The term “War for Talent” was always a pretty dumb term. Sure, companies need talent, and those with really talented players, a solid culture and a good product will usually kick the butts of companies who do not have those things.
But a War? Really? First off, companies don’t go to war. Soldiers do. Keep focused, folks.
But for the sake of this post, let’s keep using the metaphor. The problem is that companies really don’t have the guts for a talent war. At its worst, it’s usually a dainty game of tag or a no-win game of tic-tac-toe. Here’s what I mean: Company A steals a player from Company B, only to have Company B later take one back. Both companies “back off” for a while, so they don’t get other one too angry. “We can’t steal all of their people,” one exec says to another, “or they’ll raid us.”
Don’t think this happens? The Justice Department suit against Apple, Intel, Adobe, Intuit, and Google shows clearly that even the most hyper-competitive firms in Silicon Valley played this BS game.
“Hurt us too bad, and we’ll hurt you right back. So let’s do nothing.” Gentlemen’s agreements, hands off pacts, overly broad non-solicit agreements….these are all rules that companies design to create a type of stalemate or a state of mutually assured destruction.
But do you know who breaks the rules? Startups. God bless them, I like startups, because they’re gutsy, inventive, resourceful, a little crazy and just dumb enough to pick a fight.
Here’s the play in action. Huddle is a startup software company that just got 25M in funding. Pretty cool. But then what do you do when Microsoft buys a company that directly competes with you? Do you freak out? Back off so you don’t get in trouble?
Nope. You park a mongo van outside of the acquired company’s office, advertising your jobs. Check the pic and read the excerpt:
(Huddle is) adding in a social communication layer to its service, so that when people share and work together on documents online, they can also talk to each other about them. The move puts Huddle into closer competition against companies like Microsoft, whose $1.4 billion purchase of Yammer closed today and is now likely to create more social collaborations of this kind in its own products. (The picture here, in fact, is from Huddle’s in London, where it parked this sign in front of Yammer/Microsoft’s HQ to drive the competition point home.)
Um you just raised 25M, but big bad Microsoft just paid 1.2 billion for your competitor and it’s going to integrate them into all Microsoft products? Holy cow, dude, you better break some rules quick or you’re going to be waiting tables.
Dumb to go after the biggest dog in the street? It depends. If you have a recruiting team with guts, you rent the truck. If you are a team who is worried about getting people mad at you, you wait until the Yammer folks come to you. Established firm in a mature or developing market with known competitors? Sure, I guess you can have a Marquess of Queensberry Rules “scuffle for talent.” Hyper competitive, fighting for your next paycheck, scratching it out? Now, it’s a war, and parking a big huge ad across the street feels fair to me. Long live the startups.