My Blog

Let's Stop the War for Talent

“War for talent” suggests that there is only a limited number of people with talent and they need to be found, fought for and held onto. It also assumes that talent or ability to contribute is primarily a function of the individuals’ capability.


What about all the people who have undiscovered or thwarted talent?


50 years of research in social psychology (such as ones written up in “The Person and the Situation” by Lee Ross and Richard E. Nisbett) indicate that personality and individual traits can only explain 30% of our behaviours at most. The remaining 70% is explained by the situation in which people find themselves. Intuitively we know that we perform at our best in certain environments and not so much in other environments. You may also have seen people struggle in one team or with one leader then flourish in another team or with a different leader.


So rather than focus on fighting for ‘talented individuals’, how about we focus on unlocking and growing talent by shaping the environment across teams and organisations? It takes a Growth mindset, rather than Fixed mindset, to think this way (see "Mindsets" by Dr Carol Dweck for more on Growth vs Fixed mindsets).


Many organisations have great talent and leadership programs for the select few. Not to say that’s a waste, as there’s value in stretching people who have demonstrated potential and it is rewarding for those involved. It is potentially a costly exercise, though, to identify, attract, develop and retain people identified as talent. Let’s hope that the right people are identified and that they contribute back to the organisation!


What about the other 90% of the organisation, though?


The cost is too high to send the 90% to talent programs, sure. But what if we were to redirect investments into developing more leaders to create the environment for diverse talents in the 90% to flourish? If leaders in the organisations were better at unlocking and growing talent, imagine the lift in performance you could achieve. It assumes that talent is dormant, waiting to be unleashed in many people, not just a few. An Abundance mindset (development), rather than a Scarcity mindset (war) is likely to create more business value.


The term, “War for Talent” was first coined in a McKinsey Quarterly article 1998 as a critical business challenge and a fundamental driver of corporate performance. That was 17 years ago. Like the Cold War, it’s time to let it go.


How much talent do you believe lies dormant in your organisation? What do you do to unlock the talent in the 90%? Please see my white paper "Inspire to Outperform" for ideas on unlocking dormant potential, if you haven’t seen it already. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

My Blog

  • Bust these myths and pick the right talent for the job
  • Is your inner calm muscle getting enough exercise?
  • Calm in the chaos