Fighting Talent Wars with Marshmallows
There is a ‘Talent War’ going on, so I am constantly told.
It evokes images of weapons clashing, booty (the other sort) being plundered and glorious victors emerging, bloodied but triumphant.
Scarce resources being fought over change hands and all is well…until the next fight….and the next one…and so on it goes. The same story since time immortal.
But we live on a finite planet, and endless war is unsustainable.
In Talent Wars there are limited numbers of people with skills in demand, and everyone gazes longingly at them. Every industry, region and market has it’s own little Talent War going on, and it may just be me (or the tech industry in which we work) but things seem to be getting more and more frenzied.
The difference though, is that unlike oil, gold, diamonds and other shiny things that start real wars, we can create talent. We can nurture it, increase it in number and in turn change the Talent War dynamic.
A marshmallow or two…
Over the last few years we’ve seen companies come out of the hard times and push for growth, wanting people who can help them make up for lost time and have immediate impact. The value of the person gives way to the skills they bring, and this leads to an employment culture where highly skilled people (rightly) become increasingly demanding/choosy about what they commit to and employers struggle to keep hold of their best people, constantly fighting to hire those who deliver jam today, rather than a marshmallow or two tomorrow.
Maybe it has always been this way, but the very modern global youth employment crisis is surely a symptom of the short term thinking that has afflicted many aspects of today’s world. From climate change to nationalist isolationism, the debt crisis, growing income inequality, proxy wars and the refugee crisis and, perhaps (in a more abstract way), the emergence of ‘the economy’ and GDP as the de facto measure of national success.
Graduates and young people now struggle with unprecedented levels of debt with diminished opportunities for a fruitful career, a house, a pension and the rest needed for a decent life. They are paying for the short-termism of those that came before them.
So, how can we mitigate the effects of this cannibalising Talent War?
A change in mindset is needed. We need more heroes. More conscientious objectors in the form of people and companies who shift from being net takers of talent, to becoming net creators of the same. For every experienced hire who progresses up the ranks, there needs to be an opportunity somewhere in the employment ecosystem for a young person to start their career. We can’t afford these continuing net losses in the talent pool.
A sapling must be planted for each felled tree.
Having hired, managed and developed mainly young people for the past 10 years (as opposed to hiring out-of-the-box professionals) I know it’s tough. It takes time, energy and it will hit your bottom line. But long term there is no better way.
Putting the moral aspects of investing in young people aside, it just makes sense. In much the same way as does limiting our emissions, addressing income inequality and resolving geopolitical conflicts through diplomacy and negotiation. We will always reap what we sow.
So, if during boardroom discussions about your (whatever size) company’s hiring strategy there is no eventual plan to invest in young people and become creators of talent, then you are part of the problem.
You will come unstuck at some point.
Your short-termism will fuel a Talent War in which everyone loses.