'War for talent' should be fought on the inside

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2001, 12:00am

Staff Reporter

Hidden Value

By Charles O'Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer

Published by Harvard Business School Press

Every great company worth its name has one thing in common. They all value their employees, right from the floor worker to the top grade personnel - just ask any human resources expert.

The 'war for talent' is one battle every company believes it should be waging, especially in such a tough corporate climate.

But while a number of companies tend to chase after the same 'hot-shot' individuals, the smart companies are doing something infinitely more useful and far more difficult to emulate. They are building organisations that make it possible for ordinary people at every desk and cubicle in their companies to perform as if they were stars.

You do not think this is possible? Certainly you have worked at, or at least seen, companies that are filled with smart, motivated, hard working, decent people who nevertheless do not perform very well because the company does not let them shine and does not really capitalise on their talent and motivation.

Taking a contrary tack to the prevailing wisdom that companies must chase and acquire top talent in order to remain successful, Hidden Value argues instead that the source of sustained competitive advantage already exists within every organisation.

In the first chapter, the authors discuss 'The Right People or the Right Organisation'. They insist that the most important factor for success in today's knowledge-based economy is the ability to attract and retain great people.

The authors point out that in the new economy competition is global, capital is abundant, ideas are developed quickly and cheaply and people are willing to change jobs often.

'In that kind of environment all that matters is talent. Talent wins,' say Charles O'Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer.

In the chapters that follow, the authors detail some companies that have succeeded even though they have not adhered to the conventional strategic wisdom for their industries and even though they have faced difficult, challenging, competitive conditions.

The authors suggest that these companies achieved an extraordinary level of success with people who are not that much different or smarter than those working for the competition.

These companies have won the war for talent not just by being great places to work - although they are that - but by figuring out how to get the best out of all of their people, everyday.

In a sense, they have not out-recruited other companies - they have left the competition in the dust by being better at unleashing the energy and talent of the people they have. The book is a topical one in the current tough economic situation, when most companies think that reducing the head count is the surest way out of the downturn.