January 23, 2019

In the digital world,

winning the war for talent is an existential imperative

Failure to attract and retain top talent was the number-one issue in the Conference Board’s 2016 survey of global CEOs ahead of economic growth and competitive intensity.

A McKinsey Global Institute study found that employers in Europe and North America will require 16-18 million more college-educated workers in 2020 than are going to be available.

Gallup’s 2017 employee engagement survey documented these results:

  • 33% of employees said they were “engaged”
  • 51% said they were “not engaged”
  • 16% said they were “actively disengaged”

As these statistics suggest, you can’t win the war for customers if you can’t win the war for talent.

The Talent Assessment Challenge: Identifying the gaps between what you have and what you need

A recent Gartner research report stated that by 2020 75% of organizations will experience significant business disruptions due to skills gaps which is an increase from 20% in 2016.

One of the biggest challenges leaders face from the unprecedented waves of digital technology disruption is to accurately assess what are the new and ever changing skills and capabilities their companies need to successfully compete as a digital enterprise. To tackle this challenge, I have worked with CIOs and their senior leadership teams on a talent assessment process that uses the chart below to identify the gaps between the talent they have in the left-hand column and the talent they need in the right -hand column.

To fill the gaps, they develop a workforce plan to recruit, develop and retain a whole new set of skills and capabilities that don’t currently exist within their organizations.

For example, the skills required for traditional inside-out user interface design are completely different from the outside-in skills for user experience design. Moving from a Waterfall development model to an Agile, Lean or DevOps development model requires a whole new set of skills and capabilities.

The Talent Recruiting & Development Challenge: Filling “Hybrid Jobs” with hard and soft skills from different domains

A number of the workforce plans that I’ve developed have highlighted the emergence of “hybrid jobs” that require a combination of cognitive skills, social skills and deep technical domain expertise. Needless to say, the talent pool with these multiple skills is extremely limited and much sought after. College and University curriculums aren’t teaching these combined skills while company development and leadership programs aren’t steeped in them either.

A 2017 PWC Global Digital IQ survey found that nearly half of companies said their employees do not have the technical skills they need and they don’t have specific training programs to acquire them.

Companies that want to accelerate their transformation into digital enterprises will need to fill these types of hybrid jobs:

  • Product managers who can clearly communicate key customer touch points to development teams and discuss how digital interaction will enhance them
  • Project managers who can lead cross functional teams that require increased demand for communication, coordination and collaboration among internal business partners and external stakeholders
  • Business analysts and data scientists who can extract critical insights from mountains of structured and unstructured data and provide clear, easy to use insights that help business leaders make timely decisions
  • User experience design experts and design oriented content managers who can seamlessly and securely connect systems of engagement and systems of intelligence with systems of record
  • Development engineers who can exploit the time to value benefits of Agile, Lean or DevOps
  • Business leaders who are comfortable with launching a minimum viable product (MVP) and utilizing rapid iteration to make changes based on end user feedback

Taking a new approach to winning the war for talent: Some early use cases

-1. Leverage the relationships you have with people that know who you are and how you operate

Many companies are developing very robust talent acquisition ecosystems that leverage relationships with their employees,  customers and supply chain partners to identify and help recruit new talent. The benefit to this approach is that all the ecosystem stakeholders have a good understanding of the company’s culture and what it takes to be successful within it. They also fully understand both the technical requirements and business requirements employees need for success.

Lithium Technologies harnessed its employee base to share their pride and stories about the company on Glassdoor. As a result, the company was able to hire 30 engineers within a 90 day period and won over candidates that had competing offers from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

-2. Tap into the highly skilled – highly trained veterans talent pool

Companies like Amazon, BAE Systems and Boeing are targeting retiring veterans as a strong source of highly skilled tech workers. Roughly 250,000 people leave active duty each year.

Last year, Amazon expanded its partnership with the US Labor Department to train 1000 veterans in cloud computing. Ardine Williams, the company’s vice president of Worldwide People operations said “we’ve found members of the military community are a great fit at Amazon – bringing a bias for action and customer obsession that fit well with our culture.”

-3. Build private sector-public sector partnerships

In Los Angeles leaders from the private and public sector have joined together to create and launch The Los Angeles High-Impact Information Technology, Entertainment & Entrepreneurship, and Communication Hubs (LA HI-TECH). The goal of this regional consortium is “sustaining the economic vitality of a skilled and competitive workforce that contributes to economic growth in the tech industry in LA.”

As part of this effort Snap partnered with LA HI-TECH to pilot a program at Pierce Community College where it led a design competition to engage students in digital media technology. Amazon, through its AWS Educate grant program, partnered with Santa Monica Community College that linked AWS’s accelerated cloud learning program into the existing curriculum. In both cases, Amazon and Snap got direct access to emerging talent pools of people who want to fill high tech jobs.

-4. Take the Moneyball approach

Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball pits the collective old-time wisdom of managers, coaches, scouts and front offices against rigorous statistical analysis in determining which players to recruit. Analysis wins, changing the game forever.

University of Minnesota professors analyzed 17 studies and found that hiring algorithms outperform humans by a least 25%. “The effect holds in any situation with a large number of candidates, regardless of whether the job is on the front line, in middle management or in the C-Suite.”

While many leaders find this approach hard to embrace, some companies are finding real success with it:

  • Waste management company, Richfield Management, uses algorithms to screen applicants for character traits suggesting a tendency to abuse workers’ compensation. As a result, claims dropped by 68%.
  • Xerox replaced its recruitment-screening process with an online test from Evolve and attrition declined by 20%.
  • SAP’s SuccessFactors and Workday gather information from LinkedIn to provide advance warning when top talent may be thinking about leaving.

Regardless of what new approach you take to improve your odds of winning the war for talent not doing so presents a real existential threat to your competitive viability and survival.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at pdmoore@woellc.com. And, if this content could be useful to someone you know please share it here: