Talent is a Zero Sum Game

There is a mathematical concept called Zero-Sum, what is says is basically where one person, organization, etc. will gain, there is an equal loss by another person, organization, etc. of that exact same amount.   An example might be market share of a corporation – if GM has 17% market share of U.S. car buyers, and it gains 1%, to 18% total market share – the 1% came at the expense of their competition.  GM didn’t miraculously grow/build/birth 1% of new car buyers out of thin air. It’s a Zero-Sum game, their competition loses the exact same number of car buyers that GM gained – you rob Peter to pay Paul. 

Hiring Managers never get this!

Talent and HR Pros feel this all the time.  Hard to fill requisition, limited talent pool and the hiring managers makes you feel like you should be able to go down to the vending machine and just select C-3 and another Software Developer will fall down into your hands, ready to work! (by the way C-3 in my office is Peanut Butter M&M’s which seem to make everything better at almost any time of the day!) But it’s not that easy, right?!  Talent is a Zero-Sum game.  Now, I know my OD and Training friends will be all – “No it’s not! We can grow and build new Talent!”  Not really – not in the time I need it – which is NOW – or – YESTERDAY!  That’s my timing – it’s not 3 months or a year down the road.

That’s are main problem in Talent in 99.9% of organizations, are lack of organizational understanding of the simple concept of Zero-Sum.  If organizations really got this concept they would have robust, funded, succession planning programs that would be attempting to build future talent, to expand their internal talent pools,  but we don’t.  Less than 1% of organizations in the world really fund succession the way it needs to be funded if you want to be self sufficient in terms of talent.  Organizationally, you’re paying either way – you either pay the money up front in terms of talent attraction, or you can pay it on the backside with retention and training – so why does almost every company choose the front side of this equation?  I think most choose the talent attraction spend because we (HR/Talent/OD) have done a horrible job of working with our finance teams to come up with a plan that shows our organization there’s a better way to spend our money.  We haven’t given our leadership a better option – so we/they continue to choose to do more of the same.

Some could argue that we are currently in a less than Zero-Sum game with our employee demographics.  We have more of our population reaching retirement age, than we have potential workforce reaching the age/education/experience to replace our leaving workforce.  But, even at zero – you still see the problem we are in, it’s never ending, it’s just how do you choose to play the game.  I like thinking about our HR/Talent problems in terms of mathematics, because it gives me the feeling there are actually solutions and it’s just a matter of building the solution/process.   I think most will argue that the solution is to do all of it in combination – some attraction, some succession, some training – which I agree with, but I think the percentages of your current combination need to change if you truly want to get off the treadmill.


One thought on “Talent is a Zero Sum Game

  1. Consider Nick Saban and Alabama football. That’s probably the best recruiting organization in the US today: Mark Ingram won the Heisman, who was followed by (a better!) Richardson, who has his successors in Lacy (junior) and Yeldon (freshman).

    That’s the model you’re looking for. But does software development share enough characteristics with college football to make the comparison relevant? Couldn’t say: I’m no tech guy.

    I suspect it does. Game designers can put Newgrounds work on their resumes; Steam Greenlight tries to identify promising talent like Saban’s scouts.

    Then again, Saban has 3-4 year “contracts” with these kids; if development contracts are shorter, the model would have a weaker relevance; longer, stronger.

    Good thought, though. Worth pondering. And everything relates to Alabama football. Roll Tide, Roll.

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