Online Extra: "Every Body Counts Now"

Manpower CEO Jeffrey Joerres talks about the rude awakening many companies are headed for as baby boomers retire

Jeffrey Joerres runs Manpower (MAN ), a $15 billion temporary-help and employee consulting company operating in 70 countries. He thinks that with a talent shortage looming as baby boomers retire, companies need to become more flexible and more responsive. "Every body counts," he says -- not just the elite talent.

In April, 2001, Joerres acquired audit and financial services outsourcer Jefferson Wells, a division that has benefited mightily from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires increased independence in corporate accounting. Of course, competition for the kind of talent Jefferson Wells needs to attract is heating up, too.

Joerres recently spoke with BusinessWeek Senior Writer Nanette Byrnes by phone from his office in Milwaukee about Jefferson Wells's unusual staffing style and the ongoing talent shortage across industries. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Jefferson Wells does mostly contract work, so it offers remarkable flexibility. Yet the company won't hire anyone with less than seven years' experience and looks for people with real expertise in its business lines, including internal audits and taxation. Was that hard to assimilate into Manpower?

Flexibility and work-life balance are a core part of our business, [and that's one reason we thought] culturally it would fit. If you have different philosophies, it's almost irreconcilable. In an industry where you are providing those kinds of services, you have to have an environment where you don't churn through your employees. Service is all about the brand. If you have a cantankerous employee who's just not happy because he's stressed and feeling boxed in, that's a problem.

Jefferson Wells is in an industry where partners drive the associates for billable hours. We don't have a partnership model, we have a skill-based model. We want to make sure we use our staff aggressively but not cavalierly. Well over 50% of our staff are from Big Four [accounting firms], so [they're in a position] to compare. Those who come from a Big Four say: "You don't know how good this is."

But can this workforce model spread beyond finance?

There's a huge talent shortage. Sarbanes-Oxley becomes this view into what the world may look like five to eight years from now, when the demographic shortage hits. This is a culture companies have to work toward. The real question is whether companies lend lip service to it, or do they bake it into the culture? The winners will be the ones that bake it in.

Are companies doing that?

In some ways, it will come as a rude awakening. We're coming off a period of time when all you did as a company was cut [jobs] and create more productivity. You can't just say: "We've done this the last six years, now we're going to do something different." Companies need to create the loyalty and the agility at the same time, and that needs to be practiced, not just switched on and off.

The best companies that we deal with are really thinking about it, and it's hard for them. You have quarterly profit pressures, and you can see this kind of train coming, but it's pretty far out. So it's easy to say: "Let's get to that next quarter, or the next planning cycle." And there you are another 12 months closer, and you start to erode your talent pool, and you get a bit of corporate anorexia when it comes to talent.

So the war for talent that McKinsey & Co. made famous in the late 1990s -- the nap rooms, the signing bonuses, the on-site dry cleaning -- is that all coming back?

The theory in the war for talent was: Protect, love, and grow your elite 10%. The world has changed. Companies have gotten so efficient. You used to have 2,000 people in a call center, now it's 500. Every body counts now.

Does that mean flextime for the mail-room guy?

If you asked 10 Gen Y people and 10 Gen X people: "What does work-life balance mean to you?", you'll get not 20 but maybe 12 or 13 different answers. Which means you can't just say: "We have a 30-hour workweek [or] a 40-hour workweek." [You have to say:] "We have work-life balance."

Doesn't that make managing much harder?

It makes you nuts. You used to be able to manage by rules, guidelines, and everyone played in those, and you just had to recruit people who could work within that culture. Now managing has gotten harder because not only is this a problem in the U.S., it's worse in Japan, Italy, France, and Australia. Their demographics and skill shortages are much more dramatic.

And if you're running a global business, it just got exponentially harder. It's [tempting] to pull a formula off the shelf and for a CEO to say: "Well, O.K., that's what we're going to do." [But] you're in a state of change all the time, so our view is [to have] no policy. As a corporation, we have no sick days and no vacation days anymore. We just have paid time off. That may work for us now. A year from now it may not. We may have to change it again.

Patricia O'Connell

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