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September 2010

The War for Talent - What Gives?

Following the recent economic crisis, the war for talent seemed to have been totally forgotten. Yet the 2010 Towers Watson Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey, suggests it might be about to flare up again. 

A Business Wire report states that according to the survey, nearly 2/3 (65%) of companies globally reported problems attracting critical skill employees. 61% reported similar difficulty attracting top performing, talented employees. Such numbers suggest that the war for talent is far from over. Yet, the conclusion drawn is "the business climate has clearly affected both the supply and demand of talent, and companies' ability to attract and hire talented employees."

Perhaps you need to read the whole report, but the conclusion appears tenuous, doesn't it? After all what does the business climate have to do with the supply and demand of talent? Have people suddenly become less talented?

My confusion is exacerbated by the fact that the report also states that globally only 21% of companies are having difficulty keeping employees. Depending on how you interpret "only", that hardly suggests a bidding war for what talent there is, even if that is only because workers are reluctant to seek employment elsewhere due to uncertainty over economic recovery.

The picture is further confused by the report stating that 61% believe their cost-cutting actions increased employees' workloads, with 53% saying these had adversely impacted employees' ability to manage their work-related stress with a negative impact on employee engagement and the ability to achieve work-life balance.

I don't know about you, but to me it would seem that the whole problem is one of management's making. But regardless of the cause, no matter which way you look at, it we appear to be sitting on a time bomb. Certainly the statement that the study "is a good reminder that employers need to reassess their employee value proposition" is valid. And the conclusion that organisations are likely to increase their talent management emphasis over the next three years seems obvious and has to offer some relief.

On the wrong track But has talent management become the new panacea? Is it just the latest fashion for the HR profession and will it be anything more than a Band-Aid for all the ills of the past? After all talent is embedded in people and if you focus on talent, you face the danger of repeating the sins of the past and overlooking the human dimension. Remember my earlier question - have people suddenly become less talented? Certainly you need to focus on what people have to offer, but take care you don't get on the wrong track - you might just lose the war for talent altogether. 

HR Transformation - What's it all about?

The Global HR Transformation 2009 Report crossed my path earlier today. And, as ever with such reports, you need to be cautious.The report was commissioned by the HROA, which has a membership of some 75,000 HR executives and professionals, yet included input from only 188 organisations. So there is a great danger of it having an unwarranted credibility and unmerited influence. Nevertheless, it makes for some interesting reading.

One amazing dichotomy is the report claims transformation generally generates savings in the 25% range. Yet 40% of those who indicated they would not be undertaking HR transformation cited cost as a major factor in their decision. Given the savings were only marginally below what was anticipated, such conservatism seems extremely short-sighted. Certainly it suggests the HR profession has a way to go in understanding the concept of value. Images

More alarming and perhaps even indicative of an ostrich head-in-the-sand attitude is that 29% claimed "HR simply isn't enough of a priority to merit transformation effort." In the current economic climate this seems remarkable.

One interesting finding was that HR transformation efforts appear to have the greatest impact on organisational management issues, rather than what organisations say are the key reasons to transform: reducing/managing cost and freeing internal HR staff to focus more on strategic issues.

You can only wonder then about what precisely this impact is, and whether it is positive or negative. After all, the continuing decline in employee engagement suggests management issues are increasing rather than decreasing.

For people like us trying to transform the workplace, the report appears to have a number of conflicting messages and leaves us more confused than ever. To get over this you need to remember that transformation is another word for change and you are well aware significant, lasting and effective change requires people to be:-

  • willing to change
  • able to change
  • not prevented from changing

All too often the things that prevent change are systemic. Despite your best efforts to instigate change your success has been limited. Maybe that's because you have been focusing on symptoms rather than causes. It is time to stop looking at specifics and focus on the system.

Are your people bothered?

"Am I bovvered?" Am I BovveredThis signature catchphrase of the British comedienne Catherine Tate, with her portrayal of a schoolgirl who displays a total lack of concern about anything, does not describe your employee attitudes, does it?

The sketches resonate with audiences who see it as an exaggerated depiction of the alien world of disaffected youth. Yet it can be translated very easily to the business world where good service is all too often an oxymoron. We can all tell stories about business situations where the person you are dealing with has conveyed a "couldn't care less/am I bovvered" attitude. These may be funny after the event and in the telling, but they invariably make you angry at the time. 

If you are like me, you say to yourself, "I wonder whether management has any idea of what goes on?" If so, you'll be struck, as I was, by the statement that "Even the most abstract business strategy must eventually show up in the tangible actions of human beings." I think that answers our question, don't you? It very succinctly explains why employee engagement is such an important issue and certainly suggests at least one or more of the following:-

  • Management have failed to appreciate strategy implementation is totally dependent on people
  • Employee engagement is lacking because there is no strategic alignment
  • The strategy is likely to be inwardly focused and centre around cost reduction more than customer service.  

Thank goodness you are a manager and leader who has avoided these failings. You have, haven't you?    

Time has come for greater employee representation

The September issue of Management Today includes an article on governance failings in UK boardrooms. And while the article is specific to the UK, based on recent events elsewhere in the world, there is no reason to think the issue is unique to the UK. Indeed at one point the author - Professor Andrew Kakabadse - states, "A global survey my colleagues and I conducted in December 2009 showed that risk managers, principally of financial services companies, had been trying for more than two years to warn their management and boards of the folly of continuing to invest in questionable financial instruments. Their voice was unheard. Sales were prioritised in the full knowledge that economic calamity was just around the corner." Board meeting

What an indictment! However, that's not the worst of it. The report continues, "Among the 3,500 boards studied, many board directors privately admit that they knew of weaknesses in their management and their company. In some cases the insight into what was wrong and how to put it right was so penetrating that the upper echelon of the organisation could predict corporate collapse 50 months ahead. But nothing happened and paralysis prevailed."

Of course I cannot comment on any of the specifics, but I am sure anybody reading the article would be as horrified as I was. Unfortunately, it only reinforces an experience I had in the last recession, when I was required to produce a budget that showed 15% year on year growth, even though I demonstrated why it was impossible.

I have a number of theories as to why organisations get into such situations but this is not the time to go into those. Suffice to say, that it does more than anything to reinforce my argument for greater employee ownership. Of course this will not eliminate the possibility of such things, but it will surely make them less likely. Why? Simply because the employees have a greater stake in the long-term sustainability of the business.

In fact I would argue that employees have become the only "internal" (i.e. non-supplier) stakeholders to have any real concern about the long term future of the organisation. Even investors are arguably more concerned about chasing short-term gains than the sustainability of the business. Consequently, however you interpret Kakabade's statement that "the values of the Board are jointly lived by top management and the board", there needs to be greater acceptance of, and provision for, the values of the employees.

The best way to ensure this is to make them owners of the business with greater powers to influence the decisions made. Only then will it be possible to make executives more accountable for their shortcomings and reduce their blindness and paralysis in the face of impending problems. It would also simultaneously help solve the employee engagement problem.