Looking For Talent

On August 24, 2010, in More2Know, by John Sumser

Looking For Talent

This piece was sitting in the archives at my old job. Just before the economic collapse, I took a walk through my neighborhood in a small California town. I saw a reality that I’d been avoiding.

Today, three short years later, we hardly ever talk about the war for talent. Economic shifts turned us into a nation of underemployed and undercompensated people who owe more than they make.

Still, there’s a consistent truth. What you think and what’s really there are disconnected.

If 50% of homeowners are upside down in their houses, why isn’t anyone talking about what it like to go to work under those circumstances. We’re simply not acknowledging the new reality. It’s never going to fix until we articulate the problem.

Long term readers know that I love it when something doesn’t quite fit together.

This afternoon, I took a walk up the hill that stands behind my little town. The place is postcard idyllic. The streets run 1,2,3,4,5, Mission. The Mission church itself seems to be at the gateway to the hill. From behind the Mission Church, you can see out to San Francisco Bay.

Fourth Street is hopping most of the time. White upper middle class singles jostle with Latinos who have made it. The street is a picture perfect rendition of a diversity poster though it, like most of California, is short of black faces.

Fourth Street is the picture of Northern California as paradise. There’s the arts cinema, home to the California Film Institute where I’ve gotten to see most of the Academy Award nominees in the foreign film category. There are more than fifty restaurants in an eight block radius… Italian, Mexican, Guatemalan, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Chinese, Brewpubs, Thai, Donuts, Vegan Pizza, Puerto Rican, Vietnamese, French, Greek, Fusion.

There are easily a half dozen coffee shops with wireless. Japanese home furnishings, Scandinavian Designs, four new age/Tibetan Buddhist stores (including one with live entertainment). Music stores, bakeries, rug stores and on and on.

It really looks good but something is caddywampus.

The hill I climbed goes to the top of the city. It passes through a half mile stretch of “Public Land: Open From Sunrise to Sunset. As I looked closely, I saw large clusters of homeless people, mostly Latino, clearly dirt encrusted from living outside, very threatening, moving in groups of six to eight.

I saw white homeless people surrounded by clothes sitting in the cars on the street across from the Public Land. As I walked up the hill I drew harsh stares from local residents of the houses that bordered the land. I drew equally hostile looks from the homeless. The people in the homeless cars tried not to make eye contact.

I was surprised.

This is not my image of my town. Anxiously, I walked quickly back down to the apparent safety of the main drag. It was as if some magic dust had been sprinkled on the town.

The homeless seemed to spring up from every sidewalk crack. The city took an entirely different texture. It became clear that the main white drag was a thin veneer on something very, very different. People see what they believe.

I am sure that I am not the only one who looks right through the reality of the world I inhabit. I’m reasonably sure that few people take the time to notice. It takes living and working in the town when the only others who seem to do so are lower class and/or homeless. I just didn’t get the magnitude.

It’s a shame to call it a war for talent when it’s really a question of human development and talent optimization. Today, I walked through a world of wasting resources.

In those three short years, I have come to understand that jobs are a part of the problem. The whole employment notion, handed down from feudal practice, creates a nagging sea of entitlement. Today, the wasting resources are hanging on to the payroll and the hope that they will one day be able to afford their home.

Great talent management and optimization ought to focus on creating independence and self-determination. In any company, employees who possess those things add the greatest value. Talent management that doesn’t address the impact of the economy on the workforce is a Pollyannish exercise.

Retaking our organizations from the depression that haunts them is one of the real transformational challenges of HR. Who’s doing that?

Read previous post:
HRXformation II

Far too often, HR Leaders who express their objectives in the few things that they can control lose sight of...