War for Talents

Marcus Mausberg, Managing Director, mausberg consulting
mausberg consulting

Mr. Mausberg, please tell us a bit about your career. 

I’ve been working in the cosmetics and detergent industry since 1989. It all began with an apprenticeship as a chemical laboratory assistant at Henkel. I had already begun working in product development and analytics for cosmetics and detergents during my apprenticeship. After eight years in the laboratory, I switched to the consulting-based sale of raw materials and active ingredients. Then, a good ten years later, in 2007, I founded neochem, a distribution company focusing on personal care and HI&I raw materials and active ingredients. In 2011, we also acquired domal Wasch und Reinigungsmittel GmbH in Stadtilm and because of the sheer scale of the group’s activities, service companies had to be set up to handle the diverse range of activities in IT, marketing, accounting and regulatory affairs management.

To what extent did you come into contact with the “War for Talent” during these nearly thirty years of your career? 

In 2007, I founded a classic market follower in an existing and well-functioning market, the commodities trading market. Not only were the competitors established and, in many respects, superior to the “one-man show” neochem, but they also had corresponding reputations with potential applicants. That became my personal “War for Talent”. Even back then, it was my challenge to attract good and motivated - even passionate - employees to neochem. I, and later my team, managed to do that over and over again. Even today, we “neochemlers” are still a strong community.

So you won your “War for Talent”?

I would definitely have to say no. Although the “battles” for talent were mostly won at neochem, the war was lost to an equal extent at domal. I had to experience first-hand and very dramatically that you can’t win a “war” with the wrong warriors. The path that this took ultimately culminated in the insolvency of domal, which for me was one of the most formative experiences of my career.

How exactly do you define the term “War for Talent”?

The expression “War for Talent” basically describes the familiar principle of the market economy, namely the relationship between supply and demand. The expression was first discussed in 1997 by a well-known management consultancy firm. This refers to the increasing struggle for talent, i.e. qualified junior staff with development potential. The fact is that there is an oversupply of manpower for simple tasks that can be performed with simple training. At the same time, the opposite is the case for professions requiring specialist knowledge and expertise gained through professional experience: The demand for these skilled workers clearly exceeds the supply.

How do you identify this “War for Talent” in our industry?

In addition to the perceived factors of “duration of the search for qualified employees” and “average salary of the final selection”, factors which my clients have repeatedly identified, statistics can also be used for this purpose. For example, the development of the birth rate in relation to the growth in the industry plays a decisive role here. Whereas in the 1960s just under 18 children were born per year per 1,000 inhabitants, between 1985 and 1994 there were only around 11 births per year per 1,000 inhabitants. The number of college graduates and skilled workers who have entered the labor market in the last ten years is correspondingly lower. At the same time, however, the market for detergents, cleaning agents and cosmetics has grown continuously and will continue to grow. According to IKW, total sales in the detergents, cleaning agents and cosmetics sector in 1990 amounted to approx. 8.4 billion euros. Twenty years later – in 2010 – it was already almost 16.8 billion euros and since then, the market has further grown close to 18.6 billion euros. Currently, this industry directly employs nearly 50,000 people. If you compare the birth rate and growth, you can sense that the “War for Talent” is not only in full swing, but - to stick to the context of “war” - is already claiming its first “victims”.

What does this look like in concrete terms?

One typical symptom is that positions remain vacant much longer than they were a year or two ago. Today salaries are much higher, sometimes to an even unrealistic extent. But these are only the effects, taking a look at the underlying mechanism proves far more interesting.

Which would be...?

Let’s go back to the relationship between supply and demand: If demand is high and supply is low, the one who wins will be the one who is perceived as more attractive under the same economic conditions. Soft factors such as the presentation of the company are increasingly important: What is the company’s image like? Does the company have a strong brand? How strong is the company’s innovative force? To what extent are employees supported in their work-life balance? Are there incentives or bonuses? These and similar questions are being asked more and more often when addressing my talent. We are experiencing a massive change of generations. I myself come from the “live-to-work” generation, who defined themselves through their career and professional development.

And that’s different today?

Today, we are increasingly dealing with the “work-to-live” generation, which focuses much more on “work-life balance” and understands professional advancement and the income generated more as a tool for achieving its own goals and desires. The focus has increasingly shifted to the person as such and not the job. However, this does not mean that this generation is doing a worse job than the previous one; the job merely is no longer the center focus as such.

What matters for today’s talent?

A sense of inner solidarity and identification. Today’s talent want to identify more than ever with the company’s values. They want to move forward just as much as the company itself. This talent will be able to put things into motion in this respect! For many, pride in the company and in their work is also an essential element of the meaning of life. If one’s own work is perceived as meaningful and sustainable, then their demands on the work-life balance are met. A former employee described a job change with the words “same shit - different flies”. In this vein: when changing jobs, they must have the opportunity to free themselves from the “same shit”. The “different flies”, for example a higher salary, are often still the motivation to change. But the desire for identification and solidarity is becoming more and more important.

What can companies do to survive in the “War for Talent”?

It is important to invest in employer branding. This ultimately pays off in above- average corporate success. It is essential to credibly present your company as an attractive employer. This marketing measure achieves two things: on the one hand, better, more suitable talent will be interested in the open position. On the other hand, your own qualified, experienced and productive talent will identify more closely with your own actions and those of the company and will thus be more loyal to the company for a longer period of time. Equally important is modernizing recruiting as such or replacing it completely with contemporary “talent scouting”.

