Big Talent

On March 12, 2012, in Editorial Advisory Board, HRExaminer, Kelly Cartwright, by Kelly Cartwright

Kelly Cartwright, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Kelly Cartwright, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

Kelly Cartwright is Vice President, Corporate Development at SourceRight Solutions and a member of the HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Recognized as one of the Top 100 HR Influencers by HR Examiner, Cartwright has more than 15 years of experience in the Human Capital Management industry with deep expertise in the rapid development, delivery and implementation of professional services and technology solutions. Prior to joining SourceRight Solutions, she was the general manager of The Newman Group, a Futurestep Company. Full Bio »

Big Talent

by Kelly Cartwright

When it comes to business, the label of “big” comes with significant connotations. Big business can drive economic prosperity for employees and shareholders alike.  But it can also mean “too big.” Consider the connotations that critics attribute to big tobacco, big oil, the “too big to fail” banks.

In truth, big industries and companies don’t always live up to their sensational reputations for being good or evil, or even invincible—but they do have influence.  That influence extends to everything from global markets and the price of milk to who holds office.  And that brings us to the one of the most influential forces in the economy today.  Call it big talent.

Unlike the industry bigs, talent is not a particular vertical, and it’s not manipulated or defined by companies that provide services. In fact, big talent is owned by the talent itself: millions of people at all levels of skill and experience distributed around the world.  Talent is more available than ever, with global access and high educational standards around the world. At the same time it’s more in demand than ever as the need for skilled talent continues to outstrip its supply.

Even as lower level talent (high school or less) experiences 8+% unemployment, skilled workers, from undergraduate degrees through doctorates, range from 5% all the way down to 2% (see “Education Pays” below).

According to a recent study by Lloyd’s and The Economist, talent scarcity is the number two perceived risk among top business leaders today, following only the “loss of customers.” Manufacturing is also feeling the pain.  A Financial Times report in Oct. 2011 mentions that “US manufacturers have 600,000 unfilled positions because of a lack of qualified skilled workers, in spite of stubbornly high unemployment rates and a plethora of new training programmes.”

The influence of talent is causing companies re-examine their corporate strategies. It’s causing them to re-think the way they attract and retain the people that drive their success. Companies are embracing a host of very real trends and innovations, from social media and new technologies to maturing practices such as workforce planning or outsourced solutions. Increasingly, companies find that they need to shape themselves to the needs of their talent, not the other way around. That’s influence.

Looking Beyond Trends: A Focus on Fundamentals

Looking beyond the trends of today, beyond social media and beyond solutions acronyms (RPO, BPO, MSP, HRO), companies are wrestling with a more fundamental question: “What does it take to engage talent in the landscape of today, and in the future?”  Everyone has a different answer, but  below are three realities that I believe apply to everyone that touches talent,  not just  talent solutions providers and technology vendors, but every company that relies on talent to drive success. That pretty much includes everyone.

The New World is Good

To address talent as the large-scale global force that it has become, many organizations have to change the way they work.  It may require integration of processes, different measures of success and more participation and ownership of results from outside the traditional HR and talent organizations.  These changes take time and money. To embrace them and sell them to stakeholders, an organization must look at big talent as a positive.

Why the push for change? Consider the alternative.  Isolated localized talent functions, legacy systems and processes, limiting definitions of talent needs—all will become more expensive to sustain. The old ways weren’t bad, but in many cases they dealt with talent on a smaller scale. When a competitor casts a wider net—eliminates location restraints, or opens roles to both permanent workers or  the growing contingent/free-agent class—that competitor is thinking in a larger universe.

Over time, that competitor will out-compete the smaller thinkers in reaching the critical talent.  When it comes to accelerating processes, spurring more efficient technologies and improving how companies meet the “right person, right role, right time, right cost” mandate, big talent isn’t a necessary evil, it is an influencer of progress. That’s a positive.

Adaptability is Critical

Big talent is always changing. In 2008, everyone talked about how quickly they would need to replace the aging skilled baby boomer generations. Today, that’s partially true, but we’re now also talking about how we can continue to engage them after retirement as something other than full time workers.  A decade ago, the ability to acquire people with scarce technical skills could make the difference between success and failure for a Silicone Valley start-up. In 2012, many of those skills are commonplace or obsolete, replaced by newer areas of need in business and technology today—and the talent function must adapt.

“Adapt or Die” is a much more succinct phrase than “adaptability is critical.” Unfortunately, it’s not accurate. Any company can adapt today and live. It can assess what’s needed, take a hard look at how it works, and make the difficult decision to implement changes based on what it sees in the market. It can implement a sourcing process—with centers of excellence, passive candidate strategies, global infrastructure, and social media tools—and achieve some measure of success.

But what happens when the newly implemented strategy doesn’t perform to expectations. How early would the company detect an issue? What is being measured to indicate performance? How well suited is the strategy for switching gears? How well has the need for flexibility been socialized internally? What if market conditions or company goals change—how will the talent strategy respond?  The answers to these questions will determine how quickly a talent organization improves, and how well the internal stakeholders support the function.

Clear measures of success and the ability to capture them are central to adaptability. A strategy that enables adjustment without requiring wholesale change is adaptable. If an internal organization, talent leader or solutions provider suggests that it has the best mousetrap to address talent needs today, they may be right.  How well are they suited to identifying new needs and making changes they don’t see today?  That’s the question that will drive success in dealing with talent next month, next year and ten years down the road.

No Fences

Finally, the big talent landscape is vast and largely untamed; however, in the strategies of most companies, it is still riddled with “fences.” Today, many of those fences are coming down.  The divide that separates the acquisition of employee talent and contingent and free–agent workers is beginning to blur, as more companies embrace a unified “blended workforce” approach.

The divisions that separate pre-hire talent acquisition and post-hire development and strategic activity are being connected by processes and technologies that span the talent management continuum.  The divides that confine talent by geography are disappearing due to a more global workforce and the ability to work virtually.

Clearing the traditional fences in thinking and strategy is probably the most challenging task for companies in a global talent market, but it is also the most compelling. Most organizations recognize the need, and most technology and services providers are evolving their offerings to operate across organizational, geographical and operational boundaries. The devil will continue to hide in the details, but progress is being made.

What does the changing talent landscape mean for business right now?

For anyone involved in talent planning, the implications of the changing talent landscape are immediate and real. Companies are realizing that talent is too big to leave solely in the hands of any one organization, whether it’s HR, Talent Management, Procurement or line of business. Increasingly, responsibility is being shared. For example, when roles are not being filled quickly or effectively, the recruiting organization is looking at its approach and the line of business is looking at its requirements.

Companies are asking the right questions to their solutions partners. It’s no longer simply a question of “what are your innovations in the world of social media?” but instead, how well do you work with your clients to stay on top of the changing market, evaluate performance and evolve your strategies? Finally, forward-thinking companies are re-tooling for flexibility. They are more open to free agent talent (with an eye toward the quality of talent, not just the cost). They are improving their ability to measure performance, and in many cases they are rethinking their talent requirements, both in terms of skills and location.

While companies continue to evolve their approaches to talent, the pressures of the present never let up. Many companies are seeing the changing talent landscape as a chance to evolve their thinking and gain an advantage in the market.  Some are acting on the opportunity. Some are procrastinating. Regardless of the action, one fact is true: no one can point to big talent and say “they are just a passing trend.” After all, big talent is not they. We are all part of big talent.




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