The War for Talent – Olympic Style

Consider this: The only Mexican Winter Olympian in Vancouver is 51 year old Austrian skier, Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg; pairs skater and Japan native, Yuko Kavaguti, is competing for Russia; American ice dancing siblings, Chris Reed and Cathy Reed, are competing for the Japanese team. There are a handful of other examples in the 2010 Olympic Games of talented athletes that are representing a country that they do not necessarily call home, whether through dual citizenship, marriage or immigration.

What can organizations learn from this? First, that the evening Olympic medal count by country has become as washed out as the “Buy American” slogan. After all, with Kia assembling cars in Georgia and Chevrolet manufacturing in Canada, which is the true U.S. automobile?

Second, that talented people will always have options, regardless of the economy. While thought leaders may debate the extent or existence of a “war for talent” in the current economic climate, this Olympics highlights the fact that talent cannot be confined by borders.

In the now famous (at least in Human Capital circles) Economist cover story, “The Search for Talent,” Daniel Pink was quoted as saying that “talented people need organizations less than organizations need talented people.” This year’s Olympics proves the truth to that assertion.

Don’t assume your current talent doesn’t have other opportunities, especially talent with the potential and desire to take on broader responsibility. The Olympic example shows that talented individuals will create opportunities for themselves and that they have the desire to fulfill their potential, regardless of the need to sacrifice. Also, realize that tried and true recruiting and retention methods may not be adequate for dealing with top talent. For a competitive athlete, the chance to train with the best and compete at the Olympics trumps patriotism, the traditional appeal and incentive of the games. Talent will seek out challenging opportunity to grow, develop and thrive. Making sure that opportunities exist for top talent to be their best is the best way to keep that talent engaged and in place.

What’s your organization doing to keep its top talent in place?