Are You Ready For War for Talent 2.0?

Get ready for the “New War for Talent.”

Call it something else if you like – maybe the War for Talent 2.0 – but as Lou Adler and others have been warning of and writing about over at ERE, the post recession “War for Talent” may finally be here.

According to a new study by Bersin & Associates, talent shortages are cited as a key business challenge by more than 50 percent of business leaders surveyed for the first time in almost three years — since the beginning of the Great Recession – as attention shifts from cost cutting to things like innovation, skills development, and rebuilding business growth as the economy slowly improves.

Bersin’s most recent research study, TalentWatch®: First Quarter 2011 — Global Growth Creates a New War for Talent, found that more than half of all businesses feel that they are being held back by a lack of talent.

“Talent will play a vital role”

The study also found that while the U.S. and Western European markets are still recovering, organizations in emerging economies in Eastern Europe, China, India are seeing revenues growth rates of 20 percent to 30 percent. This has forced organizations to shift people resources and talent strategies into these economies, and the industries seeing the greatest revenues growth are financial services, manufacturing, transportation, food service and technology.

“We are re-entering a marketplace in which talent will play a vital role,” said Josh Bersin, chief executive officer and president, Bersin & Associates, in a press release that accompanied the survey.

“As businesses have shifted their priorities to focus on new product introductions, growth and acceleration in hiring, HR organizations are focusing on programs to encourage innovation, increase employee engagement and drive individual performance. In fact, 36 percent of HR leaders cite either globalization or expansion as one of their organization’s top two business priorities and 37 percent cite the ‘need to accelerate innovation’ as a top priority for the year.”

To address these business priorities, HR leaders who were surveyed by Bersin list these Top Three “urgent” talent challenges:

  • Creating a performance-driven culture;
  • Filling gaps in the leadership pipeline; and,
  • Developing skills to address product and business challenges.

The “borderless workplace”

In fact, the survey found that skills gaps in supervisory-level and mid-level leadership positions are now becoming a major focus, along with the need to identify and promote emerging talent. Nearly half of all organizations state that they are experiencing difficulty filling key positions – and that’s up from just 35 percent last year.

To address these challenges, Bersin said, “HR organizations are engaging in a ‘war for talent,’ that is different from what we have seen previously.”

This “New War for Talent” is distinguished by what Bersin & Associates calls “the borderless workplace,” an environment in which age, geography, gender and organizational boundaries are disappearing. Companies must immediately address employee and customer satisfaction issues, they say, because these factors will quickly surface on social networks.

And, this new borderless environment, Bersin says, is spurring high-impact HR and learning and development practices to focus on empowerment, knowledge-sharing and use of social networking for recruiting and learning, and building collaborative leadership skills.

Article Continues Below

“Even emerging economies are not the sources of qualified technical talent that they used to be,” Bersin added. “As a result, organizations need to create a dynamic, continuous workforce around the world that can be tapped to meet dynamic business demands.”

What companies need to focus on

The study, which involved interviews with senior business and human resource leaders from more than 130 corporations around the world in a wide variety of industries, is designed to help business and HR leaders understand the changing trends and benchmarks in acquiring, developing and investing in talent with a focus on providing industry-specific, actionable findings.

To combat the unique challenges posed by today’s “borderless” environment, the study found that high-performing companies must focus on:

  • Building deep skills quickly among new employees and senior workers;
  • Actively establishing relationships with prospective employees through employer branding and social networking-based marketing;
  • Implementing integrated talent management software to create internal career mobility and succession plans; and
  • Creating a vibrant, highly empowered work environment that drives performance.

This is an interesting survey, and Bersin & Associates research is first-rate, but count me as one of those who is generally pretty skeptical when it comes to predictions of big shifts in the talent universe.

Ready for “War for Talent 2.o?”

I was one of the ones who didn’t buy the notion of labor shortages back in 2007 and 2008 when everyone was predicting that would happen as the Baby Boomers retired. I called it the “Talent-Shortage Myth” even before the recession kicked in, and all know how those gloom-and-doom predictions turned out, don’t we?

But, this is a VERY different economic environment than we faced back then. Businesses have cut back, frozen, and furloughed their workforces to death – and are now sitting on a pile of cash that they might spend on talent if the economy continues to cooperate.

Bersin’s report is spot-on about what organizations are facing and what they need to do. You can get a copy of TalentWatch®: First Quarter 2011 — Global Growth Creates a New War for Talent, and you should so you can read it and see for yourself. The question is – are businesses REALLY ready to do it and actually start hiring again?

