The Corporate & Individual Wars for Talent

The Corporate & Individual Wars for Talent

A 2009 survey by Veritude hinted at the new talent imperative that is now emerging among many employers. While 62 percent of the human resource and procurement officials it surveyed had laid off employees in response to the recession, even more were doing so to improve the capability of their staff. An astonishing 63% of the respondents acknowledged that they were letting average performers go and creating new positions that only accomplished persons could fill. They weren’t using the downturn to upgrade the workforce they had; they were using it to trade up to an entirely new caliber of worker.

Even executives weren’t immune from this trend. A survey conducted by ExecuNet, a career management support company for senior professionals and managers, found that half of its respondents (49.5 percent) intended to “trade up” with their new senior-level hires in 2010. They did expect to add new managers and supervisors to their staff, but they were no longer searching for a round peg who would fit into a round hole. They had eliminated the hole altogether and were looking, instead, for someone who could stand out on their own.

In the space of just three decades, employers reset their hiring priority from those with industrial era skills and a do-the-job mentality to those with information era skills and a make-the-maximum-contribution attitude. As a consequence, they are now no longer in the business of employing workers who are loyal and hardworking. They still value those characteristics, to be sure, but to survive, they are moving to hire a different breed of person—one who knows how to use their talent effectively in the modern workplace and is committed to doing so.

Historically, American employers have always enjoyed a surplus of labor. Thanks to the appeal of the American Dream, the country has been blessed with a continuously replenished supply of people who had or could acquire 20th Century skills and were hardworking and loyal employees. Corporate America’s shift to hiring workers for the 21st Century’s more technology-dependent and competitive economy, however, has created a serious supply-demand mismatch. Employers are now realizing that there is an insufficient number of workers who have both state-of-the-art skills and a commitment to excellence. They still have a surplus of labor, but they are in critically short supply of talent.

A report by the consultancy McKinsey & Company published just three years before the end of the 20th Century, gave a name to this new environment. They called it a War for Talent. The American workforce lacked enough persons of talent—those with critical skills and a commitment to superior performance—to go around. From now on, the report warned, employers would have to fight over the talent that is available. And, the definition of victory in that battle is an organization’s ability to capture an unfair share of such workers.

For individual working men and women, this shift has been destabilizing for at least two reasons. First, there was no public announcement, no acknowledgement that it had even occurred. As a result, many workers still believe they can find a new job with the skills they had in their old job. Unfortunately, as 19 million unemployed and underemployed Americans can attest, that’s simply not true. Second, the strategy for transforming oneself from a human resource – an old fashioned unit of labor – into a person of talent is not widely known. In effect, workers have their own War for Talent – a battle to discover and nurture their gift – their capacity for excellence. That is the essence of career activism, and it is the only way a person can survive, let alone prosper in the demanding modern workplace.

Thanks for reading,

Note: The above post was drawn in part from my new book, The Career Activist Republic. To read more, get the book at, in many bookstores and on