to focus on the overall capabilities of the talent pool from which they recruit to ensure that they get the best possible performance from the people they hire.

4. Liberating Talent – We know that people do not give of their best when suffocated by an excess of rules, protocols and procedures designed purely to control their every move. In today’s environment, creativity and innovation are vital factors in growing business success. These qualities do not arise naturally in organizations that have been designed for economic efficiency. On the contrary, in order to burgeon they require an environment in which people feel free to express themselves and where they are encouraged to play, learn and experiment.

Without a doubt the topic of talent is one of the most volatile and demanding strategic dilemmas besetting businesses today. Every thinking Managing Director
I talk to has this issue uppermost on their mind. Typically the fear is expressed along these lines: We can no longer assume that a steady supply of skilled and talented people are ready to assume responsibility for executing the work that needs to be done. We have yet to find a workable solution. Right now we are not even certain how to begin to confront this issue

As is so often the case today (in matters ranging from the environment to social corporate responsibility - and now talent acquisition) business can no longer afford the luxury of minding its own business. It has to engage in broader issues if it is to maintain high levels of performance while assuring ongoing social relevance.

It is essential that the nature of securing, developing and retaining talent is understood in today’s context. But the quest for talent must be based upon a resilient future profile and strategic direction rather than on current activities.
As far as I’m concerned this can best be achieved by focusing more resources on:

  • Developing an awareness of global talent and entering into strategic partnerships with governments, universities and schools that consciously shapes, fosters and delivers education of relevance to future needs
  • Creating conditions within the enterprise where employees feel motivated, gain a sense of personal achievement and pride in their work, and feel part of something important.

Without these two dimensions organizations will find it increasingly impossible to retain the talent that has been so hard to find and secure in the first place.

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