A path lit by words

Where writing and "real life" converge

“The War for Talent” Rages On

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tug of war for talent

One of my freelance writing gigs is helping a former colleague create thought leadership for her website. We share a career in human resources consulting, although our specialties are different: I’ve concentrated on people— talent strategy and management—and her focus is the organization, processes, and systems that make HR work efficiently. Or not.

This morning we were brainstorming blog topics. Like any other form of writing, blogging carries idea anxiety. My advice when someone asks, “What on earth can I blog about?” is to keep an eye on current events, professional news, and industry happenings. If something you see, read, or hear makes your heart sing or your blood boil, there’s a good chance you can blog about it.

I’d just made that statement when we came across a report titled, Predictions for 2014: Building a Strong Talent Pipeline for the Global Economic Recovery. A statement on the first page rang a bell, and the sound wasn’t pretty:

“Back in 1997, McKinsey coined the phrase, ‘war for talent.’ Today, one could argue that the war is over and ‘the talent won.’ ”

I had to read it twice. How can anyone believe that employees have won much of anything in the 17 years since McKinsey published “The War for Talent”? Gallup’s latest research on worldwide employee engagement, “The State of the Global Workplace, 2013” reports that only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work. That means 87 percent of employees have jobs they’re eager to leave in companies they aren’t proud to work for. That’s winning the war?

Just as “selfie” wormed its way into the urban dictionary, “the war for talent” has invaded the business lexicon (Google the term and you’ll get 110,000,000 results). Legions of researchers and consultants have borrowed, modified, and sometimes butchered the phrase. My favorite misquote is “the war on talent”— an appallingly accurate description of the atrocities employers commit against their “most valuable resource.”

My colleague and I stand with the majority who see the talent war as ongoing, and the contributing factors as complex and abundant. One factor we’ll explore in an upcoming Insight is the impact on employees of HR transformation. Our premise is simple: Intent—for two decades—on becoming a business-savvy strategic partner, HR has focused too much on processes and systems, particularly technology overhauls and upgrades. The unintended consequence? They have shortchanged improvements that would have made their employees more capable, more confident, more creative and innovative—and fully engaged in their work.

It’s a fascinating topic and we’re learning a lot. We’re also finding new angles to explore–and to write about. Stay tuned!

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Author: jeanherreman

I'm a freelance Human Resources consultant and blogger, a published short story writer, and an aspiring author of fiction I call "literary mysteries."

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