Most wars, history tells us, have been fought over scarce resources. Yet the "war for talent" we see raging across offices from Seattle to Shanghai, is being fought in the midst of abundance. The numbers prove that we are bang in the middle of an unprecedented explosion of human potential.
Appositely enough, if you want to view this abundance on a global scale, your best vantage point lies on the surface of the moon. On 20th July 1969, when Neil Armstrong famously took mankind's first step on lunar soil, he did so representing 3.6 billion other human inhabitants on his home planet. More recently, the popular press has been awash with China's stated goal of sending man back to the moon by 2020. The truth is, if a Chinese astronaut does manage to achieve this, he or she will go there representing more than double the number of people Armstrong did.
Why is this significant? Consider this - It took 200,000 years since the first homo sapiens existed to grow earth's population to 3.6 billion. We then doubled that number in less than 50! So if scarcity isn't to blame, what then explains the shortage of capability being reported by managers, consultants, headhunters and everyone in between? Why is finding and keeping talent today proving to be such a headache? And why aren't all the fancy talent management frameworks and programmes in common use delivering the breakthrough value they promise?
As a talent strategist, I spent three years with these very questions - interviewing leaders, researching talent management practices and trawling the numbers - before writing Talent Economics: The Fine Line Between Winning and Losing the Global War for Talent. I found several core reasons why organisations across industy and geography are struggling to get their talent recipe to work. Let's go over the main ones in brief.
To begin with, a mountain of evidence points to the fact that over the last 30 years, the emotional bond between employer and employee has eroded with each passing year. In good years, the best talent is no longer averse to monetising employment value and moving to the highest bidder, and in bad years, more and more companies today look at employee costs as a variable expense. Not only does this represent a lose-lose proposition in talent terms, the data tells us this battle between resignation and pinkslip is set to get considerably worse by 2020.
Another vector driving our talent woes are rapidly changing employment preferences. The 21st century employee turning up for work today is more aware, assertive and empowered than ever before. A fact which is challenging the earstwhile supremacy of 20th century management practices and mindsets still commonly found on shopfloors across the world. It is about time we accept that the employee is evolving, and hence the very concept of employment must evolve to keep pace.
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