Monday, August 18, 2008

Reengineering Workplaces

The 21st century has contributed a variety of new ideas about talent management. Some authors have argued that careers - a span of professional effort, often practiced within the same firm, and rewarded by promotions, through a series of increasingly senior positions strung together like a predictable narrative - are a thing of the past. The contemporary workforce moves from one position to another, from one project to another or, to speak of the challenge we all face as employers and as employees, from firm to firm. Each of us carries a set of skills, a body of experience to draw on, and a range of professional knowledge, updated continuously, and we employ these resources in each project we tackle. The role of managers, in this model, is to use talent - or to seek it out if it isn't represented among the firm's existing staff - to accomplish (and, in fact, define and reimagine) the company's objectives. It's a bit more like the challenge Hollywood producers have, acquiring the talent to create the blockbuster that will satisfy the studio's revenue targets. Put Sophia Coppola in The Godfather, Part III, and you have problems, move her behind the camera, and you have a breakout hit like Lost in Translation.

The difficulty is that many of the practices we employ to manage talent are passed hand to hand within a narrow professional sphere. Colleagues, members of professional associations, share "best practices," adopting ideas or processes that seem to work for "industry leaders." But this somewhat myopic practice might cause us to miss great innovations that haven't percolated up to the industry leaders yet and, as a result, haven't yet been awarded "best practice" status.

One of the great benefits of returning to the classroom is the chance to encounter solutions and practices freshly borrowed or transplanted from other disciplines or industries. Peter Cappelli, for example, in a reading we recently distributed at several information sessions hosted by the Graham School of General Studies, argues that solutions to our talent management dilemmas can be borrowed from a field outside of human resources or organizational development. He looks to radical changes in managing the supply chain now common across many industries. Firms no longer stockpile components, or buy up suppliers so they can guarantee an uninterrupted flow of supplies and raw materials. The new practice, designed to reduce the investment of capital in raw materials that may never be used, or the storage of manufactured products that may never be sold if consumer tastes shift, is just-in-time delivery and on-demand manufacturing. This greatly improves a firm's responsiveness - they have the capital to invest in innovations when the market demands them (or technology permits them), and they can more easily customize to match consumers' preferences.

What Cappelli is proposing is something he calls talent-on-demand. The goal is to improve our ability to forecast our talent needs, then engineer efficient and flexible processes for developing talent internally, while cultivating approaches to recruit outside talent when and in areas it proves necessary.

What sets Cappelli's argument apart isn't the straightforward prescriptions he lays out - develop talent and when necessary acquire it - which couldn't be more simple. What is worth taking note of is the source of his inspiration. He reaches outside of the circle, beyond the ongoing conversations within human resource management and organizational development, to find a logic (and a language) to craft a new way forward.

1 comment:

Dhamitha Arsakularatna said...

I think today's work force aspires to be entreprenurial with a saftey net of a paycheck. In this context I think key employees should be considered partners and rules of a informal Joint Venture should be applied. This way key employees can invest themselves into a project with positive incentives for success.

High performing employees, that can tele-commute should be encouraged to do so with the understanding productivity must be met. This loosening of the leash rewards tenured emoployees by instilling a sense of automony within them.

Over all talent management is a dynamic undertaking. Much like a sports team, critical skills need to be honed and recruitment is ongoing. However, new people can teach the team to think differently and companies need to foster an enviroment of learning.

The biggest hurdle we face is moving from the factory worker to the empowered knowledge worker.