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Meanwhile the talent war rages on

Janice Burns, Chief Career Experience Officer - Degreed
three person pointing the silver laptop computer

The global COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting how we live, work, play, and survive. As business leaders adapt to the upheaval, many are viewing the grim new economic and employment climate as “The COVID War. But this isn’t really a new war.

Instead, it’s the latest battle and the biggest struggle thus far in a war that Talent Leaders have been fighting for more than 20 years.

The War for Talent
With the deadly virus circling the globe, employers are wrestling with a weakened economy and are forced to act in new ways. Employers are managing compromised supply lines. They’re rethinking distribution channels and retooling equipment to meet demand for entirely different products. They’re redeploying people and trading intelligence and workers with allies as well as competitors. They’re revisiting their compensation and benefit offerings. Unfortunately, many employers are also furloughing people, laying them off, or shutting the doors altogether.

It all marks a new front in the long-running War for Talent.

To forge ahead, Talent Leaders need new strategies and tactics.

Now more than ever, Talent Leaders need to become Talent Warriors.

And the first step is to make sure we’re focused on our mission.


The Mission

It’s clear: Keep the talent factory operational, prepared, and efficient, so it can produce, innovate, and respond to customer and market demands. So it can stay ahead of competitive or other threats. Normally, this is accomplished in a somewhat predictable fashion. The tactics are rehearsed. The speed needed to change them is calculated and understood. But COVID-19 arrived like a sneak attack.

Defining The War

The term “War for Talent” was coined in 1997 by management consultants at McKinsey & Company, who noticed a trend. Employers increasingly struggled to attract and retain skilled workers as competition for talent got more and more fierce. And as the job market evolved and expanded, the most successful companies were constantly adapting their recruiting and retention strategies to maintain appropriate talent levels.

In recent years, the War for Talent accelerated and became more fierce. This came as we entered the age of digital transformation. At the same time, talent pools failed to learn new skills in the numbers required to meet staffing needs and productivity demands.

In addition, changes in demographics, global markets, social and political activities, and other trends led employers to demand more innovation, collaboration, agility, and productivity from talent—including contractors, consultants, and gig workers.

At the same time, talent increasingly sought more flexibility, freedom, and transparency from employers to address work-life balance needs. Talent also sought  more skill-building opportunities, purpose-driven work, and new types of career support, so it could remain marketable and engaged.

For two decades, these two forces—employers and workers—acted as if the War for Talent was a conflict between them. Both sides advanced their positions and made gains. But each mistakenly focused on the other instead of joining forces against the real enemy.

Ever present, the real enemy has become enormously strong amid COVID-19.

The Enemy

Ultimately, the War for Talent is waged against an enemy rooted in skill deficiency and inflexibility. It’s the inability for individuals to change and grow at the speed required to meet market demands for new and different skills. Sometimes they don’t have the capability to upskill. More often, they’re not given the opportunity to reskill and don’t have a clear understanding of the new skills required to remain employable.

Up until recently, most employers accepted the notion that we’d move into a crisis mode “at some point in the future.” They figured they still had time to plan and prepare their talent to shift from learning new knowledge to building new skills. And they were hesitant to fully embrace new digital talent tools that could help them make the leap.

But COVID-19, in a matter of weeks, made the future a reality now. It’s put the entire global economy on a quest for survival, leaving employers scrambling to prepare their talent troops for Condition Red, and workers bracing to see if they’ll be the next casualty.

Condition Red

With the arrival of COVID-19, employers are deconstructing, re-evaluating, and reimagining talent strategies at an unprecedented pace. They’re looking for new tactics and tools, and sometimes relocating operations. They’re questioning what work is, how and where it’s performed, who’s critical, and who should be deployed or kept in reserve.

Now more than ever, the War for Talent is a struggle to identify, acquire, deploy, grow, and retain the best and most critical people. Amid COVID-19, companies absolutely require workers who can help employers successfully execute business strategies and stay competitive.

Talent Warriors Needed

Condition Red requires more from Talent Leaders than ever before.

We’re being called to the table with the Generals, Commanders, and Chiefs—to help employers and workers navigate the new, risky landscape.

We need to become Talent Warriors to keep the troops motivated, calm their fears, and deploy them to the most important task in the most efficient manner. To win, businesses large and small simply can’t underestimate the importance of training, reskilling and upskilling.

And while the new battle conditions bring hardship, they also create the perfect environment for innovation and creativity.

We’re better prepared than we think.

Let’s come through with new insights and better practices.

Let’s become a large community of Talent Warriors working together to win this battle.

Winning the battle

  1. Know your troops’ strengths and weaknesses. Quickly inventory your people’s skills across your organization. Determine the critical skills required to cover the most critical tasks. Identify the workers, managers, and leaders with those skills, and quickly deploy them to where they’re needed most. Use your skills inventory to determine gaps requiring skill development. And then, prepare to train your remaining troops for the new battlefield.
  2. Support your troops by strengthening their skills. Now’s the time to reskill your employees while they work from home. that can be easily digested. Provide opportunities to practice new skills by using simulations and peer-to-peer mentoring. Deploy the best talent to new areas for on-the-job learning. And invest more in employees who’ve demonstrated leadership qualities like curiosity, learning agility, creative problem solving, complex decision making, and effective communication. These individuals can serve as squad leaders.

Create development squads, led by new squad leaders, to share knowledge, collaborate in solving problems, and learn new skills together.

  1. Give your Generals intelligence to lead and engage. Provide talent intelligence to help them make better talent deployment decisions. Create knowledge plans they can share on the fly. Establish an internal talent marketplace, where they can exchange talent and provide new career experiences, including short-term assignments on cross-functional teams.

Offer resources and support that will help leaders:

  • Trust employees who are out of their direct line of sight
  • Openly communicate facts good or bad to reduce uncertainty and fear
  • Acknowledge everyone’s unique talents and value
  • Show compassion amid difficult employment decisions
  1. Re-evaluate your talent technology stack and optimize for now, while laying the gliding path for the future. Consider consolidating your talent platforms to derive more value from them. Ensure your platforms are agile enough to adapt to changes you may need from them in the future. Work with talent technology partners that can innovate, anticipate your needs, and solve hard problems. And leverage those partners that can provide research, data, and trending information that helps you make more proactive and informed talent decisions
  1. 5. Last but not least, monitor the economy and your internal culture. Keep up with what’s happening in your industry, city, country, and the world. Find out how employees and managers are coping, what challenges they’re facing, and the innovation or creative solutions they’re embracing. Learn from talent allies through professional networks that share knowledge.

And remember to take care of yourself.

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