Winning the Talent Wars: How to Manage and Compete in the High‐tech, High‐speed, Knowledge‐based, Superfluid Economy

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 1 August 2004



Tulgan, B. (2004), "Winning the Talent Wars: How to Manage and Compete in the High‐tech, High‐speed, Knowledge‐based, Superfluid Economy", Personnel Review, Vol. 33 No. 4, pp. 487-488.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Tulgan's book Winning the Talent Wars is relevant and valuable for mangers, as the subtitle indicates, he explains how to manage and compete in the high‐tech, high‐speed, knowledge‐based, superfluid economy. Using rich detailed accounts Tulgan shows how both new and old, high profile US companies including Cisco, Dell, Microsoft, General Motors, J.P. Morgan, and J.C. Penney, have changed their employee recruitment and relations.

The “talent wars,” Tulgan posits will be won by organizations that employ a market‐driven employer‐employee relationship, known as the free agent model, rather than the traditional approach of slowly moving people up a company's organizational ladder after they've put in the effort and proved their company loyalty. Tulgan posits that a free agent is an employee who will move from project to project, or from job to job, often within an organization, but not always. Importantly each time a free agent moves they will re‐negotiate their terms of employment. Employers would just hire employees for specific work and pay them as they consider their value to be. There is no job security or any longer term commitment. Therefore, managers will do what they can to keep the better (and consequently better paid) employees on board.

Tulgan talks of a three stage shift to the new economy. Phase one was characterized by downsizing, leading to the “rising tide of the free‐agent mind‐set among individuals in direct response to employers’ rejection of job security.” With the onset of phase two, employees are looking out for themselves, moving from job to job with little loyalty to the organization. Tulgan posits that most organizations are stuck in this stage. He also claims that the free agent model signals the end of this three stage shift. In phase three organizations will fully adopt the free agent model.

This book comprises seven chapters, and presents six principles which Tulgan claims will help high‐tech, high‐speed, knowledge‐based firms win the wars for the best talent. These are:

  1. 1.

    Talent is the show.

  2. 2.

    Staff the work, not the jobs.

  3. 3.

    Pay for performance, and nothing else.

  4. 4.

    Turn managers into coaches.

  5. 5.

    Train for the mission, not the long haul.

  6. 6.

    Create as many career paths as you have people.

Tulgan puts forward logical arguments with regard to motivating, empowering and developing new economy employees. He stresses that managers should see themselves as coaches who observe employee performance and who provide meaningful and honest feedback about individual performance. He also puts forward the notion that employees should have a meaningful role within the organization from the start, and that supernormal performance should be well rewarded, but that controversially poor performers should be sacked immediately, without the chance to improve their performance. Tulgan (2001, pp. 184‐5) deals with the legal implications of such action stating “In any management situation, you should first and foremost ask yourself, ‘What is the most effective action I can take?’ Then, if there is a collective bargaining agreement or some other legal restraint … ” for example, employment legislation managers should “check your action against an outline of the restrictions … and if your solution is not prohibited, go ahead and do it. On with the show.” He goes on to argue that unions and collective bargaining are economically inefficient as they were designed for the old economy firms, and were based on the model of long‐term employment relationships, which he declares obsolete in the new economy. This obsolescence, he argues, is that in a free and fluid market for time and energy, unions would slow down free exchange and the movement of talent from one employer to another. This all sounds easy; however, the reality may be different, in that employment rights are enshrined in law, and there may well be few occasions when the checklist allows for the manager to proceed.

Tulgan's free agent model takes no account of job security, and the fact that many employees, especially with mortgages, dependants and other financial responsibilities may opt for jobs with lesser financial rewards and more job security. However Tulgan does acknowledge that organizations cannot make overnight dramatic shifts to his free agent model, and as a result he makes recommendations, backed by case studies, as to how the organizations in the high‐tech, high‐speed superfluid economy can integrate some elements of the free agent model into their practices right away suggesting interesting ways to reap the benefits of the free agent model without adopting it completely.

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