“Talent Wars” is a phrase I first heard during the dotcom era. Frankly, the phrase seemed overly dramatic. Growth was rampant, and there was high demand for those with the dotcom skillset. Yes, there were corporate winners and losers, but even the casualties of business were largely due to failed business plans, lack of capital, or a variety of other factors that excluded a sole lack of talent.
In 2013, I began hearing the phrase again, and nowadays with increasing regularity. This time, the shoe is fitting. What is the problem? Lack of growth is the symptom of a bigger problem, which is a two-fold lack of talent. First, there simply aren’t enough “soldiers,” with 27.25 million fewer Gen-Xers than Boomers. Secondly, you might argue that talent was missing in the 1990s and early 2000s, too, so I add that the war now is for the right talent.
In the dotcom era, you could find and overpay a few superheroes to create growth. I witnessed this firsthand during a five-plus-year stint with a tech-based company that grew from 13 employees to 41. In today’s team-centric environment, though, finding and developing the right team can have your business performing even if the economy is not.
To some degree, we have our dotcom friends to thank when it comes to finding potential talent. Pre-hire and developmental assessments aid greatly in finding potential talent. That’s all a new employee is: potential. Past performance does not guarantee future results, right? But you can stack the deck toward a future of growth by starting with assessments (Who) and then nailing the job description and compensation (What) and the ideal location of the work performed (Where). That’s the tactical half.
The strategic half is the When, Why and How. That’s the developmental side of the right team, and that’s where the war is won and lost. It was time-consuming and expensive to unearth the potential, wasn’t it? So don’t lose it. Develop the human capital—or risk becoming a business casualty.
While that sounds harsh, I think about a friend who had at least three franchises that were busy when I visited them frequently. As he began to shutter them, I had to ask why. “The product is a money-maker, and finding capital isn’t the problem. Foot traffic is sufficient. I just can’t keep the right people.” Hindsight reveals an argument that too much time was spent on the What and not the Why.
When is the timing that your managers, supervisors and leaders take individual contributors to the next level of skill and motivation. You can’t assume they know that, but they can learn the When because it is a science, as well as an art.
The crux of Why is defining the motivation and engagement of your team. If you think salary is a big part of retention (it is not) and your focus is overly on that What, you’re at risk of losing the war. Engagement is discretionary effort on behaviors such as time spent on job activities, positive attitude, and collaboration with fellow employees. Motivation drives the willingness to demonstrate these behaviors.
Motivation and engagement segues nicely into How the behaviors get done. That is highly individualistic and takes time to figure out, but it can be done. Those who invest in this endeavor will spend their time growing their individual contributors, supervisors, managers and leaders into better ones rather than looking for new ones. That’s the battle plan. Go forth and conquer. iBi