Put The Work Where The Talent Is: Part II

When there is a war going on, sometimes the smartest thing to do is to avoid the battle entirely and live where there is relative peace. In a similar light, if you are facing a shortage of talent, consider this strategy: put the work where the talent is already located, and avoid the battle for talent. Before the “war for talent” began, it was common for managers to put most of the work where supplies of raw materials were available, where labor was cheap, or where the transportation was good. But the scarcest commodity these days is not raw materials; it’s the available supply of well-trained knowledge workers. As a result, managers need to change their priorities away from transportation and raw material availability and toward locating plants, offices, and satellite work locations where an abundance of experienced talent currently lives or wants to live! The availability of cheap communications and the Internet now allows remote work to be done in jobs (and in locations) where it could not be done before. Some firms have found as much as a 20 percent increase in productivity with remote workers as well as reduced real-estate, relocation, and salary costs. Intel has been the leader in the remote location of work for many years. Cisco Systems, which has a long history of locating talent within the Silicon Valley, has recently shifted its focus so that now it is part of their overall strategic plan to grow “where the talent is.” Where Is There An Abundance Of Experienced Employed Talent? (Using high-tech as an example) If you are a rapidly growing company in the high-tech field, you need a large number of new hires in order to maintain growth. Unfortunately, unemployed rates are low almost everywhere in the U.S. (and most of the world). As a result, if you expect to grow you’ll need to target employed people that are currently working at other firms, or build facilities in attractive geographic areas that will act like a magnet to attract talent. Examples Of Areas Where The Talent Is (U.S.) The Silicon Valley has been the traditional area were most high-tech firms located. The excitement and energy of being close to venture capital, a wealth of start-ups and established firms (Cisco, Intel, Oracle, HP, SUN etc.) has drawn talent from around the world. However the traffic, crowded schools, and high cost of living have forced Silicon Valley managers to reconsider the cost and difficulty of relocating talent to the valley. It’s still a great place to locate, but there are many other less-heralded areas that also have a wealth of available talent. Some of the best include:

  • Austin, Texas
  • Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
  • The Dulles area, Washington D.C.
  • Seattle, Washington
  • North of Boston, New England

Examples Of Areas Where The Talent Wants To Be (U.S.) If you ask high-tech workers where they would like to relocate, they often cite (in addition to the ones listed above):

  • Hawaii
  • Florida
  • San Diego
  • Close to where they went to college (Both for current grads and alumni)
  • Close to recreational areas (skiing, golf courses, boating, and beaches)
  • Close to their suburban homes (in satellite offices)
  • At home (in a home office)

Examples Of Areas Where The Talent Is (NON-U.S.) There is an abundance of knowledge talent spread around world. Smart U.S. firms have learned that there are many areas in the world where English is commonly spoken, universities and schools are excellent, talent levels are high, and labor costs are relatively low. Many call centers and credit card companies have already found this remote location strategy to be highly profitable. Some of these areas include:

  • India
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • The Caribbean

Criteria For Selecting A Site What criteria should you use in determining where the talent is or wants to be? Start with the following:

  • Close to a top research university
  • Where other establish firms already have facilities
  • Where top firms are planning large facilities
  • Close to abundant outdoor recreation
  • Where housing is both desirable and relatively inexpensive
  • Where your top talent would like to relocate to (usually identified through internal surveys)
  • Areas that traditionally make the top 25 on “great places to live lists” (Usually identified through statistical analysis using school quality, growth rates, cost-of-living, crime rates and housing prices)
  • Areas where possible desirable recruits currently live (as identified from their resumes or from zip code addresses from key industry association membership lists)
  • States (countries) where there are favorable employment and income tax laws
  • A community with a strong technology infrastructure

It Takes More Than Location Placing a facility in a highly desirable location can have great benefits, but there are also potential problems. Some of the requirements for a successful remote location include:

  • A great recurring department and the ability to provide a compelling offer in order to attract top talent away from existing local firms
  • The location of top corporate executives to “politically” demonstrate that this is not a “backwater” location
  • Extensive performance measurement systems and significant pay for results (this allows workers to work outside of management’s sight, but to still be managed effectively)
  • Great technology and communications systems (teleconferencing, Internet, shared files etc.) that allow for easy information sharing
  • A “trusting” open communication culture (companies like Intel, HP, GE, and Agilent are the benchmarks at “high-touch” remote management)

Conclusion Large established high-tech corporations have had a tendency to grow geographically close to their corporate headquarters. Both the growth in technology and communications capabilities and the increase in the percentage of jobs now filled by knowledge workers allows firms to economically “put the work where the talent is.” Traditional large U.S. and European firms, who have a history of placing workers close to their headquarters, will find themselves increasingly non-competitive. Those that realize that talent availability is now the prime driver of corporate success must now begin to act differently. They must learn “high-touch remote management” and how to recruit in geographic areas where they are less well-known. The first three rules in real-estate have also become the first three rules in talent…location, location, location!

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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