Thursday, September 18, 2008

The war for talent is over

I recently came upon the following quote in my readings: “The war for talent is over. It has been won by talent.” (You’ll have to forgive me for losing the great mind who made this statement, I can’t seem to retrieve the document in which I read it.)

Indeed, the war for talent has been won by talent. Throughout the world, more and more companies are facing ever-greater challenges of finding the right talent at the right time. The competition is fierce, the consequences terrifying, the salary-bidding accelerating.

In China, the case is even more so. At a recent seminar, I heard Starbucks China’s main man talk about his employees as the coffeemaker’s number one priority challenge. Not the difficult retail-landscape of China, not its complicated logistics, not the competition from local low-cost chains, not the protection of Starbucks’s intellectual property. Finding and keeping qualified employees, that was his number one preoccupation.

Let’s run through this short thought exercise: Imagine almost half of your total customer base constantly on the look-out for competitive products. Imagine your whole customer base needing to be completely renewed every year and a half. Now imagine the strategy and tactics needed to keep your customers loyal in such a heated market situation. The corresponding communications, promotional and loyalty plan budgets are simply mind-boggling.

Well, I invite you to sit back and take in a few of these astounding figures. Over 40% of all current workforce in China is actively looking for a new job. The average job duration for under 30’s in my stepmother city Shanghai is just 17 months. China needs up to 75.000 world-class quality executives within the next 5 to 10 years, with universities projected to supply only 3.000 to 5.000.

Talent in China is scarce and extremely volatile. Finding it is a challenge, keeping it an even bigger one.

But why am I writing about talent, and the challenge of finding and keeping it, in a marketing forum, of all places? Quite simply, because employees are your brand. They live and breath it, they convey it onto your customers at all imaginable (and unimaginable) touch points. And Starbucks’s number one knows this.

Going about attracting the right talent is less and less the mission of only the Human Resources department. The employee base is becoming a corporate, top-level issue, with cross-functional ways of thinking, inspired by an ever more so marketing talk. Getting the right employee candidates to meet with your recruiters is only possible after a thorough segmentation of the employment market: which types of profiles can you expect to find where, and in which concentrations? How do you interact with them, and attract their attention towards your company in the first place?

Once your recruiter talks with them, all interviewees, both the hired ones and the rejected ones, will return to the employment market and talk with their peers. What will they tell them about their experience at your company? And how will that affect your power of attraction?

Once you’ve conquered a candidate’s heart, and he becomes an employee, how do you keep him? Nurture your employees, like you do your customers. Employees don’t tick to only salaries, like consumers consider more than price when buying your product. Build up a relationship with your employee, like you do with your customers, getting to know him, what motivates him, what frustrates him, what will keep him going strong. And then tailor programs to fit these needs: trainings, career path coaching, team building.

Talent has won, so get it on your side.

Catherine Crevels works for the Belgian marketing consulting firm The House of Marketing out of its Shanghai office.


Matt Richling said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Richling said...

Quoted you on my blog
Great post!