The Talent War – Will You Win It?

There’s a war on for talent; the spoils, as ever, will go to the victors. But what’s behind it?

The talent war is driven by:

The Knowledge Economy

In the industrial age there was a need for fairly standardised products, a growing demand for them, and organisations worked with the concept of ‘division of labour’ in uniform and stable production processes. The approach to the management of people was largely autocratic. People stayed with them because they needed the work Their development was normally dictated by the employer and this was the expectation of the employee, and the employee did not have a problem with this.

The information age is the very antithesis of the industrial age model.

The knowledge economy fuels the talent war because quite literally the only competitive advantage left for organisations lies in their ability to change faster than their competitors, and this requires “cleverness” versus “clout”. In particular cleverness when it comes to working in a fast changing and unpredictable digital world.

Organisations who do not attract or keep people with this kind of talent will put themselves at a severe disadvantage to their competitors. Also, the type of talent they require is extremely mobile, choosing when and how they prefer to work. This new type of talent does not easily fit into existing corporate structures and working practices. Organisations can find it both difficult to attract this type of talent and retain it.

Organisations need to rethink their ‘Employee Value Proposition’ to Attract the right people for future success.

Hyper Competition

The world has become’ one market ‘almost overnight.  There is now a true sense of interdependency between regions and countries around the world reflected in the need for trading agreements which create genuine win/win outcomes for parties to the agreements. Inevitably these trade agreements between countries/regions has a knock-on effect on businesses within those countries/regions. They too have to become more interdependent in their mindsets when working with suppliers, their customers and their people.

Yet many organisations live in the past and fail to grasp this new reality. This is largely due to senior managers used to operating in an old era and fearing the risks of dramatic change.

To win in a market of hyper competition you have to do things differently and much, much more quickly. This requires innovation, creativity and risk taking to make step changes and not just small, incremental changes. This in turn requires the engagement of all the talent available to the organisation. It used to be that only the best secured the future of a business, now it’s the rest as well!

In a world of hyper competition, the key contributor to corporate success is the engagement and empowerment of every individual in the organisation. For some organisations, this requires a massive culture change and the re-training of managers to work ON the business and not just IN the business as super technicians! The most successful organisations grasp the importance of tackling these key issues and then tackle them!

In a world of hyper competition graduates place international travel and overseas assignments high on their list of their employment priorities. Employees, as never before, are likely to make dramatic moves to other locations if these moves fulfil their personal growth or life ambitions.

Flexible working arrangements, taking time off to travel, and a much less structured view of career development continue to undermine many of the carefully thought through talent development plans of many organisations. Employee mobility now plays a substantial part in an organisation’s ability to attract, retain and grow the talent it needs. The best organisations acknowledge this and build in employment flexibility into their employment practices. They make it easy for the talent they need to be attracted to them and stay with them.

Proliferation Of Small Companies

The numbers of valuable employees leaving large organisations to work on their own or start up small businesses is a phenomenon which has existed for some years now. It is likely to continue. Why? Ask those leaving these large organisations and they will tell you that the bureaucracy, slow decision-making, internal politics and the ‘fear/blame’ culture were grinding them down (along with a number of other big corporate traits).

The message is clear that talented people, who take seriously their desire and ability to make a contribution to an organisation, are kicking against the operating style of big businesses and opting for the personal freedom to achieve in a less structured, less controlled environment. And who could blame them?

In their desire to keep stakeholders happy the one group of stakeholders organisations often overlook are talented employees whose knowledge, skills , and insights of how to compete successfully in a digital world could be invaluable. Yet these types of people can easily be overlooked in conventional assessment and development activities and so they leave.

The proliferation of self-employment and smaller companies is undoubtedly linked to the failings of larger organisations to manage their talent successfully. Those organisations that recognise this give the highest priority to talent acquisition and development.

Human Capital Scarcity

The demographics tell the story. Ageing populations, ageing workers, early retirements, falling birth rates, a reduction in 35 to 44 year olds, and a lack of students joining the labour market is creating a scarcity of human capital in frightening dimensions in many countries.

Where will organisations get their much-needed future talent? How will they attract them? How will they keep them? The answer lies in having to re-think their whole approach to employment. Biases based on ageism, gender, nationality and origin will need to be replaced by an embracing of diversity and flexibility, and this will require a whole new mindset when it comes to talent development.

To win the talent war the most forward-thinking organisations are adopting one of four approaches or a mix of them.

