Finding the Blue Ocean of Talent

By Bala Sathyanarayanan

(This article was originally published in LinkedIn Pulse.)

Bala Sathyanarayanan
“In today’s fiercely competitive talent market, we cannot afford to play it safe any longer.” – Bala Sathyanarayanan, Vice President, Business Transformation and Human Resources. Follow Bala on LinkedIn.

I was recently reading my friend’s Syndey Finkelstein’s article on Harvard Business Review’s , ‘Secrets of Superbosses’ when a light bulb went on. It occurred to me that just as a blue ocean strategy can expand your markets, organizations should be doing the exact same thing for the workforce when they source talent.

Too often, in human resources we limit ourselves to what is available within our red ocean – what is tried and true, a safe and ‘non-risky talent strategy.’ In today’s fiercely competitive talent market, we cannot afford to play it safe any longer.

As the father of a soccer academy kid, I was always fascinated by the Premier League in Europe. Most soccer fans have probably heard of La Masia, the youth academy of FC Barcelona. Every year, the academy selectively handpicks young, precocious soccer talent, houses those who don’t live in the area, and begins to mold their careers. Typically these young boys will train for six hours a week and play 90-minute games. The rest of the time, they go to school. La Masia is famous for producing the likes of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta amongst others. In 2010, La Masia became the first youth academy to have trained all three finalists for the Ballon d’Or (the most prized individual football award) in a single year. Every season, while other soccer teams scramble for football talent, sometimes paying unjustified amounts, Barcelona already has its team picked out for the season.

Isn’t that the dream of every recruiting manager and HR leader? To be able to consistently fill talent gaps quickly and effectively? Without having to break the bank?

A strategy to better outcomes

So what can business leaders learn from Barcelona and its La Masia? Where is the Blue Ocean of talent that we are yet to capture?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not asking recruiters and organizations to start signing up grade schoolers. However the blue ocean strategy is all about differentiation; differentiation of thought, and strategy to get better outcomes.

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For example, the technology community is faced with an enormous task of improving diversity in the workplace and inclusion, yet most organizations consistently recruit from traditional sources that don’t have the diverse talent they seek are seeking. The blue ocean of diverse talent for tech today can be found at historic black colleges and universities (HBCUs), career fairs organized by associations such as The National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA), The National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA), app-based learners, and community colleges.  Corporations that partner with and sponsor programs such as A Better Chance and Prep for Prep, can create a pipeline of diverse talent early. Also, take a look at programs like WOS (Workforce Opportunity Services), founded by Professor Art Langer of Columbia. WOS partners with organizations to cultivate and develop early career professionals from all walks of life.

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Another parallel approach to finding blue oceans of talent is looking beyond the industry. Apple, hired Angela Ahrendts in 2013. Prior to this new role, Angela worked for Burberry, an iconic British fashion label. She has worked in fashion for all of her career. Most times when we seek talent, we look for people who look like us or like they would fit in our industry and organization. Apple thought differently and did the opposite. I don’t know if Tim Cook’s customary black shirts and jeans are exactly Burberry stylish, but great things can happen when we decide to seek out the best people irrespective of their backgrounds or prior experiences.

In addition, it is important to never lose sight of developing your current talent. The Egyptian proverb goes ‘a bird in hand is worth ten on the tree.’ Your employees can become your own blue ocean of talent. By creating leadership development and training programs that help hone the skills of employees and transforms them into thought leaders, you will be building a sustainable pipeline of talent for the organization. This is what companies like g and Xerox have done extremely well for decades now. You already have great talent; equip them, unleash their potential and watch the magic happen!

There are enough viable blue oceans of talent out there for us all; the question is, are you ready to set sail?

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  1. Richard Beatty August 25, 2017 - Reply

    Appreciate the thinking here. There is so much businesses can learn from sports. Oceans for talent is a place that is worth exploring in today’s economy.

  2. Ramu Iyer August 31, 2017 - Reply

    In order to find and harness blue oceans of talent, leaders across the organization need to develop a growth mindset and embrace the framework of “Blue Ocean Leadership”which consists of the following questions:

    What acts and activities do leaders invest their time and intelligence that they don’t currently undertake?
    What acts and activities do leaders invest their time and intelligence that should be raise well above their current level?
    What acts and activities do leaders invest their time and intelligence that should be reduced well below their current level?
    What acts and activities do leaders invest their time and intelligence that should be eliminated?

    This framework has been developed by the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy.

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