I spend a lot my working time running my business and developing plans, processes and strategies for companies to attract and retain their best and brightest. These client companies range from the some of the biggest names on the Fortune listings to fast growing SMEs taking advantage of the booming Asian business environment. So far in 2012, I have also had the pleasure of travelling 80,000 miles to visit companies in Europe and North America.
The almost omnipresent phrase in the business world nowadays seems to be the old McKinsey & Company cliché: “The War for Talent”. Admittedly, there is strong competition to attract and retain the most talented people. However, with a well-considered offering and realistic understanding of the human values and thought processes in taking up or staying in a position, I would hardly call it a war.
In fact, when we consider that most people regarded as “top talent” in the Asian region are earning above US$ 6,000 per month, even in Hong Kong with its high average income, we are talking about a lot less than 10% of the population. This is less than the total proportion of the population that lives in poverty and dwarfed by the 35% of Hong Kong residents over the age of 65 that live in poverty. Both of these groups are growing, with approximately 40% of the Hong Kong population now earning less than US$ 1,200 per month.
Taking Hong Kong as a microcosm, the numbers say to me that we are not fighting a “war” for talent; we are simply not making the most of our talent pool, and thus falling through the cracks and in many cases being left behind.
Asian societies have a richness and wealth of community living traditions that the Western world can learn from and should be respected. This said, I find that the by-products of stringent ingrained hierarchy, imposed obligation and a large group conformity mentality mean that many people perceive a risk from taking opportunities and promoting themselves in a way to allow the greatest progression.
Now that we are global, there is a great opportunity to globalize values to maximize regional potential. Companies do not do enough to access the majority of the population and seek out the available talent. I do not know when any requirement was set that it required a degree to perform as a CEO. Most of what we do in business is a lot less complex than we allow or even want ourselves to believe – it can be learned.
At the same time “white-collar work” is not for everyone and there are a huge number of more practical travails to be undertaken with no less merit. In any case, the focus on credentials, qualifications and a particular educational track distracts us from truly viewing our regional Asian talent pool. Inequality and lack of access to education and qualifications prevent and hinder the majority.
The rapid growth in the region has produced an extreme wealth divide. However, if we view each individual on potential rather than paper, teach people to learn and train them in the skills that they need, we will get a return on our investment and begin to tap into the potential of people in Asia.
Christopher Geary is the Chief Operating Officer of the Asianet Group. He is also the Curator of the Hong Kong Global Shapers Hub, the founder of the Fargo Foundation and the founder of the Hong Kong Treasure Hunt.