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The war for talent is heating up

The war for talent is heating up

As West Monroe’s CEO, one of my imperatives is to focus on issues that are top of mind for our clients. In my interactions, I see that while we run different businesses, we have a common challenge and priority: the war for talent.

Yes, the competition to attract and retain the best people possible is back again—and it is perhaps bigger and more urgent than ever before. While the news is full of stories about automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, self-driving vehicles, and robotics as disruptive technologies that could alter the workforce in the near future, companies with the best people still win. High-performing and rapid-growth companies like Google, Salesforce, and Tesla do the things necessary to attract and retain talent: they foster best-place-to-work cultures, arm their employees with cutting-edge technology, and drive industry disruption through innovation. They engage their talent in tomorrow’s solutions, not yesterday’s problems.

High-performing, talented people push their organizations forward through their ability not only to innovate and self-motivate, but also have fun while doing it. They are stimulated by the brain candy of instant gratification and natural shots of dopamine when their creativity and hard work are put into practice almost immediately. At West Monroe, our recruiting message to “Accept the Challenge to Better the Best” isn’t just a tag line. Once we hire new talent, we quickly empower them and hold them accountable to their end of that promise.

Mature and traditional companies—for example, the heavy equipment manufacturer or the metal fabricator—need to attract their share of top talent in order to innovate, adapt, and remain competitive. Yet, the creative, nimble, design-thinking, and digital tech workers and college graduates they seek are not lining up at the volumes needed. These workers are opting instead for “flashier” startups, creative agencies, consulting firms, and even traditional industry players with a progressive mindset amid transformational change. For more traditional workplaces to keep pace and ideally outperform competition, that’s a problem. Employers that have difficulty attracting and retaining high-performing talent have a few options: 

Employers that have difficulty attracting and retaining high-performing talent have a few options:

  • Maintain the status quo but ramp up the recruitment marketing. Adding compelling marketing to recruitment messages around compensation, benefits, and visionary statements, together with personal calls from leaders, may help attract the desired talent. But employee retention could become an issue if the core of the business isn’t truly committed to progressive practices, and this inability to keep the talent will feel like a hole in the bottom of the talent bucket.

  • Reinvent the company culture to become people-first. Companies like Google, REI, Salesforce, and even West Monroe earn recognition as a Best Place to Work through people-first cultures steeped in meritocracy, a desire to challenge the status quo of business norms, design-centric workplaces that adapt to different work styles and inspire creativity through collaboration, and opportunities to work alongside other high performers on transformative and innovative programs that see results. That said, a culture overhaul is not cheap or easy. For traditional companies, this requires significant investments—not just top-down speeches, but bottom-up, grassroots rethinking.

  • Borrow (or buy) the talent. Companies unable to acquire these skill sets on their own can also borrow them. Many firms have already built cultures and business processes that attract and retain high performers and make them available to others, who can then tap into this leading-edge talent to evolve and grow. In this scenario, partnerships form and teams blend to work together on high-priority, complex initiatives. This can take the form of outsourcing, strategic alliances, partnerships, and relationships with consulting firms. Although riskier, it is also possible to “purchase” talent and innovation by acquiring startups or smaller firms, and leveraging them as instigators and innovators within the traditional business model.

Which route will you take? Whether you run a cutting-edge technology company or a more traditional manufacturing enterprise, I encourage you to start thinking about this question if you are not already. Talent matters, and your environment, culture, strategy, vision, and resource commitment must not only attract but also retain the best and brightest your organization can support.

We’re interested in hearing about your talent challenges. What issues are you facing to attract and retain talent? What is your strategic plan to address these challenges? I’m happy to discuss anytime!  

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