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ATD Blog

The Imaginary War for Talent


Tue Apr 03 2012


(From Human Resource Executive Online) -- Much is currently being made in the media of the "war for talent", particularly in technical fields. Everyone from high-tech start-ups to industrial giants is supposedly suffering from a dire shortage of technical talent and is going to extremes to lure talented candidates.

However, evidence on the ground of this supposed "war" is scant. If your organization is feeling a talent shortage, that may reveal more about your organization than about the current labor market for skills.


I recently visited a small market-research firm. It was located in a run-down building in a grimy industrial park. Most of the space was devoted to dozens of telemarketers talking simultaneously on the phone. When I asked the firm's manager about her technical talent needs, she casually mentioned that she had on hand a full team of statisticians, all with Ph.D.s.

We hear so much about the "war for talent" across the media, from NPR and The New York Times to The Economist. Yet, how is it that glamorous Silicon Valley start-ups on the cutting edge of data mining claim they can't find the technical talent they need, while the manager of a local market-research firm has secured an entire team of Ph.D.-level statisticians?

Perhaps her statisticians are of inferior quality? There is a perennial debate as to whether sustainable business success comes from extraordinary talent, or from more mundane factors such as cooperation, teamwork, motivation, and good team management.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, said, "Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good. They are 100 times better."

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and now a well-known venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, expressed a similar notion: "Five great programmers can completely outperform 1,000 mediocre programmers."


Meanwhile, Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine, argued in the Harvard Business Review, "There is more to long-term performance than the excellence of your individual players. ... Winning teams are more than just a collection of talented individuals."

Your organization's approach to talent acquisition is influenced by this debate. What side do you favor?

Read more.

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