15 years of War for Talent – do we know who we’re fighting for?

It’s 15 years since McKinsey coined the term ‘the war for talent’. They named a phenomenon that organisations across the world had been experiencing – and the term has reverberated throughout the business world ever since, through booms, busts, upturns and meltdowns.

Having great talent has always been important, of course. Now most organisations see it as critical. But have we been intelligently engaging with talent on all fronts to win this battle for hearts and souls? I don’t think so.

McKinsey identified five steps to winning talent. It starts with ingraining a talent mindset at all levels, starting at the top. Then an organisation needs to create a winning EVP, to get talent through the door and keep them there. The third and fourth critical factors involve putting in place the pipeline to continually recruit talent – and grow good leaders. So far, so good – we can all think of great case studies on some or all of the above.

But what about the fifth, little talked about factor? The last but certainly not the least. The one that demands you to ‘Differentiate and Affirm’ all your employees. That means dealing with people as individuals; and making sure you have the inclusive working culture to keep and develop your talent. It means harnessing the diversity of your people – not just their age, gender, beliefs, ethnicity, abilities and personal circumstances, but also their experiences, networks and ideas.

Essentially, most organisations are good at showering top performers with exciting opportunities and financial rewards; and exiting those who continually underperform. But what about that mass of solid performers who make up most of an employee base? Those are the people who need to be developed and affirmed – to be understood and feel that the company will develop and reward them in the future.

Yet how many organisations adequately and continually segment their employee base to understand the primary motivations of their people? How many look to build inclusive EVPs and obstacle-free talent pipelines? How many understand how to communicate with the different generations and communities that make up their workforce? That’s the toughest battle ground for your existing and future talent management – the fight to retain and maximise the return on the ‘foot soldiers’ who have already volunteered their services for you.

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