Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Talent Management is NOT a Zero-Sum Game

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Staffing is not a Zero-Sum Game
During the course of my regularly scheduled research last week I ran across an article that immediately got me fired-up from the title alone. Tim Sackett’s post ‘When It Comes to Talent Management, It’s Just a Zero Sum Game’ on TLNT, sent an all too familiar chill down my spine and had me looking for something on which I could inflict some damage. (Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that dramatic but you get the point.) The idea that talent management is simply taking someone from one place to fill an opening in another is so basic and archaic, that it really invokes that kind of passionate response every time I hear the sentiment.

After the dust settled and I read the rest of the article, I had calmed down and realized that Mr. Sackett had some valid points. I do agree organizations need to find a balance between funding with regard to attracting, succession planning and training of their workforce rather than spending the most money and effort on candidate attraction.

The problem is that I vehemently disagree that we have to convince hiring managers and whole organizations that the current market is a Zero-Sum Game. The idea devalues what a true workforce solutions team does.

Companies like Microsoft and Google sprung to being in an industry that was created out of garages, through innovation and a pioneering spirit. If talent management was Zero-Sum, they wouldn't exist as they both created a previously unknown talent pool need and filled it.

The majority of the people they initially employed were home grown talent because frankly there was no company doing what they did. It was an entirely new ‘thing’ created out of nothing. They may have taken some college kids out of a classroom to put them to work early, or stolen a drive-thru clerk passionate about BASIC and FORTRAN away from a fast food joint; it was hardly a Zero-Sum Game; it was a Human Development Game.

People can be developed, trained, motivated, and unmotivated.  We do need to convince hiring managers of the value in taking someone that can do 95-percent of what they need now and developing the other desired 5-percent in-house. We also need to convince them that they do not have the luxury of the 3-5 year IT wizard or engineer any longer. They will have to start hiring out of colleges again; investing time in developing curricula with educators to fill their needs. Some of our most successful candidates are those ‘95-percenters’ because they have a desire to learn the other 5-percent and have loyalty to the company that provides it.

It's not zero-sum.  It's not a shell game.  It's the game of life as it pertains to business and it's our job in recruiting to help companies realize the best talent to develop, and to help candidates find the next step in their path.  So much more can be gained working together; with hiring managers, HR, talent development, and candidates for a mutually beneficial outcome. There doesn’t have to be a clear cut winner and loser when it comes to talent management.

Here’s a simple analogy to demonstrate the point further:

The Biggest Loser, a popular US television reality series, is a competition whereby, in theory, everyone comes out a winner. The goal is to get healthier through weight loss, nutritional changes and exercise. At the shows close, there is ultimately a grand prize winner but, there was no cause to which they had to take from another to come out on top. Nearly every contestant seems to walk away from the program better for it, even the non-prize-winning losers. That's kind of how how I view talent management and recruitment.

If you're engaging a ‘passive’ candidate, chances are they aren't engaged with their current company for any number of reasons. They are likely dragging down their current company in some way because of this sense of disengagement. In hopes of a brighter future, they are willing to talk to you about a new position with growth potential either economically or professionally.

The losing company actually wins because they have offloaded someone who was probably producing at a level below their potential. The hiring company wins because they're getting an employee who is reinvigorated and engaged. The candidate wins for obvious reasons. The recruitment firm wins because they provided value to both customers of their services and were paid for the match.

To me, calling recruitment and talent management a Zero-Sum Game; that cynicism that removes the exact value from staffing that we bring; is simply inaccurate. If you are truly invested in the job at hand, then you’re looking to help the organization and the candidate grow. If you’re good at filling both customers’ new needs; creating a value proposition along the way; you simply cannot look at the game mathematically. There is so much to be gained from looking beyond the 'perfect' skill set to find out what real potential lies within a candidate or in an opportunity. Humans aren't dollars, or market share, and therefore can't be zero-sum. 
Just ask Microsoft and Google.

Josh Kaplan writes on various subjects including management, information technology breakthroughs, healthcare IT recruitment and innovations, big data, IT staffing and recruitment, and technical news and trends.