Talent Management: Towards a Systems View

This BLOG posting postulates a meta – system view of talent management (TM). Even though the description of TM in this BLOG is a system one (effective access and use of talent) in that it is a dynamic description it is not described in a broader system context.

Why is this an important omission?

For the reader who is intrigued by the TM description in this BLOG, they will be left wondering how do I come some of my conclusions. Conclusions such as thinking of talent in the broadest sense possible. Over the years I have had “push back” and “feedback” about this broad sense of talent. A typical comment is: “Very interesting, but academic. A practical approach is to focus on the workforce/staffing aspect of talent (and if circumstances seem appropriate consider contract talent as well.”

People have the right to choose their “boundaries” of interest and inquiry. So even if I think a client is shortchanging their opportunities by taking a staff centric view of TM it is fully legitimate choice.

My role is to push on the boundaries, especially when specific dilemma type TM issues arise for clients. A dilemma will arise when staff centric TM approach does not provide satisfying solutions or strategies. I understand the sentiment: “If it works, why change it?”.

because I was being challenged by clients to deal with their more vexing TM issues, I naturally developed an alternative TM framework. What was implicit as it took form was that there was a meta-system context and I have never outlined this before.

Understand, that:

  • That this is a work in progress, I have yet to complete my understanding and appreciation of what I have moved towards in my TM approach development.
  • That this is pretty conceptual, and will at times be conjectural. I will use examples and mental experiments to help in describing my meta – system approach.

A meta – system is a larger contextual system within which the specific system of interest is nested. It is an environmental perspective.

The meta – system for my TM approach is based on the notion of system boundaries and more specifically the permeability in system boundaries.

A classical simple system graphic model would show three elements:

  1. the system (graphically a box/rectangle) and its boundaries which delineates the system from anything else
  2. the system’s inputs (graphically an arrow pointing towards the system)
  3. the system’s outputs (graphically an arrow point outwards away from the system)

This simple model has two other attributes that though visible are often ignored: that there is a larger space (the space occupied by the arrows) and the boundary itself.

Regarding the larger space, the system is always interacting with something else. The exception is a closed system which by its insularity from anything else acts as its own little universe.

Regarding the system boundaries, as drawn they provide a picture of a hard and fast delineation from the rest of the universe. Think of walls in a building which delineate the structure from the weather, outside noises, etc. The graphic emphasizes the inside (the system innards) vs. outside (external to the system). Another example: our organization (system) vs. the industry (the outside environment that we are a member of).

I have always been bothered by this and similar graphical descriptions of systems.

With this approach it makes it clear what is in the system and what is not. But as in many things in life what seems obvious becomes murky very quickly. in/out system distinctions can become very hazy very quickly.

Take the first example (building). The physical structure’s wall are typically permeable in several ways: doors allow people and things in and out (inputs and outputs?). windows allow light in and out as well as the inside and outside views (more inputs and outputs?). How about a space craft or submarine – aren’t systems that are “very closed”? Not really, it does not take much reflection to see that things (information at the very least) is coming and going (again inputs and outputs).

Organizations which are social systems with physical adjuncts are even more permeable and the interaction with the outside can be very dynamic: suppliers can be customers and investors, and opponents to the firm’s investment plans, etc. In the context of TM my delineation of a supplier and customer may be different than yours: Apple designs but does not manufacture and it handles marketing and some of its sales; Samsung designs, manufactures, and also handles its marketing and some of its sales. Both these organizations are in similar businesses (they are competitors) to a degree yet they have distinct approaches to doing their business. They have different business models which means they have differing system boundaries.

If we treat the system somewhat along the lines of the enterprises’ legal description  then we could show Samsung as a singular box (as it does most of the processing from raw materials to final product distribution). How would we show Apple though if we wanted to show how the two systems differ? We might want to show Apple as two boxes with an arrow going from one box to the other. this would show the system space represented by the manufacturing piece which is contracted out (so it is not part of Apple’s leal entity). description.

If we wanted to show Apple’s business as a single box we would have to accept different boundary assumptions than we do for Samsung.

One way we could reconcile is to view the system as an end to end industrial process. But if we did this we would miss so much of what makes these two organizations special in how they are successful enterprises and why one approach may accrue competitive advantages/disadvantages. we would mask the differences in their business models.

How we set up our business is a fundamental strategic choice AND it establishes the general boundary principle on what will be our “inside/staff” talent and what won’t.

The system view that shows Apple having two boxes also drives home the notion that we can AND do access our talent needs in various ways.

The meta – system architecture principle we are exploring here is the permeability of system boundaries. How the system interacts with the larger environment (literal and figurative doors for inputs and outputs) means that we can explore “how best” to set the boundaries.

In TM, to what degree do we rely on contract talent? To what degree do we rely on using internal talent? To what degree do we use more “distant” talent options (e.g., purchase services from other enterprises)? All with the goal of making our business the most successful we can.

One of the analytical tools I use when doing TM work is to map the TM issue area using the 9 windows system view (looks at the issue of interest as a system in a context of larger systems, sub systems and temporally [past present, and future]). The adaptation I have added is to show overlapping bubbles on each of the nine system boxes. This reminds me that system boundaries are permeable and a lot can go on at the boundaries. This is my approach to keeping this in mind.

We not only design the system (in terms of what’s in/out), but we also design the rigidity of the boundaries. This insight has significant implications to thinking about TM. It’s just not that straight forward a choice as what and how many staff do we need. And, within each choice we have several sub choices.

I personally use this conceptual perspective to do the following:

  • allows me to see possibilities that aren’t as easy with other perspectives;
  • allows me to see that we can achieve similar things in very unique ways;
  • allows me to anticipate where uncertainty and risks (U&R) can emerge ( by definition, a system defines its profile of U&R);
  • allows me to think about talent as having multiple solution possibilities (actually allows me to establish the categories of solution sets up front);
  • allows me to think of boundaries as mechanisms for defining roles of in/out system stakeholders which allows me to think of these stakeholders as TM opportunities;
  • etc.

As i indicated earlier, this thinking is a work in progress. For those of you who are interested in: “Where do I come from!”; and “Where I am going to!” You have a sense of the area I am exploring.




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.
This entry was posted in Decison Making, Risk & Uncertainty, Talent Manangement. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s