Attracting and retaining the right talent

Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Scott Keller and Mary Meaney for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out other resources, learn more about the firm, obtain subscription information, and register to receive email alerts, please click here.

To learn more about the McKinsey Quarterly, please click here.

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The best workers do the best and the most work. But many companies do an awful job of finding and keeping them.

In the book Leading Organizations, McKinsey senior partners Scott Keller and Mary Meaney address the ten most basic issues facing leaders: attracting and retaining talent, developing the talent you have, managing performance, creating leadership teams, making decisions, reorganizing to capture value quickly, reducing overhead costs for the long term, making culture a competitive advantage, leading transformational change, and transitioning to new leadership roles. This article, drawn from the book’s opening chapter, speaks to the first of these topics. Future articles will deal with reorganizing to capture maximum value quickly and with successfully transitioning to new leadership roles.

Superior talent is up to eight times more productive

It’s remarkable how much of a productivity kicker an organization gets from top talent. A recent study of more than 600,000 researchers, entertainers, politicians, and athletes found that high performers are 400 percent more productive than average ones. Studies of businesses not only show similar results but also reveal that the gap rises with a job’s complexity. In highly complex occupations—the information- and interaction-intensive work of managers, software developers, and the like—high performers are an astounding 800 percent more productive (See Exhibit 1).

Suppose your business strategy involves cross-functional initiatives that would take three years to complete. If you took 20 percent of the average talent working on the project and replaced it with great talent, how soon would you achieve the desired impact? If these people were 400 percent more productive, it would take less than two years; if they were 800 percent more productive, it would take less than one. If a competitor used 20 percent more great talent in similar efforts, it would beat you to market even if it started a year or two later.

You get even more remarkable results comparing the productivity of the top and bottom 1 percent. For unskilled and semiskilled jobs, the top 1 percent are three times more productive; for jobs of middling complexity (say, technicians and supervisors), 12 times more. One person in the top 1 percent is worth 12 in the bottom 1 percent. For high-complexity jobs, the differential is so big it can’t be quantified.

The late Steve Jobs of Apple summed up talent’s importance with this advice: “Go after the cream of the cream. A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.” Management guru Jim Collins concurred: “… the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.”

Great talent is scarce

The term “war for talent” was coined by McKinsey’s Steven Hankin in 1997 and popularized by the book of that name in 2001. It refers to the increasingly fierce competition to attract and retain employees at a time when too few workers are available to replace the baby boomers now departing the workforce in advanced economies.

Fast forward to the wake of the Great Recession, and the war for talent turned into the war for jobs. In economies gripped by financial crises, unemployment hit levels not seen since the early 1980s, so there was no shortage of applicants for many openings. When Walmart launched a new Washington, DC, store in 2013, for example, it received 23,000 applications for 600 positions.

It was harder to get entry-level work there than to be accepted by Harvard: 2.6 percent of Walmart applicants made it through, as opposed to 6.1 percent for the Ivy League university.

Yet this didn’t end the war for talent. In medium- and higher-complexity positions, where stronger performers have an increasingly disproportionate bottom-line impact, the opposite was true. In those uncertain times, gainfully employed talent became less likely to change employers, so people who had an advantage going into the crisis had an even bigger one. Further, pressure to reduce HR costs made it harder to identify and attract the most talented people. Everything suggests that the war for talent will rage on. “Failure to attract and retain top talent” was the number-one issue in the Conference Board’s 2016 survey of global CEOs—before economic growth and competitive intensity (Exhibit 2). In more complex jobs, this will continue to be true as baby boomers (and their long experience) exit the workforce and technology demands more sophisticated skills.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

 

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