In 1997, all that time ago, McKinsey consultants published a book coining the term ‘The War For Talent’. Back then, the economy hadn’t got back on its feet after the recession of the early nineties. They predicted that there would be a shortage of skills in some emerging and specialist areas, particularly the sort needed for the booming internet sector.
As we emerge slowly from the latest downturn, it appears that there is, once again, the potential for a war for talent. Looking at what’s happened since 2008, it seems as if businesses having been holding their breath. We’ve seen massive redundancies, little or no skills development and a very slow recruitment market.
So what’s happened in the meantime? Well, of course the lack of jobs has meant that many have taken a long hard look at their careers, and regardless of whether they have been forced into looking at self employment or have chosen to work for themselves. Either way, the core job market will never be the same again.
The critical issue is that some of that talent is lost forever to the permanent jobs market. After all, if you are talented and have the confidence and skills to go it alone, why would you put your career in the hands of someone else again? That talent is increasingly residing here in the independent workforce, out of the rat race and out of play to all but those businesses who know where to find these individuals.
Don’t get me wrong. As the permanent jobs become available again, there will be plenty of takers for them. The question is, whether the kinds of skills that companies now need are going to be available in that pool. Since the financial crisis really bit in 2008, many companies have been holding out and steady, but everything has been changing around them. And that means that there’s quite a bit of catching up to do.
Slow but fast – the new business as usual
The conditions that companies find themselves in pose a set of circumstances different from anything in the past. Some of the challenges they face will now never go away. They’ll become normal. It is highly unlikely that we are going to see a return to the kind of growth of the Noughties and yet, technological and social change will keep on happening.
So that’s an immense challenge for companies.
What this means for businesses
The twin threats of slow growth and fast change make running a company radically different. It’s not clear how prepared many business owners are for this. To grow in a way that ensures the business gets or stays ahead, you need an entrepreneurial mindset as a business, one that spots opportunities or creates them. That’s a challenge for many businesses that are either too busy keeping afloat, or too married to business as usual.
Fast change creates even more issues. As soon as you recruit a specialist, you need yet another one to deal with the latest developments. And they don’t come cheap.
This is the new war for talent. Agility is now required and that’s where the potential for the independent workforce comes in.
How independents will help companies stay agile
The kind of talent that is now needed to deal with this level of complexity, ambiguity and scale is the kind that relishes change and and finds inspiration in chaos. These types take everything in their stride. They have the ability to operate effectively surrounded by disruption and they are naturally productive. They might even bring a positive level of disruption to the business that creates the shockwaves that enable the cultural sea change to happen.
We are seeing the largest ever growth in the numbers of so called ‘grey entrepreneurs’, those who have given up on the corporate rat race and turned to designing their own careers and businesses. So before writing off the over 40’s as reactionaries in the new world, we need to harness their potential to deal with the kind of changes described above. What they lack in digital native skills, they amply make up for in experience.
But it’s also businesses’ ability to stay agile that will keep them ahead of the game. Drawing on the independent workforce, businesses can bring in specialist talent on an ad hoc basis, plugging gaps for as long as they are needed, but also to shine a light on their current processes and ways of working to challenge ingrained thinking and cultures.
Across the globe, we are starting to see ‘flock teams’, which are groups of freelancers coming together for a project and then floating off to the next. They are no less committed, but they don’t carry the overheads of permanent staff. And whilst they relish the continual challenge, they don’t want the company trappings.
So all in all, there is huge potential for new models of working that allow people to work in ways that suit them and at the same time allow companies to remain agile and fit for the future. It’s an exciting time to be freelancing!