Talent Management: The Benefits(sic) of Strategy Limiting Access

Most TM approaches and descriptions focus are employee centric. I view employee oriented strategies as a legitimate source of talent access, but only one of several. I argue that current TM descriptions and approaches when used, limit organizations to a subset of TM solutions and I believe this is an unfortunate consequence. Why? Because, there is no reason to believe that the superior TM strategy is going to be identified and implemented.

See the two brainstorming questions below and consider how they open up or limit identifying potential TM solutions:

  • How we can improve our attraction to top flight talent?
  • How can we improve our access to top flight talent?

Because “attraction” is so wrapped up in the employee mode of thinking, the list of suggestions will be predictable: how to make our work place more enticing to people with talent.

Accessibility does not have this implicit lock-in and limiting connotation. The brain stormed list will naturally and appropriately identify work place enticement improvements, but, the list will likely include other ideas as well.

What might it include: outsourcing, partnering, capital investments, etc.

My greatest angst for my clients is when they pursue a self-limiting direction when determining an optimal strategy for themselves. However, I love it when their competition engages in the same behaviour.

The employee centric concept in TM is so engrained and implicitly accepted as a metaphysical fact that I have found it hard for clients to remove themselves from its chains.

I have developed several approaches over the years and I will provide an overview to one of them.

I approach the TM issue as if it is not an HR one. The language and framing I use is a very business (financially  oriented) and a micro-economic one.

I talk about the  U&R of locking down working capital into employee centric strategies to the organization. I highlight that a fundamental economic tenet is to ensures the appropriate balance between fixed and variable costs. I have them review the principles when either the fixed or variable cost singular choice is the superior one. I find my self being an advocate for more variability in cost structure regarding TM strategies because of the bias towards employee centric solutions.

I understand that from an accounting perspective payroll is a considered a variable cost. However, for many organizations it acts quite the opposite, at the very least it is a “lethargically” variable cost which means that when timing is critical, the changes in this account item is lagging both in terms of ramping up and ramping down.

The other problem with the employee centric solution is when it becomes imperative to ramp it down (i.e., reduce it) there are often heavy consequence costs (morale, engagement, productivity, future success in recruiting, etc.). So I highlight that employee centric strategies are not ones to get into lightly or haphazardly.

Now, I know that most TM strategies will be employee centric. This is not the concern for me. The concern is an employee centric strategy is selected when another strategy if identified and examined would be a superior one for the organization’s context.

Sometimes organizations back into this position by accident or desperation. Witness the following story:

A fast food organization was having great difficulty in maintaing its required compliment of order taker/cashiers at its various outlets. The impact on customer service and satisfaction/loyalty was very tangible and real. This was an issue that not only wouldn’t go away, they could not ignore it either. Wage rates were not the primary reason nor was there much flexibility there anyway (remember this is an industry of low margins). They tried many recommended employee centric strategies and non of them provided a sustained improvement. Out of desperation, they introduced ATM type kiosks that would allow customers to place their oder and pay for them. The line-ups were then there for pickup only. The result? Better service (speed, accuracy, food freshness, etc.). Improved customer satisfaction and subsequent loyalty. Third, they improved their financial margins in each outlet by freeing up additional working capital.

They arrived at their TM solution when they abandoned their employee centric TM frame of reference.

The next example is one where the organization looked at its business model for part of its operation to solve its TM issue:

A retail pharmacy chain was not only expanding its outlets, but facing additional competition with the introduction of pharmacy services in non traditional areas such as grocery stores. The pharmacy was finding it difficult to retain its skilled pharmacist talent to meet its existing locations needs (i.e., 24/7 service). This was due to not only “poaching” by competitors but also that fact that most new pharmacists were female who found working the late night shifts a burden to their overall work/life balance priorities. Again raising wages and improving “in-organization” work climate strategies did not provide any sustainable relief. In terms of the wage rate option they found they did not have as “deep pockets” as the competition – who viewed pharmacy services almost like a “lost leader” service. Out of desperation they ended up looking at their drug dispensary business itself. The question they asked was: “What do we really need a pharmacist for anyway?” hat they learned was they could change how they used this skilled precious talent such that they could meet their service needs with fewer pharmacists and provide the technician role with an enhanced role. The result: freed up working capital to be used to finance better wages, better employee satisfaction from both the pharmacists and technicians, and an overall less expensive operation.

I have found that examining the business model for the organization’s TM issue invariably uncovers options that are relatively easy to implement, often competitively sustainable, lead to better employee engagement, and provide tangible working capital benefits.

Organizations (because they are social systems) setup practices that become unquestioned habits over time. When ways of doing thing things become strong habits, our minds treat these practices as metaphysical facts that are immutable to change.

The resistance to change in: “How we do things around here!” can be remarkable. I have seen this resistance not only in affected staff (after all, nothing is so bad that someone doesn’t prefer it to the alternative). but also in managers and executives. I know I have hit “gold” when I hear someone say: “that’s not practical” or “thats an academic solution”.

Part of the dilemma on why people do not readily adopt change even when they acknowledge that it could lead to real improvements includes”

  • As adults we resist change because it is hard – we have to unlearn while we learn
  • As adults we have learned that it is unpleasant when we become less competent and proficient while we learn new ways of doing things. In fact this can be a serious impediment when organizations “load up” people so they have barely enough time to breathe or they set performance goals that penalize people who lose their productivity edge.

When I work with clients, I always factor the above two insights into the adoption of a strategy (Why bother changing if you can’t/won’t allow yourself the opportunity to succeed at it?) as well as mapping out the implementation challenges ahead.


About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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