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The war for talent became the war ON talent

War for talent

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

I think this is absolutely where we need to begin. Most guys who run businesses believe these concepts are important:

  • 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

You applied for a job since 1998? It’s largely abject hell. The hiring process is a joke. Recruiting processes alienate people (ATS!). This is supposedly a fast-moving, competitive business time — and yet HR somehow still manages all this. It all makes absolutely no sense. One of my friends looking for a gig now called the process “inhumane.” He’s not far off.

Nice money quote in Fast Company here

From a new-ish article on the war for talent:

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?

Not really. Executives care about money. It’s not tied enough to talent. That’s problem A.

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.




 

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?

The logical answer is “they shouldn’t.” You rise up in a company by getting further from people — both customers and employees who are allowed to ask you any questions. Your bonus is not contingent on “doing well with people.” It’s almost solely contingent on numbers. So how are you going to find time to care about people?

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.”

Ted Bauer

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