The war for talent is not a new concept. The term made its first appearance in a 1997 study by McKinsey & Co, before going on to gain international prominence as the title of a 2001 book (written by Ed Michaels, Helen Handfield-Jones, and Beth Axelrod).
Both the study and the book were published against a backdrop of unprecedented economic growth, the rate of which far outstripped the supply of talent across any number of markets.
While the downturn of the late 2000s dramatically and forever transformed the business landscape, the war for talent is once again intensifying as global economies recover. Only this time, the talent is required to drive the growth and the victors will be those who can find, attract and develop truly exceptional leaders.
So, how can the new war for talent be won?
Many businesses fall foul of leaving it too late to address their talent requirements, failing to allow for the length of time it can take to bring a new person on board and “bed them in”. Recruitment should be on the agenda from the very outset and potential future issues such as succession planning and natural attrition need to be considered in order to ensure that the overall business plan does not succumb to delays or derailment.
Know your weaknesses
When it comes to augmenting a leadership team, it is common for the emphasis to be placed on defining what the incoming individual will need to achieve; usually in strategic or fiscal terms. But, in order to identify the right person to meet those objectives, the gaze first needs to be cast to the existing executive board. Its skills, capabilities and strengths need to be evaluated so that the weaknesses can be recognised.
In other words, it is vital to see what is currently missing in order to know what really needs to be added.
Make strategy a priority
Talent acquisition should be an issue for the entire leadership team and a key component of every board meeting agenda. As economic conditions continue to improve, businesses are finding that talent strategy is a necessity and are taking significant measures to address it.
For example, Intramezzo recently worked with the corporate venturing arm of a major multinational to appoint a Global Head of HR. This individual works closely with the CEO with a remit to attract, retain and develop the very best talent globally.
Choose the right tactics and allies
Depending on the role, talent acquisition can take on a number of methods. It might be possible to promote from within or, perhaps, a particularly outstanding individual is known to the company, and a direct approach can be made. Often, it is necessary to cast the net wider, either through advertising, networking or engaging an executive search firm.
Getting the right tactics and allies can be critical to a successful outcome, so it pays to do some research into finding the best approach and partner(s) for the project. Peers or colleagues may be able to provide valuable guidance and/or recommendations. An executive search company may well want your business but a good firm will be just as interested in building a meaningful, long-term relationship with you and, as such, can be a good early source of free, no-obligation advice.
Finding talent is, at most, half the battle. Victory can only be gained if you are armed with the right tools to attract, retain and motivate. Perhaps this comes in the form of equity or the chance to work with groundbreaking IP. Maybe it is professional advancement or the opportunity to join an industry leader. Having a compelling proposition depends entirely on what the business can offer and, furthermore, ensuring this is communicated and delivered at every step, up to and beyond appointment.
Today’s war for talent is very different from its earlier incarnations, and everyone – from multi-national blue chips to the most entrepreneurial of startups – is vying for a finite supply of world-class executives. However, this is a fight in which size and power do not determine the outcome: where the corporate can offer security and prestige, the startup can offer the opportunity to build, create and reap the rewards of an exit.
In 2014, the battlefield is indeed crowded – but, with the right approach, there is no reason it should not also be level.