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Review: When talent calls the shots

"Winning the Talent Wars: How to manage and compete in the high-tech, high-speed, knowledge-based, superfluid economy"
By Bruce Tulgan
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 221 pages, 2001

graphic

In this story:

Glimpses of the future

Leaner, not meaner

Keeping valued employees

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



(CNN) -- In September, CNN.com/career reviewed "The Good News About Careers" by Barbara Moses, who wrote that workers need to be flexible, adaptable and self-reliant in order to manage their careers in a rapidly changing workforce.

  QUICK VOTE
graphic Is your company ready to give up "feudal management" and learn to accommodate talented workers, as Bruce Tulgan recommends?

Yes, my company is on board with this and understands the changing workplace.
Getting there. My company has a way to go but grasps the concept and is exploring adjustments.
No. I still work in Feudal Corporate America where most staffers are full-time and considered little more than property of the company-state.
View Results

Now we have the same book but with a management slant in Bruce Tulgan's forthcoming "Winning the Talent Wars." Norton is to release the book on January 22, 2001 -- orders can be place in advance at most bookstores and book-selling Web sites.

If Moses' book was unsettling to some rank-and-file workers -- job security is an anachronism, she says -- then Tulgan's work may have the same effect on managers. They, like the people they oversee, need to be mentally malleable and willing to operate differently in the past if their companies are to thrive in the new economy, he writes.

"The norm will be to work for several employers; on again, off again; as an employee one year, as an independent contractor the next year; 40 hours one week, 20 hours another; on-site this month, telecommuting the next; and so on," Tulgan writes.

"Employers will still get all the work done very well and very fast, but they'll do so using a staffing mix comprised of just a few core-groupers and a majority of individuals pulled in for short-term engagements from the organization's fluid-talent pool.

"Staffing is destined to be a perpetual challenge in the new economy."

Glimpses of the future

Tulgan has the credentials to wax philosophic on this subject. He's the founder of Rainmaker Thinking Inc., a research and consulting firm aimed at examining the working lives of those born after 1963. The author of "Managing Generation X," he has been retained as a consultant by a number of Fortune 500 companies.

"Winning the Talent Wars" is an easy read largely free of obtuse corporate jargon (but Bruce, please don't ever use the alleged verb disincentivise again). And it's rich in examples of companies and institutions, old and new, that have been innovative in employee relations.

•   Public relations behemoth Ketchum Inc. (29 offices around the world and $125 million in annual revenue) maintains a vast network of contacts in every phase of the PR business. When a new piece of business comes into the agency, the firm creates the best team possible for the needs of each job, in-house, via the use of free-lancers or both. Ketchum calls this its "Best Teams" strategy.

The free-agent mind-set: "This powerful dynamic continues to transform the employer-employee relationship from one that was feudal to one that is essentially market-driven."
— Bruce Tulgan, "Winning the Talent Wars"

•   The CIA offers one-year sabbaticals to some of its agents who are considering leaving. Those who do leave may still be tapped for their expertise on an as-needed basis. "Indeed, it is common practice for the CIA to keep the security clearance of former agents long after they leave the agency so they can accept missions on an occasional basis," Tulgan writes. "Why? In order to maximize their massive training investment and, even more critical, to give the individual a strong personal incentive to maintain the integrity of the proprietary information in her brain."

•   Publix Supermarkets loses roughly one-third of its 60,000 full-time employees every year, but hires many of them back later. The company also fills all management jobs from within its ranks. "And in 71 years of business, they've never lost a corporate officer to another company," Tulgan writes.

"Successful organizations in the new economy will have very strong and very lean core groups, while they get more and more of the work done by tapping large, robust pools of fluid talent."

Leaner, not meaner

This is essential to success, Tulgan argues, because the new economy is entering its third phase. The first phase featured downsizing, restructuring and reengineering. That was followed by the "free-agent mind-set" in which workers began looking out for themselves first in the absence of job security.

  MESSAGE BOARD
graphic "A person's willingness to conform to arbitrary parameters is not a good criterion for selecting talent or allocating rewards," Bruce Tulgan writes in "Winning the Talent Wars.' "The best people are worth accommodating. Scheduling flexibility is the single greatest non-financial tool -- and the number-one dream-job factor -- at your disposal for winning battles in the talent wars. Use it." So tell us: Is the company you're working for downsizing sensibly? -- hanging onto its really good people, developing creative and lasting relationships with workers it outsources tasks to? Or are you in a corporation that still downsizes by slashing and burning staff and hasn't yet caught on to the end of feudalism?
 

"In phase three ... this powerful dynamic continues to transform the employer-employee relationship from one that was feudal to one that is essentially market-driven," Tulgan asserts.

What this means, Tulgan says, is that smart companies and their managers will outsource as much of their work as possible. They will negotiate with employees in the same manner as they do with outside vendors.

"Whatever you don't outsource, you'd better be great at," Tulgan writes. "Before we're through, you might be the only 'employee' left in your business."

Like Ketchum, Tulgan writes, companies need to be able to hire top talent with a variety of skills from outside their environs. To do this requires an accurate list of these free-lancers and independent contractors with detailed notes about their skills and track records.

Because successful companies in the new economy will be so lean, it's more important than ever that in-house employees be top-notch, Tulgan argues. And if they are, be resigned to losing them, because their skills will be coveted by competitors or they'll work for themselves. If they leave on good terms, keep it that way, Tulgan advises, because they may be of value to you again.

Special flex-time working arrangements:"People are so thrilled, usually, to customize their work arrangements that they become very protective of the deal they've created for themselves."
— Bruce Tulgan, "Winning the Talent Wars"

"Maybe in the time they've been gone, they'll have discovered that the grass isn't so much greener on the other side," he writes. "In some cases, before long, they'll be angling to get rehired again as full-timers. If you are smart, you'll let people flow back into your core group as easily as you let them flow out."

Keeping valued employees

Tulgan also points out that it's in management's interest to adopt policies and provide specific perks to valued employees. Happy employees are more productive employees and less likely to become ex-employees.

Workers who want more flexibility in work hours or days or changes in their working environment should be accommodated when possible, with the proviso that managers tie these perks to performance, Tulgan says.

graphic
Bruce Tulgan  

"Expand your repertoire of rewards and start using every resource you have to drive performance," he advises.

"A person's willingness to conform to arbitrary parameters is not a good criterion for selecting talent or allocating rewards," Tulgan adds. "The best people are worth accommodating.

"Scheduling flexibility is the single greatest non-financial tool -- and the number-one dream-job factor -- at your disposal for winning battles in the talent wars. Use it."

Tulgan acknowledges this can backfire sometimes. An employee allowed to work at home, for example, may founder in such new-found freedom.

"But that almost never happens," Tulgan writes. "People are so thrilled, usually, to customize their work arrangements that they become very protective of the deal they've created for themselves."

graphic

 

RELATED STORIES:
Hiring and firing in America
November 27, 2000
Working your degree: Business
October 20, 2000
Oh, grow up! -- kids in the conference room
September 29, 2000
Review: O, brave new TempWorld
September 29, 2000
That's 'Ms. Gal' to you, buddy -- women lead among younger managers
September 29, 2000

RELATED SITES:
The CIA
American Management Association
Ketchum's "Best Teams" program
Publix
Rainmaker Thinking
Society for Human Resource Management


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