It will no longer be about finding people with skills - but about finding people with niche skills
Talent Brands are built with people who have the skills that your organization’s future competitiveness depends on
One of the recent HBR blogs attracted my attention. “Sutherland Global Services, an outsourcing company in Rochester, NY, says it can reduce costs for its clients between 20 per cent and 40 per cent by shifting IT work to a developing economy, but it can reduce costs by up to 70 per cent if it uses automation software coupled with its US-based employees to complete tasks involving high volumes of structured data.” The competition for jobs at the lower end of the skills continuum will face competition not from cheap labor in another country, but from a robot who can do the job flawlessly and more productively. This is a strong signal that shows the industrial economy is making way for a rapidly expanding knowledge economy. It will not be about efficiency, it will only be about innovation and ideas.
While industrial economies thrive with goods and services that are produced efficiently, knowledge economies thrive because of ideas. Look around and everywhere you will see signs of the knowledge economy taking shape. The biggest companies in the world that have come up in the last decade have all been based on big ideas. Facebook, Google and Twitter are all examples of companies that came up in the last decade because their ideas caught the imagination of the world.
In a knowledge economy, the skilled talent who drive innovation become the most sought after. An organization’s ability to attract this highly specialized group of individuals who have those niche skills is what the Talent Brand has to focus on. So, an organization’s success in the knowledge economy lies in being able to build a Talent Brand just as having a great product brand mattered in the older economy.
It is in this context that I wish to differentiate Employer Brand from Talent Brand. When the employees articulate what it is like to work for the employer, they are articulating the Employer Brand. This is an aggregation that cuts across functions, levels and performance parameters.
The Talent Brand is different. Think about the skills your organization will need in the next three years. Which of these will be the game changers for your business? Who are these people who have these skills? Which part of the world are they in? What matters to them when they look for opportunities? Do they even know that you exist? Are they in colleges? Are they working on special projects? The strategy to reach this group is what will be part of the Talent Brand. Talent Brand is future focused. It is driven by the skills that will give the organization a competitive advantage. It is all about making the organization an attractive employer of people with these niche skills no matter which part of the world they are in.
Business is like a Flash Mob
Flash mobs are created when a group of people appear in one location unexpectedly and usually put on some sort of rehearsed performance. They are sudden, unexpected and brief. By the time people have figured it out, they are gone. Business opportunities are increasingly going to resemble flash mobs. In a world, which is coming out of recessions and slowdowns, business growth will be sluggish in most parts of the world. But within that there will be pockets of very high growth.
While the overall growth of the telecom sector may be sluggish, wireless may grow significantly faster than the fixed line business. The growth rate for a continent or a country may be slow but the opportunity of disproportionate growth will often lie within a country or a region or a demographic segment. “Granularity of growth” will mean that the organizations will have to be extremely agile so that they can customize their offering to take advantage of the brief window of opportunity.
Skills will be like Firecrackers
When business opportunities look like flash mobs, then there is a deep implication on how we look at people with those niche skills. It will no longer be about finding people with skills - but about finding people with niche skills. For example, it may not be about finding any lawyer but finding a lawyer specialized in say, immigration laws of a country. Such people may have great value and provide competitive advantage but only for the duration of the project. Like a firecracker, once it is used, it cannot be reused in another part of the business.
Beyond the Familiar
Pankaj Ghemawat, the management guru, calculates that only 12 per cent of the world’s Fortune Global 500 are led by a CEO who hails from a country other than the one in which the company is headquartered. (By contrast, almost 50 per cent of the managers of football clubs in England’s Premier League were born abroad.)
Talent Brands are built with people who have the right skills that you don’t know when you will need. These people will need to know about your company and be interested in working for you. This would mean engaging with freelancers, contractors, third party suppliers and super specialists.
The first task is to know where to find these people. Ask yourself: What are the hotspots where such people hang out? What colleges and schools are offering courses where such people are studying? Are they teaching themselves through a Massive Open Online Course? What kind of projects do they find attractive? Who are their preferred employers? Do they even know you exist? If yes, do they find you attractive?
A company may feature in the list of “Best Employers to Work For” and it may still not be the top choice for say the finance professionals who wish to work in treasury. The same company may struggle to hire top talent with niche skills in one country while being an aspirational Talent Brand in another.
Engaging Talent Communities
The most important piece of engagement lies in listening. If you stumble into a place holding the annual convention for these super specialists, use the time to listen and not pick up a megaphone. Sometimes that will give you strong clues of what motivates the person.
The specialists who are currently employed by you will have a strong bearing on the Talent Brand. Make sure your specialists are the ones their peers look up to as experts. That significantly impacts who you can hire.
Talent Communities know the talent hotspots. A lot of this perception is shaped by influencers in this group. Before you can engage with the group, it is important to engage with the influencers. Before you can engage the influencers, you have to know who they are and what they care about. And know what they say about you. A brand is what they say about you when you are not in the room.