The Bless of Talent Shortage

Executive summary: What is commonly perceived as a burning talent shortage in the tech sector, is in reality a severe underutilization of the existing talent. This provides a great opportunity for executives to increase market share by improving leadership within their organizations.

However strange it might sound, talent shortage can be a bless on your company. It creates an environment where it is very apparent how to overtake the competition. If you are able to recruit and retain top workforce and leverage their talents, you will gain a huge long-term advantage. Other things like organization, innovation, product strategy, business models and execution come afterwards — when you’ve got the top talent at your disposal to help you.


Talent shortage is a symptom of the leadership crisis

The shortage of engineers, scientists and developers has become a chronic condition. Governments and companies are trying to counterbalance it with measures like advertising the STEM fields for students and especially girls, changing University quotas, introducing more internship positions, etc…

After working in various sectors of the tech industry, I have come to question the widely accepted statement, that there is a tech talent shortage at all. I have seen way too many good engineers and developers wasting their time and talents on pointless tasks, documentation that nobody ever reads, meaningless meetings and simple drifting due to an uninspiring environment. I’d estimate that on average more than half of the working time of tech employees and their managers gets wasted on tasks that are either irrelevant or outright counterproductive.


Talent is all around us. It is just underutilized or works for someone else

At every point in time, there should be enough talent around to serve the needs of your company. People leaving your company, or the ones who decide not to join you in the first place, end up at other companies for a reason. If your organization’s employee attractiveness has come to its limits, it’s time for you to find out why.

The good news are, that probably most of your competition has a similar problem and it’s very likely that they will react to it by focusing on temporary and dubious solutions, e.g. outsourcing, overtime, salary increase, granting more benefits or allowing the extensive use of home office.


Looking after your peopleware [1]

The long-term solution is building a company culture around people and teams. Here are some tips on what to focus on in order to create great workplaces for knowledge workers:

    1. Lead by purpose. Most knowledge workers are motivated by purpose, not by compensation or status [2]. Yet, 4 out of 5 companies fail to provide purpose effectively [2].
      To do: Focus on the holy trinity of Mission, Vision and Strategy. Not once — always.
    2. Empower. Once your people know what the organization is to achieve, they can start using their hard-earned skills and knowledge to move things in the right direction. Well, if they are allowed to. If not, they will become spectators, with no real influence on the outcome.
      To do: Empower your people to make decisions that matter. Allow them to make their own mistakes and have their own successes. Distributed decision making will speed up the organization, add to its knowledge base and lead to better decisions on the long run.
    3. Transparency. Good decisions need power (which you give), knowledge (which employees bring or acquire by working) and information. Transparency is about access to the latter. If you combine leadership by purpose with transparency, your teams will be able to synchronize themselves and their decisions along the common purpose. This prevents chaos.
      To do: Phrase the purpose statements clear and communicate them continuously, including the why’s. Make sure that knowledge is spread and captured within the company by making sure that there is face-to-face communication and direct collaboration between the employees. Create metrics, track them and make them visible for everyone to see.
    4. Learn. Make it possible for individuals to learn from each other and from the customer. With the other points, this will create a learning organization aware of and able to adapt to its environment.
      To do: Create cross-functional teams where team members learn something new from each other every day. Put employees close to customers, so they will develop an understanding for them and for the product they are working on.
    5. Teamwork. If a problem is complex enough, no single person will be able to tackle it well enough.
      To do: Enable “almost ready” employees to form very able, “ready” teams to solve tough problems together.


[1] Tom DeMarco, Timothy Lister, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, Addison-Welsey, 1987, 2013
[2] The Harvey Nash Tech Survey 2019. Link

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