No Talent Shortage, Just Talent Recognition Shortage

There are four guiding principles to ensure that your organization has the ability to recognize talent when it sees it.

The little-known truth in corporate America is that there is no talent shortage, just a severe shortage of people and systems that recognize, recruit and retain talent. Hiring managers have been told repeatedly that there is a talent shortage across all industries and that they should lower their expectations. Often, finding a qualified candidate turns out to be a long, drawn-out process at the end of which many hiring managers get less than what than deserve and pay more than what they would like. Sound familiar? If you are like most hiring managers, you have bought into the storyline of a severe talent shortage. It is time to challenge this widely accepted belief.

We live in times of sweeping and rapid global change. We work in a global marketplace that is driven by innovation; corporate wealth and growth is no longer driven by mega size, assets or past laurels. Instead, it is driven by the ability to innovate, innovate and innovate. Innovation rapidly shifts resource expectations and needs, often in unanticipated and unplanned ways, impacting the talent requirements of organizations all over the world. In such a climate, yesterday's talent requirements and hiring practices cannot meet today's needs. The ability to recognize and respond to global shifts is the key to locating the talent your organization needs.

Corporate America is missing out on some of the most creative and experienced talent because its hiring practices, policies, organizational thinking and, yes, HR systems are slow, parochial, outdated, and frankly sometimes obstacles to talent acquisition. Ask the innovative, dynamic and agile companies that easily attract the most creative talent about the secrets of their success.

There are four guiding principles to ensure that your organization has the ability to recognize talent when it sees it.

1. Talent is your most valuable asset? Prove it. While almost every company claims that human talent is its greatest asset, its actions don't always reflect this priority. Periodically it is important to reflect on what your company does to recognize talent. Companies must pay attention to the following four P's when it comes to talent acquisition:

  • Policies
  • Procedures
  • Practices
  • Performance

Companies must frequently review their hiring policies, procedures and practices to ensure they are not bureaucratic or detrimental to recruiting talent, particularly unconventional talent. Many hiring policies and procedures are archaic and limit hiring managers from being resourceful and agile. We have all come across policies and procedures that are devoid of any common sense, prompting the question, "Who wrote these policies?" Your hiring practices should be flexible and nimble. Setting and reviewing hiring policies, procedures and practices should not be just the prerogative of the HR department but must include organization-wide input and participation of all hiring managers. Finally, there must be an energetic reward system in place for talent acquisition. The talent recruitment incentives of the late 1990s need a boost if companies are to stay at the forefront of talent acquisition.

2. Web cobwebs. A close analysis of the career websites of many large and small companies across a cross section of industries reveals the painful truth that many sites are in need of a serious overhaul. There are many examples where a company's Web has become a cobweb! Here are a few examples: It is difficult to even locate the career link of a large global IT company because it is embedded many layers deep on its website. The career link of another Fortune company is found rock-bottom on its website! In the case of a major health insurance company, its career link is simply not there. If human capital is a company's greatest asset, why does talent acquisition receive a low priority on the company's website?

Best advice: Try applying for a job using your company's career link. Quite likely it will be a sobering experience! The labyrinth of links, tedious forms and tables, repetitious information requests and unfriendly Web practices reflect poorly on organizations. Of course, the standard response of many companies that "we don't expect to find good candidates through our career website" is both ironic and telling!

3. Seek unconventional talent. In today's economy, innovation is one of the highest priorities for business leaders all over the world. Senior executives are looking for ways to both strengthen and shorten the innovation cycle and to effortlessly repeat the cycle. Innovation of products, services, markets, operations and business models is high priority for senior executives. When creativity rocks industries, shatters establishments, and triggers unanticipated side effects on organizations and nations, the source of such far-reaching creative initiatives is often traced back to the company's talent pool. If a company's talent pool is cut from the same fabric, group think sets in. One way to get around this bottleneck is to hire unconventional talent. Unconventional talent refers to talent that is not a near-identical replacement of the person who just vacated the job! Look for individuals with leadership skills from other industries. Recruit those whose career paths are interesting and untraditional. Take the risk and hire someone who has never worked in your industry. Seek individuals who have a proven record as creative problem-solvers. Hire for creativity. The characteristics of what constitutes "unconventional talent" are likely to vary from company to company and industry to industry. Hence, a company should first carefully define what it considers unconventional talent and then make a concentrated effort to fill a certain percentage of its positions each year with unconventional talent from a cross section of industries.

4. Train for talent recognition. The ability to recognize talent that may not be obvious from a cursory glance at a résumé can be acquired through training, brainstorming and careful mentoring. Studies show that many hiring managers are often not aware of biases and prejudices that may lead to the rejection of qualified candidates. More important, the over-emphasis on certain technical skills may lead to early elimination of highly qualified candidates. Hence, investments in talent recognition must be treated as an integral part of talent acquisition and retention. While it is understandable, given the intense pressures of today's markets, that most hiring managers look for potential employees who can "hit the ground running," it is important to actively recruit those who, even though they may have a slight handicap in the short run, will in the long term prove to be an invaluable asset to the organization. The initial investment in training and mentoring unconventional talent will yield rich dividends in the long run, particularly on the innovation index.

It is easy to buy into the common belief that there is a severe global shortage of talent. While there is some truth to this, it is important to train people and invest in systems that recognize talent, including unconventional talent. Without such an approach, we all become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

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Uma G. Gupta, PhD, is a consultant in talent recognition and acquisition and can be reached at guptaguma@gmail.com.

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