The Biggest Problem In Business TodayDon Cockayne
In an October 2006 cover story, “The Search for Talent,” The Economist reported that finding the right people is the single biggest problem in business today: THESE are heady days for most companies. Profits are up. Capital is footloose and fancy-free. Trade unions are getting weaker. India and China are adding billions of new cheap workers and consumers to the world economy. This week the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a new high. But talk to bosses and you discover a gnawing worry – about the supply of talent.
“Talent” is one of those irritating words that has been hijacked by management gurus. It used to mean innate ability, but in modern business it has become a synonym for brainpower (both natural and trained) and especially the ability to think creatively. That may sound waffly, but look around the business world and two things stand out: the modern economy places an enormous premium on brainpower, and there is not enough to go round.
The best evidence of a “talent shortage” can be seen in high-tech firms. The likes of Yahoo! and Microsoft are battling for the world’s best computer scientists. Google, founded by two brain boxes, uses billboards bearing a mathematical problem: solve it for the telephone number to call. And once you have been lured in, they fight like hell to keep you: hence the growing number of Silicon Valley lawsuits.
I doubt that surprised most readers. The fact is, virtually every manager struggles to find and hire the talent necessary to drive his or her business forward.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all heard the horror stories of the CEO who sank a multibillion-dollar public company, the district manager who allowed his region to fall behind competition, even the executive assistant who couldn’t keep a schedule. Most of us have lived those stories and could add dozens more to the list. Even we ourselves in some cases are the ones who made bad “Who” decisions.
A few years back, my wife and I hired a nanny we’ll call Tammy to look after our children. Unfortunately, I had what my six-year-old calls a “space out moment,” and when I hired her I neglected to apply the methods I’ve written about in all my books, lectures and consulting.
Not many months later, I was on the phone in my home office when I saw my two-year-old running naked down the driveway. I immediately hung upon my client and raced outdoors to stop my daughter before she ran into the street.
Fortunately, the FedEx truck was not barreling up the driveway at that moment. Then I went looking for Tammy to find out what had happened. All she could say was, “Well, it’s hard to keep track of all of the kids.” It is, but, as I explained to her, that’s exactly what she had been hired to do.
Sometimes a “Who” problem can mean life or death.
Geoff is Chairman & Founder of ghSMART. Geoff is co-author, with his colleague Randy Street, of the New York Times bestselling book Who: The A Method for Hiring and the author of the #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) into Government. Geoff co-created the Topgrading brand of talent management. Geoff is the Founder of two 501c3 not-for-pro fit organizations. SMARTKids Leadership Program™ provides 10 years of leadership tutoring and The Leaders Initiative™ seeks to deploy society’s greatest leaders into government. Geoff earned a B.A. in Economics with Honors from Northwestern University, an M.A., and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Claremont Graduate University.