The Impact Of Digital Talent Disruption

Three questions every director should ask management about competing for people in an age of technology.

If you’re in business right now, you’re in a digital business. Our research shows nearly 77 percent of executive priorities now depend on technology, regardless of industry or function. While the speed of transformation may vary, few industries will remain unaffected, and almost every organization will face the same core challenge: Recruiting and hiring top-flight digital talent.

As businesses of all types and sizes digitalize operations, we are seeing a convergence of hiring needs across sectors. Our analysis of job postings by S&P 100 companies in 2016 showed that while they were hiring for close to 900 roles, 39 percent of all the job posting activity was focused on just 29 roles—most of which require digital and analytic skills. Analysis of other indices like the FTSE 100 shows the same pattern. To put it simply: companies across diverse sectors are converging on the same critical talent pools.

That’s pushing organizations’ talent acquisition strategies and functions to the breaking point. A CEB (now Gartner) analysis of hiring practices at hundreds of companies shows that median time to fill jobs has increased by a staggering 30 business days since 2010, to 79 business days. Meanwhile, the speed at which organizations must change and innovate to remain competitive has been ratcheted up. Failure to hire the right talent quickly enough can stifle productivity, innovation and business growth. Without the right people in place, product development stalls, product launches are delayed, new business cannot be won and existing customers are not served.

This is why directors must challenge their leadership teams to move beyond just defining their talent needs to invest in understanding the labor market reality. The supply of talent, the demand other organizations have for that talent and what that talent wants and how it behaves create a market reality: all of that must be considered alongside the organization’s needs if one is to compete effectively. How to start? Here are three key questions to raise with management now.

“Given how competitive the labor market is, and the choices top talent has, you need to be willing to ask the same questions of your jobs as you do your products. Are our jobs what top talent wants? If not, are we willing to evolve those jobs to meet candidate demand, or are we comfortable hiring mid-tier talent?”

What are our employment brand strengths and weaknesses?
Companies may have spent considerable time, money and effort on defining their employment brand—the captivating tagline, the careers site, an official presence on various job channels and social media sites—but that alone will not deliver results.

Your employment brand needs to work much harder than it has ever done in the past. Your employment brand needs to speak to a diverse audience—and what resonates with mid-career sales professionals is not necessarily what will resonate with entry-level software engineering talent. Labor market competition and transparency further amplifies this issue. You need to not only differentiate from your industry competitors but also from a myriad of organizations in other sectors, all the while being aware that the explosion of candidate-centric platforms means that how you are perceived is increasingly out of your control.

Organizations that invest in understanding their brand’s strengths and weaknesses for specific talent segments set themselves up for success. The greatest brand weaknesses are often attributes that cannot easily be changed, like location and industry—in a market where top talent has lots of choice and easy access to information. Trying to paper over these static attributes will be unsuccessful.

AT&T is one organization that has gone through an exercise of diagnosing brand strengths and weaknesses for specific talent segments using a variety of sources, including Glassdoor reviews, and has directly solicited feedback from candidates and new hires. The results have enabled the company to put in place successful segment-specific strategies for confronting brand derailers head on. Organizations must be willing to invest in candidate research and put effort and investment into targeted campaigns—while it is an important foundation, it’s unlikely your overarching employment brand alone can deliver what you need.

How strong is our labor market intelligence?
Sales and marketing functions size up the available market and collect and analyze consumer behavior data. The strategy function gathers intelligence on competitors. Manufacturing and supply chain track the fluctuating supply and costs of raw materials. But does your organization track the supply and demand for talent? Are you monitoring the hiring patterns of your biggest talent competitors? Do you have a model for how different industry trends will affect the labor market?

The answer for most organizations is no. Many of your leaders and managers may say they have a good point of view on this, but one that is based more on gut feel and experience than hard data. CEOs and CFOs likely prefer data.

Building a labor market analytics capability, either as a standalone function or as part of a larger analytics team, is a wise move. Philips is one organization that has done just that, investing in a team of three researchers that constantly collect and monitor what the company’s competitors are doing, talent flows, candidate profile changes and macroeconomic conditions. This capability not only enables a more effective execution of front-line recruiting, but also generates guidance that informs business planning and strategy.

How are we evolving our jobs to meet market demand?
If your organization has a product that isn’t selling, you’ll likely do some of the following: drop the price, revise the product itself or its positioning or withdraw the product from the market.

Most organizations want to hire top talent for their critical jobs because they believe those jobs are important to organizational success, so the more skilled and experienced the individuals in those jobs, the better. Given how competitive the labor market is, and the choices top talent has, you need to be willing to ask the same questions of your jobs as you do your products. Are our jobs what top talent wants? If not, are we willing to evolve those jobs to meet candidate demand, or are we comfortable hiring mid-tier talent?

Organizations need to take a more candidate-centric view of their job opportunities. Organizations like Charles Schwab are building candidate personas to provide a refined understanding of target candidates’ career preferences and behaviors. This, combined with broader labor market research, enables organizations not only to improve job descriptions and employment branding campaigns, but also to evolve the job offer itself along three dimensions: pay and benefits (e.g., increasing compensation, providing more vacation time), where the work happens (i.e., locating the job in a different city or allowing remote working) and the role’s actual responsibilities and tasks (e.g., removing specific tasks that target candidates are not attracted to and adding in responsibilities they want to have).

  • Get the Corporate Board Member Newsletter

    Sign up today to get weekly access to exclusive analysis, insights and expert commentary from leading board practitioners.



    20th Annual Boardroom Summit

    New York, NY



    Board Committee Peer Exchange

    Chicago, IL