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In the War for Talent We All Are Naked (as Hell)

Santi Garcia
Mar 9, 2016 · 6 min read

The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” is one of the most commented studies among people management practitioners around the world this year.

The war for talent

Among other conclusions this report, produced by the World Economic Forum as a core component of its Global Challenge Initiative on Employment, Skills and Human Capital, confirms that the war for talent has broken out again and it forecasts that it will get fiercer in the coming five years. There are several reasons for that:

· The differentiating power of talent in the economy of creativity and knowledge

· The imbalances between supply and demand in the labor market

· The development of emerging economies, and

· The rise of freelancing and telecommuting feeding a situation of “global conflict” where organizations compete for the best professionals in the market regardless where in the world they are

Today organizations need other kind of professionals, with a different set of skills who are prepared to work in more complex scenarios. But companies have difficulty finding them, even in countries suffering from high unemployment rates.

Skills supply and demand move at different paces, and this creates tensions and imbalances in the labor market. The education system produces graduates with competence profiles that don’t fit what the market demands, and companies also struggle to adapt their training plans to the new needs.

In addition, this problem may be exacerbated in the coming decades as the baby boom generation reaches retirement age and the active population of many countries begins to decline.

According to the above mentioned survey, over the 2015–2020 period the situation will worsen in all industries, particularly in Consumer, Basic & Infrastructure, Information and Communication Technology, Media & Entertainment, and Healthcare.

In terms of job families, vacancies in the Computer and Mathematical field will be the most difficult ones to fill, but positions in some traditionally low-skilled categories such “Office and Administrative” and “Construction and Extraction” will also be increasingly more difficult to recruit.

And from a geographic perspective the survey forecasts things will get worse in developed economies with ageing workforces, such as Japan or Germany, as well as in emerging economies that don’t have the talent supply they need…

Talent acquisition revisited

As companies gain awareness of how much is at stake, they decide to revisit their people management practices, particularly in the field of recruitment. They want to ensure they hire the most suitable candidates, and this leads to more comprehensive, longer selection processes.

Thanks to technology-based solutions geography is no longer a barrier, and recruiters can identify, contact, and process more candidates than in the past. In addition, they find on the internet clues about candidates’ abilities, interests, values, and their way of relating to others. Yet the challenge is to find reliable methods to capture and make sense of all this information to identify which candidates best suit their needs, and to avoid discarding individuals based on subjective interpretations of elements that may not adversely affect the performance of the person.

They are the “false negatives” Henry Ward, CEO of eShares, wrote about in a recent article. In his obsession to avoid false positives (hiring mistakes) companies reject many candidates who might be excellent team members, had they been recruited. The problem is that, unlike false positives, false negatives are not easy to detect, cannot be easily fixed, and, as Ward pinpoints, their “cost is unknown and uncapped”.

In parallel, being aware that talent is a scarce resource that can make a difference, organizations design “employer branding” campaigns, apply for awards and certifications, and leverage the amplifying power of social media to communicate to the market an employment value proposition that positions the company as a desirable place to work.

However, recruiters often forget one small detail. It is not only companies that can look to the internet for tons of information about their candidates. Similarly, people can find online many details about their employers and the companies they would like to work for.

We all are naked

Companies are no longer opaque containers. Now we all are connected, and everything is known, or can be known. Social media make it very easy to get in contact with someone who works or has worked in a particular company, and obtain first-hand information on how it is actually working on it. In addition, there are platforms such as Glassdoor, designed specifically for this purpose, where employees, former employees, and candidates upload insider information about the companies for which they work, or with which they are in contact.

Therefore for a company it is becoming increasingly difficult and risky to try to project into the talent market an inauthentic image. As in that joke on a HR Manager who dies and goes to Heaven, where she meets St. Peter…

“We have new rules”, the saint says to the newcomer. “What we do now is let you have a day in Hell and a day in Heaven and then you can choose whichever one you want to spend an eternity in.”

“Actually, I think I’ve made up my mind… I prefer to be in Heaven”.

“Sorry, we have rules…” And with that St. Peter put the HR Manager in an elevator and it went down to Hell. When the doors opened the HR manager found herself in the country club of a beautiful golf course. There she met all her friends who had passed away. They played a round of golf and at night enjoyed Iranian caviar and lobster dinner, washed down with champagne. She met the Devil who was actually a really nice guy dressed in a black tie, with a subtle Italian accent, who likes telling jokes and dancing.

The HR manager was having such a good time that before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody kissed her on both cheeks and waved good-bye as she got on the elevator.

The HR manager spent the next 24 hours lounging around on the clouds and playing the harp and singing. Then St. Peter came and got her:

“So, you’ve spent a day in Hell and you’ve spent a day in Heaven. Now you must choose your eternity.”

“Well, I never thought I’d say this. I mean, Heaven has been really great and all, but I think I had a better time in Hell” the HR manager replied.

So St. Peter escorted her to the elevator and again the HR manager went down back to Hell. When the doors of the elevator opened she found herself in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends were dressed in rags and were picking up garbage and putting it in sacks for the evening meal. The Devil put his arm around her and laughed.

“I don’t understand,” stammered the HR manager. “Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and we ate lobster and caviar and we danced and had a great time. Now all this is a wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable.”

The Devil looked at her and grinned, “that’s because yesterday we were recruiting you, but today you’re an employee”.

Time has passed and the joke has become obsolete. Today the HR director had not been content with what the demons told her in the “job fair”. She would have taken into account who they were representing. She would have searched Hell Inc. in Glassdoor, or in Google, and would have realized she should not trust the Devil…

Link to Spanish version.

Santi Garcia

The Art and Science of Managing People in a V.U.C.A. World

Santi Garcia

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Human capital strategist | I help people work at their best

Santi Garcia

The Art and Science of Managing People in a V.U.C.A. World