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How to end the war for talent?

Lieke Weterings, Ninja Expert

7 December 2018

There is a widespread belief that a war for talent is going on. Companies want to have the best employees on their team and they are willing to fight for them. That’s why companies try to come up with the best initiatives in attempts to attract and retain high-performing employees. Yet, those employees can just leave again whenever a better deal comes along.

So isn’t there a better way? Do you, as a company, really have to fight in this war for talent? 


The problem of fighting the war for talent

Talking about a war for talent implies that some individuals are performing better at work than others. You may call them “talents” or “star performers”.

Maybe you also had that friend in high school who was absolutely brilliant in math, while everybody else was trying so hard to make sense of the combination of strange symbols and numbers… and still didn’t get it.

Sometimes people just seem to be natural talents.

The danger lies in focusing on their ‘talent’ so much that other people have the feeling they’ll never reach that level. No matter how hard they try.

The same thing is happening in a lot of companies. Because a lot of leaders believe in the war for talent, they make one offer after the other to retain their precious “star performers”.


“By focusing too much on individual performance, employees will no longer act in the company’s best interest and work together.”

Imagine how demotivating this must be for just “the normal workers”. They are doing all they can to perform well, while their colleague – the “star performer” – gets all the attention and maybe even a bonus for doing an excellent job.

Still, this is business-as-usual for a lot of companies. Rewarding employees based on performance. Their results and accomplishments.

When the emphasis is only on who accomplishes the most, employees will become competitors. If they are only focused on making their own performance as high as possible, they aren’t willing to help others out. After all, helping others wouldn’t contribute to their personal goal of performing well, thereby making it a waste of their time.

This is exactly the problem for those companies. By focusing too much on individual performance, people are not willing to work together anymore and act in the company’s best interest. A real shame!

These companies forget that a great team outperforms even the best individuals. Every single time.

“We’ve located the star performer. Over.”

Photograph by www_slon_pics via Pixabay

Why I urge you to seize fire

If you ask me, I believe this whole idea of the war for talent is nonsense.

Or let’s postulate it like this: there is a war now, but companies are creating this war themselves.

Somehow, they believe that the amount of talented people is scarce.

There are so many people out there with an enormous amount of potential. Companies are just not searching at the right place. The main problem associated with the search for new employees nowadays is that companies are often looking for a very specific type of person.

Recruiters have lists filled with characteristics and skills a candidate should possess. This belief, that people have a certain amount of fixed talents and abilities, is called a “fixed mindset”.


“The idea of a war for talent is nonsense; companies are creating this war themselves.”

This reminds me of my friend Pauline, who has always been extremely creative. To me, she always seemed like a natural talent, but I understand now that this was just my fixed mindset talking.

It actually  turns out that a lot of famous artists’ early paintings were not that pretty. It took them a long time and a lot of effort to become excellent artists. Research confirms that becoming an expert in any area requires a lot of effort and motivation. 

The belief that you can grow and develop your talents is called a growth mindset. By changing a fixed mindset into a growth mindset, people adopt a mindset in which learning and development is possible. By spending time and effort on a certain task, we can improve our skills.

What do you think would happen if all companies started to believe that talent can actually be developed instead of only found? Would we still have a war for talent?

Fishing for stars or life-long learners?

For a moment, consider all those talented people who just graduated and end up with difficulties to find a nice job. A lot of them are rejected, most of the time because they lack certain qualities or experience. Their experience does not match recruiter’s lists of what is necessary for a certain job.

We could see this search for the perfect candidate as a typical example of tunnel vision.

By fully adopting a growth mindset, companies could enlarge their pool of potential employees by also giving not-perfect-yet-but-potentially-even-more-motivated people the chance to grow and develop into the kind of people the company needs. 

Don’t get me wrong. Of course I understand that companies want to have the best people on their team.

It’s well known that their “star performers” do not only get a bigger slice of the pizza compared to others, they are also able to make the pizza larger for the entire team. They bring in more money. This sounds like magic.

But I believe that if companies would look further and give more people a chance to learn, and believe that these people can learn, companies would witness the development of lots of new talent!

So let’s open our eyes. Let’s be critical of the mindset we have and the mindset in our company!

Mindsets are an important part of your personality but you can change them. Just by knowing the different mindsets that exist, you can start thinking about them and try to shift in certain situations. For example, for when it comes to how you think about talent.

Do you still believe that talent needs to be found or can it be developed? Do you search for employees that feel the need to prove their talent or do you look for the ones that will never stop learning? Which of the two do you think will be most effective for thriving in an ever-changing world?

Which is better for your company: finding that one talent or the helping the person who will never stop learning?

Photograph by aitoff via Pixabay

Leaders, take action!

If you’re a leader (or recruiter), let me challenge you to adopt a growth mindset and stop searching for the one special fish in the sea.

Start believing in the ability of people to learn and develop themselves. People are naturally eager to learn, but you have to give them the chance.

How to do this? Well, for one, focus on the people you already have. It’s very important to make learning goals acceptable for conversation and talk about them regularly. Ask what employees want to learn in a group setting, so people have the chance to inspire each other. You can even do this during a cozy bonfire-evening, while bonding at the same time!

Another extremely important thing is to make sure you create an environment in which it is safe to make mistakes. This promotes learning by doing.

Perhaps one of the best ways to do this as a leader is to openly discuss your own mistakes. Don’t pretend to be perfect; you probably learn new things every day. Maybe you can hang a poster on a wall where employees can write down the mistakes they made. You could even set ‘the fail of the week’. In this way, employees can laugh about the things that went wrong and learn from it. 

And of course: when hiring, try to look for people who already adopt a growth mindset. People that love a challenge. People that see failure as an opportunity to learn. People that don’t want to ever stop learning.  These are the people that will push your company forward beyond your wildest dreams.


May the growth mindset be with you…

This is how we overcome the idea that there’s a war for talent. 

Just remember: having the best performing employees is not about finding talent, it’s about having employees that constantly develop themselves. 

It’s not just how you’ll win the war for talent. It’s how you’ll never even have to fight it in the first place. Good luck!

Lieke is Ninja Expert at Ninjafy with a deep passion for human behaviour and helping others to make people love their work. Connect with her on LinkedIn

P.S. If you want to read more about the toxic effects of a fixed mindset in leaders and teachers, check out this Insight.

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