The War for Talent is Dying: Re-Thinking Individual Talent from a Network-Aware Perspective

Josh Letourneau Joshua Letourneau, Social Network Analysis, War for Talent

The “War for Talent” is dying.  Better put, the unrelenting focus on individual “Human Capital” (i.e. what’s “inside” us, such as talent, experience, etc.) is dying.  We’ve awakened to Greenspan’s “worldview flaw” — a new reality of global interconnection and interdependence.  And in this new reality, “Social Capital” (i.e. what’s “between” us, such as trust, respect, etc.) reigns supreme.

Our old reality focused on the individual.  Our “New
” focuses on the ‘network’, or the collection of individuals,
as well as what flows between them.  Where the “War for Talent” is
dying, “War for the Network” is emerging.  Here’s why —

When we begin to look at talent that is at the Director level or above,
evaluating “Human Capital” is highly overrated.  This is because of the fact that outside of a few anomalies, individuals who achieve consistent
professional growth are all relatively talented.  Unless they are
the the CEO’s nephew, they likely got ahead on Human Capital.  So when
it comes to the higher levels in the organization, we must evaluate talent from a network-aware perspective.  It’s incumbent on us to consider “Social Capital”, or the ability of the candidates in question to mobilize the collaborative
efforts of the network.

For the Right-Brainers out there, consider a room full of light bulbs with the ‘Leader light bulb’ at the center.  It doesn’t matter that the ‘Leader light bulb’ may not be the brightest and most beautiful bulb in the room.  What is most important is that it can turn on, or energize, the other bulbs.  True leaders don’t need to shine bright, but what they do consistently well is light up the whole room.  And if this hypothesis is true, then evaluating leadership from a network-aware perspective should help us consider an individual’s ability to leverage collaboration through trust and integrity, .

Left-Brainers, let’s dig into an analogy for you as well.  Recall Newton’s 2nd Law, “Force equals Mass times Acceleration” (F = MA).  Let’s say Force (F) correlates to the ability to get things done.  Mass (M) correlates to “Human Capital”, while Acceleration (A) speaks to “Social Capital”, or the ability to quickly mobilize the network.  As I mentioned earlier, if you’re interviewing individuals at the Director level or above, Mass (M, or “Human Capital”) is going to be relatively high to start with.  For them to be in front of you by this point, there is marginal deviation in (M) among the candidates.  However, what you don’t know is (A), or acceleration.  Outside of reference checks and LinkedIn recommendations (considering you can even trust them as viable in the first place), you’re largely guessing as to how fast they can accelerate, or mobilize, their network.  Let’s look at 3 candidates:

Candidate A (M = 8, A = 4).  F = MA, or F = 8×4 = 32.
Candidate B (M = 5, A = 7).  F = MA, or F = 5×7 = 35.
Candidate C (M = 7, A = 5).  F = MA, or F = 7×5 = 35.

To start with, I’d recommend dropping any candidates from consideration who don’t have a minimum (A) of 5.  So, we’re left with 2 candidates, Candidate B and Candidate C.  On the surface, their (F) is the same, or 35 points.  This is where quantitative analysis fails us, because it only tells us an ‘answer’ from a single perspective.  Now ask yourself: If the “New Normal” is more about the ability to get things done through the network, which candidate would you choose (the one with the greater amount of “Human Capital”, or the one with the greater “Social Capital”).  I’d suggest Candidate B is the best candidate, despite the fact that their individual ability lags Candidate C.

So today, let me leave you with the thought that today’s business environment of globalization and further decentralization demands that we look at things from a network-aware perspective.  This type of network-aware thinking leads us to rethink talent beyond purely the “Human Capital” side of the equation.  Whether you’re a Right-Brainer who loves visual analogies, or you’re a Left-Brainer who prefers Newtonian equations, the time has come for all of us to not just think, but see, beyond the individual.