All Articles Leadership How yesterday’s war for talent is still causing trouble

How yesterday’s war for talent is still causing trouble

3 min read


A few years ago, one of my favorite long-standing clients made a very stupid hire.  The best thing that could have been said for this new guy’s competence was that he knew how to spell his name. The worst thing that could be said was that he made up for his incompetence with arrogance and abusive behaviors — especially toward the women on the team.  As an employee engagement consultant, I felt it was my duty to pose this grounded, considered and somewhat technical question to my client:  “What the hell?”

His answer:  “We needed someone in that role right away. And, Martha, talent doesn’t exactly fall out of the trees these days. We have to take what we can get.”  (Which begs the question: So why was this guy in the job market anyway? The answer was painfully obvious.)

This particular hire would have been my direct contact with this organization.  And his abusiveness was such that I couldn’t work with him.  So I bowed out — as did many of the women on the team. The organization lost talent, but gained a schmo.  The schmo is still there and the organization’s overall reputation among its customers has plummeted.

Fast forward to yesterday. I received a phone call from a friend in tears.  This woman is a rock star in her field, but even rock stars find themselves out of work every now and then.  So she’s been working her substantial network to land her next spot.  A promising match fell through the cracks because the hiring manager (who needs her badly) passively (aggressively) allowed her candidacy to slip through his fingers.  “I’ll call you by ….” was only the latest of a long string of broken promises.

My friend did a little bit of sleuthing behind the scenes. And she got this little bit of insight from those who work with him (including, shockingly, his own boss):  The hiring manager prefers to surround himself with people dumber than him, not smarter.

How is it that this guy still has his job when he has a track record of letting really great talent get away?

I can only come to the same conclusion: Just a few years ago, the “war for talent” was such that fogging a mirror would net you a job offer.  And shockingly, many of those people still have their jobs — while fantastic people have lost theirs.

This is a great time to take a fresh look at your options. Great talent really is dropping out of trees these days. And the people you have on board may be talented at only one thing: keeping their jobs. If your company is either laying people off, or staffing up again (or both), take a hard, fresh look at exactly who is making those decisions, what their own performance is, and when they were hired.  You don’t want your company’s future to be in the hands of schmos who make stupid staffing decisions based on their incompetence or insecurity.

If they are part of the “war for talent” generation, and their performance has been historically lackluster, it’s time to spine up and do the right thing.

Martha Finney, president and CEO of Engagement Journeys, helps companies build authentically engaging workplace cultures.  She is the author of more than 15 books, including The Truth About Getting the Best From People.

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