Talent Priorities in Today’s Economic Environment: Leadership, Engagement, Quality of Hire

We just completed our latest TalentWatch research (our semi-annual report on business and talent trends) and as most HR and business leaders know, we are in a very strange talent environment.  One one hand we have a US unemployment rate over 9% and Europe is still in early recovery. On the other hand, businesses tell us that they are having a tough time finding good people and they need help building internal skills.

The TalentWatch research (the newest version will be published in September), asked around 300 business and HR leaders to rate their organization’s priorities and readiness.  The findings are charted below.

2011 Mid Year Talent Strategies - Bersin & Associates Research

2011 Mid Year Talent Strategies - Bersin & Associates Research

Interpreting Today’s Talent Environment

As the chart shows, employee engagement, retention, new hire quality, time to hire, leadership development, and first line management support are all “high important” problems today.  After many discussions with companies like RioTinto, Ford, Boeing, UnitedHealthGroup, and others, let me color some of this data with our findings about what is going on.

  • Job roles have become more specialized, creating the need for more specialized skills among new employees.  We have entered the era of what we call “The Borderless Workplace” – companies which work together in a highly networked way.  What this has done is create more specialized jobs (people in IT, customer service, sales can all become highly focused on their area in ways never possible before).  And much data proves (Malcolm Gladwell and many others) that people who specialize and stay in a role for a long time develop much higher levels of productivity than those who move around a lot.
  • Workforce skills are atrophying.  In general (and this is hard to generalize of course), we have a global workforce which is getting younger and less educated.  In the US high unemployment has created a market with many skilled people trying to stay up to date.  In companies like India and China the demand for people is so high that young workers coming out of school enter the workforce and still need remedial skills to get started.  (View my IMPACT 2011 keynote for more details here.)
  • The job market has become highly networked (thanks to social networking) so companies are now experiencing significant “resume overload.”  This means that not only are jobs more specialized, but companies are getting more candidates for each position!  The result is a huge bottleneck in finding “high quality talent.”  (Look at where that lands in the chart!)  The solution to this is to build an incredible employment brand, use high quality assessment strategies, etc. but we wont get into that now.
  • Employee engagement is now a top priority.  This is because the economy is growing (35% of organizations state that they are expanding into new markets and 25% say that their top issue is the launch of new products) so companies want to keep their best people.  People who lasted through the last recession are now burned out, so they’re starting to look around.  Here in the SF Bay Area the job market feels as hot as it was in 2000 (right before the .com crash).
  • Leadership skills and pipelines are weak.  Finally, as our 21st Century Leadership development research points out, leaders today have to “re-learn” leadership.  Not only are first line manager skills low (they always are, because these are “new managers”), but the profile of a successful leader today is very different than it was 10 years ago.  Today’s leaders must be highly collaborative, network savvy, emotionally intelligent, ready to move fast, and ready to drive innovation and creativity.  (“Innovation”, by the way, is another of the “top priorities” which come out of this research.)

Times are a changing, and our job is to help you make sense of today’s talent environment so you can build the right solutions for your organization. Watch for this new research in the next 45 days – and me know if you have any comments on this important topic!