The WAR For Talent Is...OVER?

by Rhoad, Todd Thursday, March 18, 2010
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Many high achievers still fail to recognize the need for skills beyond their own technical ability. A hard charging attitude coupled with a graduate degree isn’t sufficient. While they see themselves as real talent, they fail to see that the needs of industry are continually evolving. The battle for technical skill alone is over. We’ve stepped off that field and have engaged a foe of the social nature.

You’ve just spent that last two years struggling to complete your MBA, work a full time job and raise your family. You’ve built some great skills that should make you extremely successful in your company. You can do almost anything. In fact, you feel more qualified than your own boss. Yet, opportunity always stays one step ahead of you.

Don’t organizations want people who can move mountains? Wouldn’t everyone like a team full of high performers, like Kobe Bryant? That would make winning a lot easier.

Yet when you look around for advice on how to find success, experts are always promoting the personal side, such as personal identity and personal branding. Sure, we understand the value of these things, but is this where corporate business has come? Is talent of little value nowadays?

Marshall Goldsmith recently posted an article today on BusinessWeek entitled “Becoming Who You Want To Be.” First, I think Marshall is a great success (can’t argue with that) and a great coach. But I find it interesting that he is telling us that our identity can be holding us back from achieving our desired success. I would think that we would focus more on becoming a great performer, learning the skills that make us great at our job. You know, the technical stuff, not the social stuff.

Maybe we’ve progressed the average level of knowledge, skills and ability to the point where it is no longer an issue of concern. Just about anyone we hire will have sufficient ability to do the job. That’s real progress we can be proud of. Now, the issue becomes one of hiring people who get along with the other people in the company.

In 2005, Harvard Business Review released an article titled “Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools and the formation of Social Networks” by Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo. Their study showed that if people have the option to work with a competent jerk or a lovable fool, they’ll choose to work with the lovable fool.

I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t we in a capitalistic society? Isn’t it one of survival of the fittest, where the best competitor wins? Just imagine you own a professional basketball team. It’s important to have talent. Just having a bunch of average players that work well together may not be sufficient to win games. Makes sense, right? Well, managers don’t run companies like a basketball team.

Companies could create such star performing teams, usually called Virtuoso teams, but they choose not to because they are difficult to manage. Just think back when Kobe Bryant started in the NBA. Did he have an attitude problem or what? He was good and he knew it. It was tough to be on the same team with him. Bill Fischer and Andy Boynton suggest, from their July-August 2005 article in the Harvard Business Review, that these teams are just too difficult to manage.

The message here isn’t whether the philosophy of hiring for likeability is right or wrong, or even if it makes sense. It’s insight into what people want. Since people run companies, that’s important information to have, especially if you want to be successful.

Dan Schwabel, author of Me 2.0, defines four keys to personal branding relationships: mutualism, targeting, giving, and reconnecting. Looking at these four factors, you realize that they have little to do with your own technical ability and everything to do with social skills. Maybe employers assume you are coming in the door with sufficient technical skills. But can you deal with people?

Businesses are run by people and people are social animals. We follow fads, trends and the latest crazes. Maybe this drive for social perfection is a result of the transition to a service economy. We spend more time talking with other employees, vendors, suppliers and customers, so we need people who are good at it.

Spending the time and effort to develop your own technical skills is a great thing to do and will serve you well. However, it may not be the driving force behind your success. If you’re a hard driving success junkie, you may want to consider these few tips.

1. Understand where to use your abilities. Technical skills are good for solving technical problems. Don’t try to use them as the prime mover of your career. Most upper echelons in organizations are not highly technical people, so they don’t understand it as well and aren’t easily impressed with it. The people at the top levels of companies manage relationships, with their own people and their customers. You should learn to do that too.

2. Accept the fact that you’ve got more to learn. I spent 14 years in college (and yes I graduated a few times). I felt I knew everything I needed to know about my job. But every job along the ladder to the corner office requires demonstration of their own specific talents. Realizing that I didn’t have all of those was a kick to my ego. Be open-minded and learn these new skills.

3. Seek help from others and offer yours. It’s very easy to give in to your own ego and try to learn your way up the ladder. I’m not saying it can’t be done but it turns out to be the long way up. The people above you have learned a thing or two; hence, the reason they are there and you aren’t. Gain their support and advice. If you can help make their job and life easier by using those superior technical skills you’ve honed over the years, they will reciprocate.

4. Have fun. Too many high achievers focus too heavily on gaining trophies as identification of their success. Our careers don’t really last that long. They are full of change and novelty. You should learn to enjoy the relationships, learning and variety life has to offer. Remember, money comes and goes, time just goes.

Many hard charging, high achievers strive to ascend the corporation through the use of their technical expertise, only to find that it only takes them so far. Learning to read your environment as it changes, say to a need for more social skills, is a great way to ensure you don’t plateau and get left behind. There are few jobs at the top of the company and the competition is fierce. We are a service economy now and service is a heavily social activity. If you’re striving for great success, you have to become the ultimate package; that is, technical expert and social innovator.