Winning the War for Talent: Staying Ahead in Recruiting

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The emergence of the digital enterprise has dramatically escalated the war for talent. Per McKinsey, one-third of senior leaders site finding talent as their most significant managerial challenge. However, many companies openly admit that they are ill-prepared for this battle. Organizations need to understand that the battlefield has radically changed, and they need to adjust their tactics to have a fighting chance. Fifty years ago, Pete Drucker predicted information would change the way people worked. Instead of generating value through physical labor, they would instead do it with their minds. He described it as a knowledge worker, who would think for a living. The recent advancements in automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics have had an even more profound impact than imagined. The knowledge worker of the past has become today’s learning worker.

A significant amount of mental agility is now required for talent to succeed, along with their ability to adapt rather than perform a certain role. As technology continues to advance, the importance of social, emotional, creative and relational skills will only increase. The learning worker needs to think on their feet, quickly access information and leverage analytics to problem-solve and add value. Today’s transformational technology introduced us to a digital workforce that is a key enabler of the learning worker. These advancements started with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) replacing transactional activities and the introduction of new digital capabilities further empowered them. Human teams working side by side with their technology assistants will continue to create competitive advantages. Going forward, the successful digital enterprise will have both a physical and digital workforce. This is a gamechanger and a key weapon to combat the labor shortage.

Today’s algorithms can predict with a high level of accuracy people at risk of leaving. According to Erika Bogar King, Chief People Officer at Sutherland, “managers can be highly inefficient in selecting the most optimal candidate and ineffective in assessing performance through traditional processes. New platforms with profiles that utilize our own data on what has actually worked for us historically, as opposed to subjective assessments, has increased the quality of people we hire and develop, while lowering our total cost per hire.”Leaders who don’t implement concrete plans to leverage technology in the war for talent will quickly struggle to keep up.

These increasingly complex positions will require top performers and will have a disproportionate impact to the bottom line. The battle to find, attract and retain these learning workers will continue to intensify as there are more jobs than workers. Interestingly, it was not long ago that researchers argued technology would destroy 50% of jobs in the US; instead, the exact opposite has occurred. The growth in knowledge and service jobs is outpacing the ones that are disappearing. This gap will continue to increase in 2020 where in the US and Europe it is projected that there will be a shortage of more than 15 million college educated workers.

A successful warfare strategy is to cast a wide net and attract the maximum number of candidates that     includes people just entering the workforce. But it is critical to take into consideration the dramatic culture change in this generation. They are less loyal, with millennials likely to stay four years at a company, and younger workers expected to last for only two years. As an example, Sutherland has adapted by changing the way we approach our employment value proposition from positioning ourselves as a destination for people, which implies an expectation for long tenure to a career accelerator, where talent comes to learn from other skilled people and produce interesting work for global clients. When you take the pressure off retention for retention sake and put the focus on the employee experience, you get engagement and a place where great talent brings in other great talent.

The rise of social, which this generation is more familiar with, makes it even easier to find these sought-after skills. An early driver of this paradigm shift was LinkedIn, which started with a handful of job seekers scouting new opportunities and is now a massive recruiting machine with millions of members.  The advancements in AI and analytics makes technology an important tactical weapon in the recruiting arsenal.

Why does winning the war on talent matter?  The learning worker is increasingly scarce and difficult to retain. Companies need to face this battle prepared and understand that the rules have changed. Those who are successful will survive and trample the laggards.

To win the war for talent, companies need to:

  • Transform into a digital enterprise. They need to be viewed as the next Netflix and not the next Blockbuster
  • Develop robust change management programs to bring the entire organization on the journey
  • Embrace automation, AI and analytics to create a physical and digital workforce
  • Deploy digital recruiting to its fullest
  • Organically grow and constantly upskill talent

Talent matters – it is scarce, difficult and expensive to retain and replace. Implementing these strategies will provide the ammunition to gain the battlefield advantage needed to win the war for talent.


McKinsey Quarterly, Managing talent in a digital age, March 2016 – Susan Lund, James Manyika and Kelsey Robinson.
McKinsey Attracting and retaining the right talent Nov 2017 Scott Keller and Mary Meaney

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