Of the Need to Gather Talent

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Of the Need to Gather Talent


There is nothing new about companies wanting to secure the best talent. General Electric (GE) carefully ranks its employees, with the best groomed for leading positions and the weakest eased out. In the mid-1950s it launched its corporate university at Crotonville near New-York, often dubbed Harvard-on-the –Hudson. Jack Welch, the company’s legendary boss, spent half his time on “people development” and visited Crotonville every two weeks. As for investment banks and consultancies, they have to be obsessive about talent: what else are they selling?

But now something new is in the air. Thanks to a hyper-competitive labour market, professional service firms have become more preoccupied with talent than ever; and even companies in more mundane businesses have begun to think that they cannot manage without it.

The 1990s were a time of galloping growth for professional-service firms. Headlong expansion has created serious problems for them. They have to work harder to woo potential recruits, particularly potential stars, not just from each other but also from high-tech companies. And they have to turn their recruits into company men in double-quick time. This has made them to pay even more attention to talent.

Goldman-Sachs, for example, underwent a wide-ranging internal review in 1999, complete with benchmarking against industry leaders. It increased its emphasis on formal training, setting up a Goldman Sachs University, and encouraged senior partners to put more effort into developing talent. Companies try to fine-tune their talent machine and rejig their internal organizations to appeal to well-qualified young people.

Managing talent has become more important to a much wider range of companies than it used to be. One result has been that human-resources departments, which used to be quiet backwaters, have gained in status

Talent-intensive companies have provided both a model and a training school for the corporate world. They show what a difference the application of talent can make to a sleepy market. GE is America’s CEO factory: when MR Welch chose Jeffrey Immelt to succeed him in 2001, two of his disappointed rivals, Bob Nardelli and Jim McNerney, were immediately snapped up by Home Depot and 3M respectively. It is also an inspiration: there are now 1,600 corporate universities loosely modeled on Crotonville.

To-do list

Companies are now beginning to gain insights into managing talent that should allow them to tackle the problem in a more organized way. The first rule is to think more carefully about their critical talent. Deloitte, a consultancy, offers a useful example of how UPS reduced the turnover rate among the people who drive its trucks and deliver its packages. Big Brown had found that even though it selected its drivers with great care, turnover was uncomfortably high, mainly because drivers hated the back-breaking work of loading the trucks in the morning. So the company contracted out this job to part-timers who are much easier to find than drivers.

Second, it is essential to plan ahead. EDS, a giant technology company, has built a global skills inventory of its 100,000-strong workforce. The company compared the workforce’s current skills with its future needs and set about filling the gaps by encouraging workers to acquire the relevant skills. Schlumberger, a Franco-American oil-services group, is preparing for an expected skills shortage in the next few years by asking its managers to cultivate successors, and holding rigorous inquests when a high-flyer jumps ship.

Third, companies need to be more imaginative about recruiting and retaining talent. That includes paying more attention to “passive candidates” – those who are not actively looking for a job but might be open to seduction. Popular techniques include going through lists of people attending conferences in order to buttonhole stars, buying information about competing firms (including names of key workers) and searching the web for people who have created new patents.

High attrition rates in the first few months have also persuaded companies to pay more attention to keeping new recruits on board. In the late 1990s American Express found that far too many of its new managers were leaving within the first two years. It now gives them a chance to work on projects that are overseen by CEO, as well as providing them with “assimilation coaches”. Companies are also cultivating relations with former alumni. Ernest& Young, a consultancy, fills about a quarter of its vacancies from this source.

The fourth rule is to create internal market for talent. Many HR departments instinctively look outside. Deloitte calculates that the typical American company spends nearly 50 times more to recruit a professional on $100,000 than it spends on his or her further training every year. Moreover, new recruits can take more than a year to learn a job. One solution is to establish an internal market, encouraging workers to apply for jobs across the company.

One difficulty with implementing these ideas is that there is no consensus about who is responsible for managing talent. If the CEO is in charge, he may well be distracted by too many other responsibilities; if it is the head of HR, he may lack the institutional heft to get much done.

Herding cats

Nor, indeed, is there a consensus on the best way to manage talent. Part of the problem is that HR as a discipline has not achieved anything like the level of sophistication of, say, finance. But more importantly, the more valuable the talent, the more difficult it is to manage. In business, as everywhere else, world-class talent sometimes comes in unexpected guises. Ray Krock sold milkshake machines to restaurants before starting to build McDonald’s at the age of 52. David Ogilvy was a chef, a farmer and a spy before becoming an advertising genius.

And solutions that proved successful in one place do not necessarily work in another. On arriving at Home Depot in 2000, Mr. Nardelli was determined to apply the lessons he had learned at GE to reinvigorate the DIY giant. He appointed a colleague from GE, Dennis Donovan, to run the HR side, and boosted his credentials by paying him the second-highest salary in the company. He replaced the company’s ad hoc talent-management system with a much more formal one, creating a leadership development institute, employing more human-resource managers and imposing an elaborate system of performance measurement. But the results have been mixed. Home Depot’s share price is now somewhat lower than it was when Mr. Nardelli took over. Wal-Mart and Lowe’s are providing stiff competition. And there is widespread disgruntlement about Mr. Nardelli’s giant pay package. Demoralized employees have taken to calling the company “Home Despot”.

Still, Mr. Nardelli’s record is unlikely to discourage other companies from trying to find ways to get on top of the problem. They are motivated by a powerful combination of fear and hope: fear of talent shortages and hope that they can be turned into a source of competitive advantage. Those hopes often involve shopping for talent in the developing world.

The Economist


1. . recruit новый член или участник



to recruit вербовать, набирать (сотрудников)

recruiter специалист по найму новых работников

recruiting organization агентство по найму

2. to fine-tune (a machine, economy) настраивать, совершенствовать;


3. well-qualified (syn. highly-qualified) высококвалифицированный

4. turnover 1). товарооборот

to reduce (boost, increase turnover

labour (staff) turnover 2). текучесть рабочей силы

high (rapid, low ) turnover

5. to contract out to smb (syn. to outsource) отдавать на субподряд

6. attrition убыль (персонала); отсев (сотрудников)

7. alumnus (pl. alumni) выпускник (университета, учебного



I. Suggest the Russian for the following:

  1. to ease smb out
  2. more mundane businesses
  3. to woo potential recruits
  4. talent-intensive companies
  5. two of his rivals were snapped up by Home Depot and 3M
  6. to buttonhole smb


II. Give the English for the following:

  1. готовить преемника
  2. искать в интернете
  3. развивать отношения
  4. влияние сотрудника, обусловленное его положением в компании
  5. составлять жёсткую конкуренцию
  6. общее недовольство


III. Paraphrase the words and expressions in bold type:

  1. …human-resources departments, which used to be quiet backwaters
  2. holding rigorous inquests when a high-flyer jumps ship

3 …those who might be open to seduction

IV. Give synonyms to the words in bold type:

Headlong expansion; to rejig an organization; a sleepy market; Big Brown


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