Article: The war for talent and the future of work

Strategic HR

The war for talent and the future of work

The future of work continues to change as we build it, but one thing seems very likely to remain the same for years to come – the war for talent. Here are some principles from the past that will serve well in the ambiguity of the future.
The war for talent and the future of work

Have you read “On War” by Carl von Clausewitz, 1832? Probably not. But it is interesting because everyone seems to love the analogy of the difficulty of acquiring and retaining talent with the challenges of war.

Carl von Clausewitz was a young Prussian major, who fought in battles immediately preceding Waterloo in 1815. Those experiences shaped the way he thought about warfare. He later became a general and a military theorist. Clausewitz argued that war could not be waged successfully merely as a logistical exercise. He argued that war demanded rapid, quality decision-making by those in command – responding promptly to unexpected events that arise in the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of war. Sound familiar?

Clausewitz’s work helped form the basis of military doctrine and what is now known as the Principles of War. These principles of war are ignored or forgotten at the peril of commanders and leaders; indeed, most military failures can be attributed, at least in part, to a failure to understand or apply them. And so it is in business – managers and leaders who apply researched, robust, and tested principles avoid failure and achieve success. Most of those who don’t apply the principles fall by the wayside.

So, as we are addicted to the metaphor that recruiting top talent is a war, it is worth exploring the Principles of War and extracting apposite lessons from them for business. Various countries have adopted slightly different numbers, names, and descriptions for these principles but they are all extremely similar. Here we review the most common model of 10 principles and link them to a sound business approach.

Select and maintain a clear aim

No business has ever grown from an idea to success without a clear and decisive purpose. That aim must then pervade the organisation’s culture. A Clear Aim provides a focus for all actions, processes and endeavours; it’s the overriding principle and it’s the reference against which to test decisions and gauge progress. In simple terms, if you want to attract, develop, and retain top talent, they will want to know your WHY – what you stand for and what it will mean for them. Define your mission (why you exist) and your vision (what that look will like when achieved). 

Maintain morale

Organisations whose workforces have poor morale lack sustainability, find it hard to add value and struggle to motivate their staff. Conversely, organisations in which morale is high are far more productive, are more agile, and have a ‘passion to win’. Yes, morale is powerful - it is the intangible fuel that permeates and drives successful organisations. But, it also acts as a magnet for new talent. Organisations with great morale do not have to tell that to potential candidates – the candidates come because they have heard about it from others. Social proof will drive candidates to you.

The offence is better than the defence

It is easy to adopt a perspective that you need to emulate or even defend yourself against other organisations. But offence is the practical way in which an organisation most easily gains an advantage, sustains momentum, and seizes the initiative.

You need a mindset of internal entrepreneurship – proactively identifying opportunities and striving to take advantage of them. This positive state of mind creates prompt action rather than a reluctant reaction. Offensive action implies a robust, incisive - but not necessarily aggressive - approach to competition, opportunities, and the protection of assets. It benefits from a culture that inspires creativity, innovation, and courage.

Don’t get distracted trying to emulate, compete with, or catch up with other organisations. Simply go on the offensive – set out your stall clearly, boldly, and loudly as to why you are the best employer for those you target.


Security is the creation and maintenance of an operating environment that allows managers and leaders the freedom of action to achieve objectives. Underpinning security is a profound understanding of comprehensive risk management. It is a judicious mix of legal, financial, and procedural actions to ensure that assets are protected and that individuals have the freedom to create value in the business. 

Top talent wants to know that, if they join you, they will be equipped, enabled, and encouraged to use their abilities to the fullest. Make that clear!


Surprise is a market winner. It comes in many forms but can be exemplified in consumer-relevant innovation that takes the market unawares and reshapes the environment to the benefit of the business. So, to attract top talent you need to demonstrate a culture of creativity, innovation, and courage.

But, your organisation should also expect to be surprised themselves, whether by competitors, pandemics, international supply chain issues, financial instability, or something more obscure. You need to demonstrate your ability to spot, manage, and even capitalise on risks. 

Concentration of force

The concentration of Force involves the decisive, synchronised, and effective application of assets to realise specific outcomes. It requires organisations to understand their core business strengths and the processes that allow them to engage with their market in an agile manner. It requires leaders to know when, how, and where to apply assets, irrespective of organisational hierarchies and policies. 

Top talent wants to know that you concentrate on success, not bureaucracy, structures, and status. They want to know that the use of their talent will be focused on achieving success.

Economy of effort

The economy of effort is the judicious exploitation of manpower, materials, and influence about the achievement of objectives. It is not necessarily about making things simple - it is about making them easy, effective, and least demanding.

The economy of effort is best summarised as the right tool in the right place, at the right time, leading to the right result. Do your talent attraction, selection, and recruitment process convey a passion for efficiency and effectiveness?


Agility is about being adaptable and flexible. It also comprises versatility, responsiveness, resilience, and acuity. Employees are encouraged to think creatively, be resourceful, and be imaginative – especially in the face of the unexpected – and to demonstrate a ‘can-do’ attitude. Do your talent attraction, selection, and recruitment process send that message?


The collaboration includes, but is more than, simple teamwork. It includes sharing of dangers, burdens, risks and opportunities in every respect. It relies on three related elements: a common aim, a clear division of responsibilities (including an understanding of, and compensation for, the capabilities and limitations of others), and mutual respect and trust. Do your talent attraction, selection, and recruitment process get that message across?


Sustainability has two dimensions. First, what is your organisation doing to maximise sustainability e.g., attention to carbon footprint, recycling, reducing the use of plastics? Second, what is your organisation doing to maximise its sustainability? Do your talent attraction, selection, and recruitment process demonstrate that you have strategic management who are focused beyond the short-term stakeholder demands and on ways of ensuring long-term success?

If we are truly in a war for talent, then we need to think strategically about how we can win that war. The ten principles of war provide a framework against which to assess and correct our talent attraction, selection, and recruitment communications, processes, and logistics. How well do your organisation’s talent attraction, selection, recruitment processes, logistics, and communications compare with those principles?

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Topics: Strategic HR, #GuestArticle, #Future of Work

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