Talent Management and A Professor’s New Clothes

grey sport coat and pink tie
Human resources or talent management touches just about every part of an organization. How does an organization grow while sourcing the right person for a job? In this blog, Post University Professor and Program Chair Don Kelly shares his observations on how finding “talent” may be similar to a quest for a new blazer.

At colleges and universities at this time of year, a new semester is about to open. For me, like many people, the opening of a new school year is an opportunity to add to one’s wardrobe, in my case, as a faculty member, perhaps a new sport coat.

As I thought about it, I was struck by the similarity of the process of choosing a new jacket and the organizational process of choosing the right “person” for an open position.

My process for choosing a sport coat is pretty typical; go to a place with a large enough inventory. Look for basically the right fit, the right pattern, the right price, the right coat to match what I have in my closet but… not one I already have. It should add to my fashion options, not duplicate what’s in the closet.

I then choose one that “looks good” but I know I’m not done. Now come the adjustments. I need sleeves lengthened (or shortened), that pesky roll on the collar taken out, perhaps the coat taken in (or let out) a little. All of these do not change the fundamental nature of the garment. They just make it “fit”.

This is often the model we use when staffing an open position in an organization.

We look at the inventory (our talent pool), decide whether we have it “in stock” or if we need to order something custom (from “outside”). If we look outside, one of the chief considerations is whether a candidate has the right cultural “fit” with our organization, much like we might look for clothing that “fits” our style. Chances are a radical change “in style“ will make it difficult for that choice to be part of the organization’s culture.

We then look for a match against our stated needs but in a way that is not redundant with the talent we already have on hand. Once we find it we apply our alterations, through training and development, coaching and feedback, to finely tailor the person to the job, as we saw it.

Is there anything wrong with this approach? In one sense, the answer is “no”. Many organizations have managed their talent needs in the past this way and have, for the most part, done well or at least well enough.

A question comes up in light of a growing scarcity of talent today. Jobs are going unfilled or recruiters are scrambling to fill positions so that the work of the organization does not suffer because of lack of talent in place. What if we could find a source of readily available talent already at hand? It may take a change in how we look at and how we identify and engage talent in our organizations.

How do we move from an emphasis on the talented few in an organization to the engagement of the many?

These are the kind of questions that organizations like Zappos have answered by putting into place new organizational structures and creative approaches which allow people to use their talents in areas that excite them. Furthermore, taking ideas from the field of Agile Technology, organizations are now applying this thinking to the area of human resources.

In the March-April, 2018 edition of the Harvard Business Review, Peter Capelli and Anna Tavis describe elements of how Agile Technology thinking is being used when it comes to ideas such as “managing talent” in an organization. In their article they describe the process changes which take place in traditional functions such as performance appraisals, coaching, recruiting, etc. when new thinking is applied.

Agile thinking, applied to talent management can lead an organization to a more flexible definition about how people’s skills can/should be used. Instead of a static “job” with its accompanying job description, perhaps we should be designing “work experiences” that are centered on projects. This would allow people to use all or, more importantly, part of their skill set in a variety of ways, perhaps even across different areas of an organization.

A “position” therefore might be composed of a number of different projects each of which can take advantage of the tool set the person brings. Most importantly, this approach also allows employees to develop and hone different skills based on the projects he/she would be doing. Someone’s skill (and passion) can drive what they contribute or even where in the organization they can contribute.

True agility brings the skill needed at the time it is needed. For the individual, it can mean greater engagement by working on what you know, what you are good at, and hopefully, what you love.

For organizations, it can mean a significant change in how we think about how work gets done and by whom. Perhaps projects can be crowd-sourced and produce a more creative, better outcome.

Perhaps the next time I feel the need for a new sport coat, I might consider that I already have a vest in my closet that would work nicely!

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