Cries for Help from the Boomer Organisations

Regular readers will know that there are certain things that raise the hackles here at T Recs, amongst them are:

Hence it will come as no surprise that HR Magazine’s ‘Global war for talent will intensify as baby boomer leaders retire’ scored a complete full house on Merv’s bullshit bingo scorecard.

Not sure what’s more frustrating…that an executive search firm felt the need to release this self-serving guff or that a respected online news resource felt obliged to re-print the press release in the name of ‘journalism’.

So we have a search firm commissioning a report – the grandly titled ‘After the baby boomers; The next generation of leadership’ – which was conducted through telephone interviews with 100 senior executives between 2010 and 2012. I’m guessing that some of the 2010 conversations may be a little out of date now.

There is an executive summary of findings which contains sections with titles like:

  • The war for talent will intensify
  • Most organisations underserve female markets
  • The feminisation of leadership
  • Organisations need to ease the intergenerational transition

The opening statement is:

Should it matter to our future leadership that the world is undergoing unprecedented demographic, gender and cultural change? Or that a whole cohort of leadership, characterised by the baby boomer era, is about to step down? Is it possible for organisations to be ‘prepared’ for such fundamental changes and adapt to a different style f management? Or, as one respondent said about the next generation of leaders, “They may think about the world in a different way but that doesn’t make them poor leaders.

And the conclusion is:

To continue to thrive, organisations must:

  • Transfer knowledge, by coaching, mentoring and codification.
  • Re-evaluate their organisational structure, including their incentive philosophy, and how they recruit and retain talent.
  • Build cultural awareness, designing leadership programmes that develop cultural diversity, flexibility and people skills.

I’m sure it’s a comfort to have Odgers around to help out, given that the next few years will clearly be the first time since before the industrial revolution that business leaders come up to retirement age and hand over to younger leaders. I’ll bet they’re glad that it’s been pointed out to them that they need to be grooming their new leaders, no doubt an easy thing to overlook when you’re running a large organisation.

Apparently only 41% of those interviewed thought their organisations ready ‘for the changing workplace demographics of age, gender and diversity’ but then a closer examination of the report shows only 9% believing their businesses to be not ready. (More scaremongering).

Now if you’ll allow me some generational stereotyping of my own, firms like Odgers and Deloittes (who authored the Gen Y research written about in my last blog) are, shall we say, Boomer organisations. They seem to have an unhealthy obsession with how different young people are.

And if the earlier section headings are anything to go by, women too. They even make a point in the introduction of mentioning that 30% of the leaders spoken to were women, whilst the use of the word ‘feminisation‘ to describe emotional intelligence and people skills is telling.

The generation of 45+year old business leaders have been well served by these Boomer organisations. They’ve found staff for them, helped them in their own careers, come in to do consulting around new projects and structures, and maybe, just maybe, those Boomer organisations are beginning to feel the winds of change themselves.

The next generation of business leaders may well have found shiny new ways to source talented staff, promote their own careers, and check the viability and feasibility of new projects and structures.

So maybe these attempts at creating a perceived problem for their core markets, that requires a solution that they can then help provide, are really just cries for help?

Here’s the blueprint – identify a problem with the young, developing workforce. Legitimise and amplify it by dressing the problem up as research or with a white paper (involving an academic or another Boomer organisation for extra effect) then offer simple solutions worded in a complex, serious way so that only by using your services will they be able to fully grasp and implement what needs to be done.

Well, you know something… I’m guessing most successful business leaders know this stuff already and know what needs to be done… and the younger, emerging leaders have a fairly good idea where to start cutting the budgets.

Time to End Talk of This Phoney War

And so the dreaded expression ‘War for Talent’ rears its head again on my twitter timeline. You know some of the context…

  • Salaries at some levels are increasing, it’s because there’s a war for talent
  • Companies can’t find the skills, it’ll create a war for talent

Never mind that there’s abundant talent out there waiting for an opportunity; a willing workforce only a few days or weeks’ training away from filling that ‘skills gap’.

I’ve given my opinion on the gratuitous use of this phrase before here and here but there seems to be a never-ending need to talk up a lack of creativity and vision in talent acquisition as a phoney war.