What do you mean by recruiting?

The term recruiting has its origins in the military. This refers to the classic recruitment of personnel: a personnel department creates a job advertisement, which is distributed in the media, interested individuals apply, job interviews are held, and at the end an employee is hired. At least that’s how it went for me in 1989, when I started at Henkel and my parents proudly told me that their son was now “at Henkel” and would stay there until the end of his working life.

What has to change?

The fundamental task will remain the same: the task is to find talent and to hire them. But the way this is done is changing. Today, more than half of all applications reach companies via digital channels. Applications are increasingly being generated by means of a wide variety of channels: from the company’s own career portal, the employment agency, job exchanges or networks or directly via networkers – i.e. HR consultants.

Which approach would you recommend to companies?

“Talent Scouting” – that is: a departure from outdated structures and exaggerated formalities - towards short and direct communication channels and the creation of a corporate culture with employees who fit together well not only because of their experience and qualifications. The first step must be a detailed analysis of the position and the creation of a realistic talent profile. For the subsequent process, this means simplifying paths, shortening waiting times and processes and making them more direct. This saves time and money for everyone involved and prevents surprises and disappointments that can arise from unfulfilled expectations on both sides and usually lead to the new employee’s early departure.

What are the advantages of talent scouting?

The relationship and communication between employer and potential employees must be right. Companies must actively approach applicants and candidates on the external job market. Professional “talent scouting” ensures that the applicant also fits in well with the company as a person in the long term - especially if communication is done right in advance and both sides have a good feeling. As a talent scout, I have a different mindset than a classic recruiter and I communicate differently with talent. “Talent scouting” is the professional identification and acquisition of individual hand-picked talent that fit the company exactly.

Is communication everything?

No, but it is an essential differentiator between classic recruiting and talent scouting. After the aforementioned analysis of the position to be filled and the creation of the talent profile, the task is to find the right talent and assess them by means of interviews and a personality test. In my career, I have interviewed hundreds of candidates for various positions and salary categories. At peak times, I had up to 160 employees at a total of four locations. In these years and also during my time in the various start-ups, I have repeatedly experienced how much a company’s prospects of reaching its targets live or die depending on the corresponding players involved. While as an entrepreneur, I often had to make do with only a satisfactory solution, as a consultant I can now put my finger on the wound and work on optimizing the result.

What factors characterize successful “talent scouting”?

Curiosity and creativity, the desire and strength to communicate. I am convinced that curiosity is the driving force behind creativity. Today’s “state of the art” can quickly become tomorrow’s left-overs. Only those who are curious will always learn about new developments and come up with new ideas. This is where creativity comes into play. For me as a talent scout, the ability to try out new things and develop my own ideas is an absolute must. With my imagination and my wealth of ideas, I can support my clients in winning their “War for Talent”. I need to be creative from the moment I address talent to the moment I judge who is the best talent for the job. Curiosity in this context primarily concerns my curiosity about new people and the personalities that make these individuals tick. Which, in turn, help me succeed in other aspects.

Which are...?

The desire to communicate and the strength of communication - the desire to use every available means of communication. Today, people expect communication at eye level. The  days of the “distinguished consultant in a double-breasted suit” are long gone. Media such as Instagram and WhatsApp are also moving into the world of talent scouting. The infamous Generation Y knows about their coveted role in the “War for Talent”. Fast, honest feedback is expected throughout the scouting process. Communication is characterized by a quick exchange of arguments on both sides of the table. The classic role distribution of the interviewer and interviewee, even the classic question and answer interview, is becoming more and more obsolete. As a talent scout, I am the extended arm of my client, at the same time also the “Carte Blanche”, since I proceed much more directly in the entire scouting process.

So what is your conclusion?

The “War for Talent” represents a major challenge for companies. But there are various measures that help to attract promising talent. The first is to create a positive working environment and sense of identity within the industry. 

Workplace design also plays an important role. The choice of employer depends on whether there is a creative working atmosphere with meeting zones and an open dialog. Or are managers sitting behind closed doors instead, summoning their staff as subordinates rather than service providers to company meetings? This second set of measures has a significant impact on employee loyalty and retention. Work-life balance measures ensure that employees remain motivated and healthy. I even have clients who co-finance the pedelec their employees use to commute to work: For instance, employers contribute to the CO2 balance and at the same time to the fitness and satisfaction of their employees. The weekly fruit and vegetable basket or further training courses as well as courses in health and fitness are already part of everyday life in smaller companies.

How does mausberg consulting support companies in finding suitable talent?

We have been working in talent scouting and management consulting since 2015. We develop programs for employer branding, support clients and talent during the entire scouting process and coach employees in the areas of sales and marketing. Our focus is on talent scouting for medium-sized enterprises and group companies. Since the middle of this year, we have also been active in these areas across all industries. For example, we recently helped a very established advertising and communications agency fill a strategic position in business development. This is a milestone for us because we had to rely on our processes in an industry in which we do not yet have the degree of networking as is the case in the detergents and cleaning agent industry and the cosmetics industry.

Thank you very much for the interesting interview! 

Thank you!



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