Our changing world
The end of the 1990s has seen a discernible shift in the headlines. They refer increasingly to talent wars, global shortages of talent and retaining talented people as the top priority. To take the first of three examples, a Wall Street Journal headline in May 1998 (Lancaster, 1998) declared 'People are [hot] again at work: a full staff is new management fad'. Six months later, Richard Donkin (1998f) wrote in the Financial Times under the headline 'Fighting the talent war' and reported that International Business Machines (IBM) had appointed a 'vice-president of talent'. Finally, the Conference Board Europe's 1999 Human Resources Conference was held under the theme 'Winning the battle for the best people — the key to success in the global marketplace'.
This new priority shows signs of replacing the death of the career and how there is no such thing as a job for life as the fashionable focus of attention. In turn, the death of the career itself took over from a concern with succession planning and bringing in people with the potential to grow and take over the leadership of organizations. In a generation, we seem to have come around in a circle in terms of the headlined concern of organizations: harnessing people; having as flexible an arrangement as possible with them; and now trying to secure them once again.
Headlines are, of course, simplifications. Nevertheless, they carry germs of truth. Organizations do seem to be giving renewed priority to gaining and retaining talented people. However, we are not back to where we started. Although the issue might have gone around in a circle, organizations and their environment have been transformed during the cycle. Furthermore, where we are today has a very different history from where we were a generation ago. In particular, there is now the history of the 'no job for life' message, a message that, indeed, still exists alongside the 'talent war' headline.
The coexistence of the need for talent and the 'no job for life' message introduces a choice that organizations must make in terms of their treatment of people. They must decide whether their priority is to attract and