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The Talent War That Wasn't?

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Feb 13, 2006 11:33:00 AM

Everyone knows that with the Boomers retiring, educational standards going down the drain, populations shrinking, the dawn of a global workforce etc. that we are on the cusp of a "war for talent." I'm not going to bother linking to posts. It's like giving directions to a tourist in Boston who asks where to find an Irish pub: just wander around, they're everywhere.

But what if it wasn't so? There's nothing worse for your business than a universally-held assumption. The assumption here is that in 5, 10, and 15 years it will take us just as many product marketing managers to put a bottle of dishwashing detergent on the shelf as it does today. Bad assumption.

Economics teaches us that there are two means of production: labor and capital. Labor can be deployed quickly and with low upfront cost (compared to capital), but capital can be much cheaper over the long haul. Imagine, if you will, that the government raised the minimum wage to $20 an hour. Dishwashers working in restaurants would be elated, right up to the point that the manager installed a dishwashing machine. As the price of labor rises, so do the incentives to replace it with capital.

"But there's no such thing as a product marketing manager machine!

We all understand the capital-labor equation when talking about things like factory robots and dishwashing machines, but we don't need to replace the whole worker specifically to reduce the need for labor generally. It is true that we cannot replace emotion, judgment, feel, creativity, and intuition with software or machines. But how much of our time is spent in these deeply-focused and innately human tasks? How much of our time is spent merely coordinating, aligning calendars, responding to unnecessary emails, and the like?

For many of us, the answer is "far too much." In larger companies, it is not unusual to find people who do little else, and yet they are essential because there is currently no other way. At least no other easy way. But the reward is very clear: if you reduce the unnecessary workload of a group of people by 10%, you will need fewer of them to begin with. No robots, but fewer product marketing managers.

Today, all the talk I hear in HR about dealing with the crunch ahead is focused on the "supply side:" more advertising, more recruiting, higher salaries, turnover reduction, etc. Once again, fine so far as it goes. But these are tactical responses. The strategic response to the talent war is to reduce your company's need for talent in the first place.

Want to know more? Once again, Jeff Hunter hits the nail on the head