The four approaches are:

1) The Employee Value Proposition Approach.

To address the talent war as an organisation you use a clear Employee Value Proposition to attract, retain and develop the talent you need.

There are four broad employee value propositions and these need to be made obvious by employers in their job advertisements:

  • ‘Go with a winner’ e.g. Join us we a big global brand.
  • ‘Big risk, big reward’ e.g. Join us if you put material reward first
  • ‘Save the world’ e.g. Join us because you can make a difference to a worthwhile cause
  • ‘Lifestyle’ e.g. Join us because we can satisfy your life interests and the lifestyle you want.

The approach is essentially a culture and goal alignment approach. The thinking behind it is that the best performances are willingly given. Discretionary effort is therefore the key to talent acquisition and development. People willingly give of their best when their core values are satisfied. As an organisation we should be clear on the values we seek in people, we need to communicate them and recruit those that make them a good values fit to our business.


  • What are our corporate goals and values?
  • What attitudes and behaviours do we seek in our employees which align to our goals and values?
  • How do we recognise and reward those supporting our goals and values with personal growth and development opportunities?

2) The Defined Pathway Approach

To address the talent war as an organisation you use a clearly defined and communicated Training and Development or Career Development Pathway as your approach to attract, retain and develop the talent you need.

The defined pathway approach is essentially a mapping approach. The thinking behind it is – make career progression and personal development to employees clear and you will attract talent. Career development is the key to growing talent. The key is to provide more than one route for each individual’s potential development. Route maps can take the individual horizontally, diagonally or vertically. Room should be given to the occasional maverick!


  • What are the different pathways we offer?
  • How do we select the right people for these pathways?
  • How do we reward those progressing through each pathway?

3) The Acceleration Pool Approach

To address the talent war as an organisation you use the opportunity to join an elitist group with an Acceleration Pool as the way to attract, retain and develop the talent you need.

Acceleration pools differ from traditional succession planning because:

  • They rest on the premise that whilst everybody in the organisation is developed, only the best qualify for accelerated development
  • Whilst in the pool people are stretched by assignments, secondments, task force work and coaching
  • Movement within the pool (over periods lasting from 1 to 15 years) is based on high performance and continuing development
  • The pool offers no guarantee or presumption of upward movement or promotion.
  • Individuals can move into and out of the pool, depending on their performance and the organisation’s needs
  • Not all members of senior management are expected to come from the pool (perhaps only 75-80% or positions are met by pool members)


  • How do we currently identify our best talent?
  • What percentage of our employees would we put into our acceleration pool?
  • How should we manage people into and out of the ‘high potential’ pot?
  • What do we do to retain the talent of those outside the ‘high potential’ pot?

4) The Blended Approach

To address the talent war as an organisation you use a combination of four key ingredients to ensure that, at any one time, you have the right talent you need.

The Blended Approach requires obtaining a balance of:

– Job Content.. The organisation believes that the best opportunities for personal growth lie in the individual’s job. They purposefully build stretch and challenge into each job.

– Management Attention. The organisation believes that its managers are critical to its success in the area of talent development. They build into their managers’ success measures the time they spend on coaching, training and employee development planning and the quality of their skills in these activities. They actively reward these activities in their performance management process.

– Self-Development Resources and Systems. The organisation makes available a huge range of personal development resources and activities. These are supported by effective Content Management Systems and Learning Management Systems. They make it easy for employees to access, track and measure their own personal development.

-Rewards. The organisation rewards personal development with qualifications/part qualifications on inhouse courses/programs, time off for external courses/qualifications and even monetary awards for the attainment of industry wide achievements. They actively give recognition to those employees taking their own talent development seriously.

  • Do we need to review Job Descriptions to build more stretch into jobs?
  • Do we need to retrain managers in setting and agreeing enriching and more challenging Performance Objectives?
  • Do we need to equip our managers with better coaching, training and employee development skills?
  • Do we need to change our reward mechanisms to reward coaching/training by managers and knowledge acquisition by employees?
  • Do we need to increase and upgrade the quality of our learning and development resources/systems.



In this article I have tried to highlight some of the more important issues relating to the Talent War and how to respond to it. There are of course many other angles to this huge topic and I would need a book, or several books to cover them all. Nevertheless, I hope you have found that this article has stimulated your thinking and encouraged you to find out more!

Jeremy Francis






To find out more about this topic contact me or join me at Jeremy Francis HR
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