Fighting the War for Talent is Hazardous to Your Organization's Health

Fighting the War for Talent is Hazardous to Your Organization's Health

2001Working Paper No. 1687

Because we live in an economy in which all work is becoming knowledge work and in which intellectual capital is important for company success and, indeed, its value in the capital markets, there is an assumption that the company with the best talent wins. This war for talent imagery overlooks the fact that it is often the case that effective teams often outperform even more talented collections of individuals, that individual talent and motivation is partly under the control of what companies do, and that what matters to organizational success is the set of management practices that create the culture. But it is not just that the war for talent is the wrong metaphor for organizational success. Fighting the war for talent itself can cause problems. Companies that adopt a talent war mind set often wind up venerating outsiders and downplaying the talent already inside the company, set up competitive, zero sum dynamics that makes internal learning and knowledge transfer difficult, activate the self-fulfilling prophecy in the wrong direction, and create an attitude of arrogance instead of an attitude of wisdom. For all of these reasons, even fighting the war for talent may be hazardous to an organizations health and detrimental to doing the things that will make it successful.