Flexibility is key to winning the talent war

Bruce Tulgan is an internationally acclaimed consultant on new management practices for the New Economy. Here, Tulgan offers itp.net his somewhat radical thinking on the competition for talent in the New Economy.

  • E-Mail
By  David Ingham Published  April 5, 2001

Reluctant offspring|~||~||~|Bruce Tulgan is an internationally acclaimed consultant on new management practices for the New Economy. His company, RainmakerThinking, is a research and consulting firm launched to explore the working lives of those born after 1963. As well as his latest book: Winning the Talent Wars, Tulgan hit the headlines for his first work: Managing Generation X, where he identified the trend towards a breakdown in traditional long-term employment trends and the move towards employees acting as free agents.

Arabian Business.com
Are new dymanics in the talent wars really driven by the high-tech, high-speed, knowledge-based, super-fluid economy you refer to in your book or could it be more to do with us having been through a global economic boom.

Bruce Tulgan
The transformation of the relationship between employers and employees has much more to do with an increasingly efficient, fluid labor market. Free agents are not born of never-ending good news, nor are they shameless job hoppers. Free agents are the reluctant offspring of the end of job security.

Even at the height of the economic boom, there was no job security. Downsizing reached record highs as unemployment reached record lows. In fact, the global economic boom was built largely on the end of job security and increasingly lean, flexible companies.

What’s going on is that companies are leaner than they’ve ever been, more flexible than they’ve ever been, more ruthless than they’ve ever been, and individuals, for their part, are more aggressive in their careers.

There’s a much more efficient labor market and most employers have not retooled their expectations, systems and competencies for employing people, and as a result their expectations, systems and competencies are out of synch with the more fluid labor market, and that’s why most companies are experiencing a staffing crisis.

Arabian Business.com
What effect do you think a US, or global slowdown might have on talent wars? There are, for example, tens of thousands of ex-Compaq, ex-Dell, ex-Cisco people about to come on the market.

Bruce Tulgan
There are a lot of people who could sell themselves in the free market for talent more effectively in an economic boom than in a slowdown. There will be plenty of talent with less negotiating power than they had during the economic boom. But the situation for businesses will be roughly the same: they have to get more work done and better work done with fewer people.

More work and better work with fewer people is the definition of productivity and quality — that’s the name of the game in business. If you need to get more work and better work out of fewer people, that means that you need better people.

In a free market for talent, better people have the most negotiating power. There’s not significant softening in the labor market; demand for skilled people still outpaces supply dramatically.
||**||Flexibility|~||~||~|
Arabian Business.com
Governments in the Middle East are embarking on initiatives with the aim of attracting knowledge workers to their respective countries. How do you view this type of competition between nations for talent?

Bruce Tulgan
The question that most talented people are looking at is “what’s the deal?” What does an employer have to offer me, and what does an employer want from me — today, tomorrow, and next week? I think the extent to which companies or nations or anyone who is competing for talent can create a unique value proposition that pays people what they’re worth and also gives people the non-financial rewards they’re looking for, will be in a better position to recruit talent.

Arabian Business.com
What sort of strategies do you think governments in emerging, high-growth, markets like the Middle East should adopt to attract talent?

Bruce Tulgan
The number one thing that they have to do is support a free and fluid marketplace. They have to remove protections that insulate employers from the marketplace. They have to look at the feudal, hierarchical organisation charts of companies and recognise that those are going to be obstacles.

The companies that get best at employing people in many different ways, not just long-term, full-time, on-site, uninterrupted, exclusive employment — the companies that can get beyond that one-size-fits-all career path — are going to be in the best position.
In terms of government strategies, I don’t think that command economies are going to be in the strongest position. The thing that governments can do is remove trade barriers, remove protections, and integrate their economies into the global marketplace.

Arabian Business.com
The Middle East actually has a history of hiring for specific projects rather than long-term employees (a tactic you promote in your book). Now, however, this is seen by local governments as a negative process because the region wants to attract and retain talent for the long-term. How do you reconcile these forces?

Bruce Tulgan
I think that they’ll be in a much stronger position if they hire for specific projects rather than long-term. That’s not to say that they cannot have long-term relationships with people, one project at a time. They should try to hire people one project at a time, and try to develop long-term relationships with them.
||**||Top tips for HR|~||~||~|
Arabian Business.com
If you could create a top 5 lessons to learn so that business leaders in the Middle East end up net winners of talent wars, what would that top 5 be?

Bruce Tulgan
1. Staff the work, not the jobs. Stop trying to fill up positions on the organisation chart and get good at managing a fluid talent pool. Get the work done. Unbundle and rearrange the real work of current staff positions so it fits the best people to do it. Expand your staffing repertoire to maximize flex-timers, telecommuters, part-timers, independent contractors, temps, and former employees, as well as full-time core people.

2. Pay for performance, and nothing else. Bring compensation practices into alignment with the value that people are adding. Stop paying people fixed salaries. Stop managing their time and start buying their results, one project at a time — purchasing agent style. Implement real pay for performance by rewarding the most valuable players the most.

3. Turn managers into coaches. You will need to monitor performance very closely, holding everyone accountable, routinely adjusting goals and guidelines, making tough calls, and keeping the whole team motivated, inspired, and moving forward all the time.

4. Train for the mission, not the long haul. Earn a solid return on the investment of every training dollar. Fast-paced, super-intense, mission-driven training from day one is the only way: Train every person up to speed very quickly — boot camp style.
5. Create as many career paths as you have people. Start planning long-term relationships with valued contributors around each individual’s unique life plan (not the other way around). Customise a deal for every person. Place top priority on vital issues of work/life balance.

Arabian Business.com
Your book covers retention of talent in great depth. Do you have any advice for finding talent in the first place, and improving the recruitment process to give your business the best chance of hiring the best people and avoiding the worst people?

Bruce Tulgan
The key to finding the best talent is in attraction, and the key to attraction is the message; you need a powerful recruiting message.
If you want a powerful recruiting message, you want to answer one simple question: What’s the deal? What’s the deal today, tomorrow, and next week?

What do you want from people today, tomorrow, and next week; and what do you have to offer people today, tomorrow and next week — not just in financial rewards, but in non-financial rewards: marketable skills, exposure to decision-makers that can help them, opportunities to create tangible results with their name on them, opportunities to balance their working lives with their non-working lives. Creating a powerful recruiting message is the most important thing.

Arabian Business.com
The fastest growing sector of the Middle East is the small business community. Are there any differences in tactics to win talent wars for businesses with under 50 employees to those with more people?

Bruce Tulgan
There are advantages and disadvantages to being a small business. Small businesses have fewer resources, usually, to devote to large systems, but they’re in a better position, usually, to create a dynamic entrepreneurial environment.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code