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all ready for a “War for Talent 2.0” Here’s hoping that Bersin’s analysis is right on the money and that the demand for talent is really, finally here.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


11 Comments on “Are You Ready For War for Talent 2.0?

  1. Oh Jesus. Not another war for talent.

    How about this: the war for talent is overstated by HR teams and recruiting professionals who lack the required skills and resources to source for talented people. Also, the inability to fill a position becomes a nice default position & excuse for HR departments/executive teams/companies to miss targets and lower expectations.

    Why would a company do that? Why wouldn’t a company want to fill those positions and exceed expectations? I don’t know. Why do people sabotage themselves? Why do gifted children sabotage themselves? Maybe they’re afraid of failure. Maybe they’re not as amazing/innovative/awesome as they claim — or they’ve been told.

    But anyway, this war for talent strikes me as tone deaf and possibly fake. If we really can’t find the talented people we need, why aren’t we investing more in training and building a talent pipeline? Why do we throw our hands in the air and bemoan the talent landscape and claim that the skills just don’t exist in the marketplace? Why aren’t we demanding more of our recruiting teams and talent management consultants?!

    Like the war on drugs or poverty or or terrorism or cancer, I call bullshit on this war for talent.

    1. Laurie: Like you, I am terribly skeptical about a new “War for Talent,” just as I was skeptical about the talent shortage frenzy back in 2007. I don’t doubt the Bersin survey, nor their analysis, but I do doubt the ability of Corporate America to jump on the hiring bandwagon for anything short of another dotcom-like boom.

      Maybe War of Talent is overstated. Perhaps we’ll only have a “skirmish for talent” instead. Hard to get too excited about that, of course, but so it seems to go in today’s economy.

    2. The conditions Bersin describes are undeniable. The conclusion that successful companies will have to “wage war” in order to succeed is highly debatable. At the end of the day, employers hate to pay a penny more for talent than they have to. It leaves less in the till for the house in Aspen and the timeshare on Antigua. So they will “make do” and enjoy rising profits as the economy recovers and the “rising tide raises all boats.” The truly successful employers, the ones who need not fret when rough times come along, will take the longer term view and make the investment in people because, well, that’s what well-managed companies do. Sadly, however, most American businesses operate on the “better is the enemy of good enough” philosophy of talent management.

    3. People are creative and resourceful and technology is supporting us. And while there may be a shortage in some skills, that is not true for all skills. If the world is in fact borderless then we should figure out how to tap into that massive talent pool instead of focusing our efforts on what is not there. Using off-site skills in combination with automation has greatly increased opportunities for my business. It is not easy and it takes investment, time and attention, and a strong will to succeed but once you get the hang of it, it creates much needed flexibility.

  2. I’m not sure about this, but I am sure that those folks that made it through all the lay off’s are looking to jump ship here very soon. They have been working too hard and without enough support for too long. Less people, more work. That said the War for Talent will more about keeping the talent versus finding them. Training Managers and HR leaders need to start thinking about how to keep their top performers.

  3. The war for the best talent is alway on. The more talented workforce tend to not be on the market for long, which during the recession, gave other companies the opportuity to hire great talent, now these companies just need to be able to keep what they have hired. That’s why recruiting is always challenging and ever-changing no matter what state our economy is in.

  4. American workers will always lose out in any “War for talent” so long as they can pay foreign workers 30% of what you would pay an similarly qualified US worker.

  5. There have been rumblings of a new war for talent since last November, when Google gave its entire staff a 10 percent raise and a year-end bonus. Despite some of the perspectives that this war might be exaggerated, I think we’ll see a full blown war for talent in tech, as social media start-ups continue to grow and established tech companies are working to develop next-gen products and applications.

    The “borderless workplace” is a unique perspective. To be sure, social media is forever changing the way that companies engage and recruit talent, and developing a social media strategy that augments job boards, ensures candidate sourcing and recruitment efforts, and establishes a talent community that can be introduced throughout the organization will only help to position companies to recruit the top talent. You can read more of my thoughts at

  6. After the terrible recession, bring on the challenges of finding a good job. I am glad companies are going to be looking for “talented” people. This is what college is for.

  7. I completely agree with Bersin which is in line with Aberdeen Research Group survey data I presented at the CAI HR Conference on 2/23. I will soon have a summary of my presentation for anyone who wants it. Visit TalentManagementInsititute dot come.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *