At 21 Years Old the War for Talent is as Relevant as Ever

February 04 2019

The term ‘war for talent’ was first coined by Steven Hankin of McKinsey & Company in 1997. In the McKinsey Quarterly, Hankin foresaw that companies were about to become “engaged in a war for senior executive talent that will remain a defining characteristic of their competitive landscape for decades to come.”

22 years later this is as relevant as ever. Although Hankin forecast that the war for talent would be a feature for decades to come, I wonder whether we should have expected more progress by now?

In the 2001 follow-up book on The War for Talent, the authors again condemn us to 20 more years of the same challenges! 

“There are three fundamental forces fuelling the war for talent: the irreversible shift from the industrial age to the information age, the intensifying demand for high-calibre managerial talent, and the growing propensity for people to switch from one company to another.”

In this context, how should we be looking to win, if not the war, some of the battles?

The battles in the war for talent

At one of our recent workshops we asked HR leaders about the types of questions they’d like to be able to answer in an ideal world where the data and insight is readily available. Responses included:

  • What business are we in now and what business do we want to be in? Do we have the skills and capabilities and who will we compete with for talent?
  • We know what talent we think we need - do we build or buy?
  • If we’re going to buy, what’s the profile of labour, pay, availability?
  • If we’re going to build, where should we build and what should our retention strategy be?

I believe that one of the reasons the war for talent is still raging is because companies don’t have ready access to this type of information at the strategic level. We asked the same group about the sources available to them for talent data.

They include:

  • HRD’s own networks which can be insightful but also narrow and anecdotal.
  • Management consultancies and investment banks that offer in-depth information but it’s not dynamic and can be expensive.
  • Public data that’s in hundreds of small data sources and makes it difficult to build a picture.
  • Google including sources that are unverified and restricts searching to one’s own lens.
  • Own knowledge including HRD’s own databases of online sources that don’t have depth of detail but are quick to access.
  • Unverified online sources this is especially the case for less-developed markets.

Rising to the challenge

When we started to develop Stratigens it was with these challenges in mind. HRDs are tasked with answering questions at the strategic level but often aren’t able to answer with information that is:

A    Credible

B    Insightful

C    Answers the specific question

Which is where data comes in. A shift to data-driven talent management is the focus of McKinsey’s latest 2018 update on the war for talent. But interestingly, the discussion still focuses on internal talent data.

Companies are really missing a trick by focusing almost entirely on their internal data set when the external talent landscape has such a huge influence on success. Stratigens uses external talent data to answer strategic questions about people strategy. Stratigens brings the lens onto external factors.

The new reality

The War for Talent paints a picture of a ‘new reality’ in which;

  • companies need people
  • talented people ARE the competitive advantage
  • better talent makes a huge difference
  • talented people are scarce
  • people are mobile and their commitment is short-term
  • people demand much more.

Bringing external talent data to the discussion, for example, skills supply and demand, employer brand perceptions, employee expectations, competitor strategy, employment law and HR maturity will help us all to more effectively tackle the challenges we face in the war for talent.

To see a demo of Stratigens and to find out more please contact Alison directly on 07990 751 029 or the sales team on 029 2035 1419.