So I’ve turned to source material – the book that the original authors of the ‘War for Talent’ report published in 2001. In it they put forward the case that winning the war for talent isn’t about frenzied recruiting tactics but the principles of attracting, developing and retaining highly talented managers, which will be applied in ever evolving ways.

Next time you think of using the phrase read this and think again…

“Excellent talent management has become a crucial source of competitive advantage.

Companies that do a better job of attracting, developing, exciting and retaining their talent will gain more than their fair share of this critical and scarce resource and will boost their performance dramatically.

Our War for Talent research shows this. The companies that scored in the top quintile of our talent management index earned, on average, 22 percentage points higher return to shareholders than their industry peers. The companies that scored in the bottom quintile earned no more points than their peers.

Certainly, many factors other than talent management are driving return to shareholders but this data provides compelling evidence that better talent management results in better performance.

Clearly, having more capable people isn’t the only thing companies will have to do to win. They will also have to set high aspirations and enact the right strategies and performance initiatives. They will have to energise and align all their people so they deliver their best performance. But talented leaders are needed to make these other performance drivers happen.

As companies respond to the war for talent, they will develop more powerful and more sophisticated approaches to talent management. Over the next decade we believe talent management will advance as far as marketing did in the 1960s and quality did in the 1980s. Some companies will advance in building this capability; others will fall behind.”

It’s a mind-set not an act. It’s about creating a business that aspires to give the best a place to thrive and be happy. It’s not about throwing money at people and it shouldn’t be an excuse for a lack of training and up-skilling.

A recruitment campaign devoid of strategy, creativity and transparency isn’t a war. It’s a resounding defeat.

War?? What Is It Good For??

(It’s a Question of Appropriateness of Language)

There is no war for talent.

I’ll re-phrase that…

There is no war, for talent.

There is talent everywhere.

I was reading an article about how Accenture are going to hire up to 50,000 people this year, but that 40% of hires would be through social media (mainly Linked In and Twitter), and you may have thought that as a 3rd party recruiter I would be concerned by that. I should have been…but what really concerned me was the lame, gratuitous use of the word ‘War’.

Currently there is a War for Talent’ opined their head of recruitment.


In the UK alone we have 2.5 million unemployed (sorry, claiming jobseekers allowance…lord knows how many others aren’t) almost 2 million economic inactives, not forgetting about 1 million working part time who would like to work full time…there you are, abundant talent.

Sorry, maybe unemployed people aren’t talent. Those who have to take part time work to keep a roof over their families possess no talent. Clearly the 900,000+ under 25s who are desperately searching for a chance, any chance, to learn and prove themselves, have no potential.

Of course the original phrase ‘War for Talent’ sprang from a report by McKinsey, which really dealt with what companies need to do about the impending ‘talent’ shortfall to avoid ‘war’. (If you haven’t yet done so then I recommend you check out Gareth Jones’ excellent blog Talent Management : The Emperor’s (Not So) New Clothes)

Yet some of our biggest companies would rather see themselves at ‘war’ with one another. But do they know what war really is?

I propose that anyone who thinks that 2 or more companies trying to hire the same person/people is a war should be parachuted straight into Helmand for 72 hours and find out what war is…failing that, maybe some time spent with the bereaved families of servicemen who have actually fought in a war may provide a reality check.

Back in the day, in the masculinised world of 80s business, when lunch was for wimps and no self respecting executive would be caught without his copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, when companies saw themselves as armies fighting over consumer turf, military comparisons were seen as the only way to grow.

But not now, surely. Not when there are real wars being fought on the planet, when we are in the middle of a recession/depression that no-one really knows the end date of, when the misery, desolation and hopelessness of long term unemployment haunts so many.

How can NOW be a time to use the language of military triumphalism in such a glib, gratuitous way?

All of us in HR and Recruiting should try to ensure we use language that is considered and compassionate, appropriate to the situation. Not lazy and lame, misleading and mis-representative.

…and In My Very Humble Opinion, companies are not in a ‘war’ for talent…talent is in a ‘war’ for real opportunities… (but that is a different post)