On the War for Talent in your own company

Since McKinsey coined the phrase “War for Talent”, we have been fairly obsessed with the hunt for new talent in our companies – also thanks to demographics here in Germany and the scarcity of specialist workers…

Many people still think that the War for Talent is fought “Somewhere Out There”. In the job market, in the Internet, or somewhere like that. The truth is, especially in large and medium-sized organizations, this war for the best talent is fought on the home front, right inside your company.


The symptoms are easily recognizable:

  • Managers hoard “their” talented people.
  • HR business partners consider “poaching heroes” the worst problem in a company.
  • At talent conferences and when new recruits campaigns are put on the slate, people play ‟Swap the Loser”, rather than actually discussing real potential candidates for promotion within the company.
  • Forget moving your job internally – talented employees are more likely to move on out.
  • Managing directors, HR department heads, line managers and so on have to give the go-ahead before talents in other divisions can even be approached. Would a headhunter ever ask for consent?
  • In the best case scenario what happens is, people cannibalize each other’s talents with bigger and bigger pay packages.
  • Interesting positions are either never advertised or the job advertisement is only a sham; in fact, the job is filled behind the scenes. Yet another reason for talents to simply leave the company.


These shenanigans are very popular, by the way, when companies implement a ban on external appointments. The HR Business Partner Model aggravates the situation, as HR heads feel a greater obligation to ‟their” Business Unit than the entire rest of the company. And the current developments in the matter of affirmative action towards women in the board room – whether agreed within the company or required by law – will only fan the flames.

Every manager acts as if talent is their personal possession, as if they were paying for further training out of their own pockets. This is not the case! Every talent belongs to the whole company, every high-potential employee should be placed in a position where she or he can achieve the most.


So, the rules of the game should be as follows:

  • Get rid of the pack-rat mindset.
  • Managers should be aware of their responsibility for the overall success of the company and give incentives for people to perceive talent development as part of the management job.
  • Establish a regulated market for talent within the company; provide transparency with regard to high-potential employees and vacant positions.
  • Create a talent culture that attracts talents, because managers develop talent and like to give promotions – not to mention the fact that they enjoy extending considerably their own network.
  • These steps require bravery, persistence and resilience in the face of setbacks – and there is no easy way out, because the War for Talent “Out There” is going to take everything we’ve got.



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