Talent Management: Nokia, RIM & Microsoft vs. Google & Apple


Today’s (now revised) post looks at the notion that effective TM is less about having great talent and more about how to use it. The five companies noted above are used as TM critical issue examples and are not in anyway broader comments about them as businesses.

Nokia, RIM and Microsoft are having hard times of it in their respective markets.

Although Microsoft is extremely profitable it has a distinguished track record of being unsuccessful (in terms of profitability and ROI) in any recent business expansion (Kinect? may be the lone exception). In markets that it had an innovators presence (smart mobile phones and slates) it has failed to establish and hold their first mover  advantage. It has a public image of being a “wait for Apple and copy what they do two to three years later. Its recent revolving door of senior executives has left questions in others.

Nokia was not too long ago the king of the roost. It dominated mobile phones globally. Since 2007 (the introduction of the iPhone) it has seen its market share plummet, but more importantly its profitability (per unit sold and gross total) has dropped. In recent days the new CEO for Nokia has circulated an internal memo saying Nokia is on a burning North Seas platform. This shift in fortunes has taken place over three short years. This is just remarkable. There has also been (and will likely be more) significant changes in senior leadership roles.

RIM is still profitable, yet it began to increasingly struggle since the iPhone came into the marketplace in 2007. In its June 2011 performance report demonstrated how far it has fallen behind its competition. The stock price has fallen and a major investor has publicly decided to sell his shares.In Business Insider an employee’s report indicated that the issues were cultural and leadership, especially “hubris”. The talent and the willingness to work productively hard as present in the organization.

Google has been a remarkable success in a number of ways. Their business model is unique in that they give their products away and earn their income off the ad income from product use. People seem to love the fact that the products are free and there is little resistance regarding loss of privacy. As we use Google’s products we are being instantly monitored and this information is used by other organizations to better market and position their commercial offerings.

Apple has become the dominant force in smart mobile phones and tablet/pad form computers along with music players. They do not sell the most phones but they have incredible market share of all profits in that market. They have become the most valuable technical company by virtue of capitalization of their shares.

Where does talent come into play?

I make the proposition that all four of these organizations have great talent within them. So I doubt we can show that talent pool differences would account for the differences in commercial performance.

Clearly they have strategy differences and this must be a factor. However, strategy is a product of people (i.e., personification of leadership talent). Numerous commentators have noted that Apple and Google have superior capacities to act on and implement their strategies, whereas Microsoft, RIM and Nokia are criticized for their difficulties in this area.

This picks up my key point: having great bench strength is nice to have. Having the wherewithal to perform is the competitive asset. Execution is a TM issue. It is about deployment (right people, right place at the right time) and it is also about respecting what it takes to perform well.

What does it take to perform well?

  • having a competent purpose/strategy/plan of action
  • marshalling the right resources in an efficient and effective manner
  • creating the applicable organization of roles to support the above
  • knowing how to intervene and stay out of the way while people perform
  • Not having destructive performance management (PM) systems such as “stacking” one (Talent Management: How Not to do Performance Management). Better an inept PM system than a destructive one.
  • knowing how to provide performance feedback in real time (in my darker moments I wish organizations would abolish their current “set goals” and “how did we do this past year” performance management systems)
  • ensuring those filling the roles are competent – know what and more importantly know how
  • blend the investments in talent and infrastructure (physical and informative) to maximally leverage the performance of critical roles talent
  • etc.

Dealing with these matters is the role of leadership talent.

One of the remarkable (because history shows this time and time again) dilemmas of success is the transition from self confidence to hubris. This is the dilemma of organizations as well as individuals. If there is one cherished leadership role it is: encouraging self confidence while stemming the transition to hubris.

This is a core cultural “performance crown jewel”. This is why I found it exceptionally illuminating to read about the RIM employee’s reference to hubris in RIM’s co-CEOs.

If someone were to ask me: “What is a critical dimension of a learning organization?” I would include this notion of resisting the transition to hubris as key attribute.

Listen to how an executive replies to the efforts of a competitor. If the remarks carry the tone of derision or dismissal, I believe you are observing possible symptoms of hubris (there is a classic video of Steve Ballmer derisively laughing at the iPhone – I still find this creepy to watch).

The effective use of talent is the key leadership performance purpose. If asked I would make the following observations:

  • How does what you do and say make it easier for those under your care to excel?
  • How does what you do and say provide the continuing clarity of purpose and facility to excel in profitable/meaningful areas?
  • How does what you do in investments in yourself (leadership development and personal learning) demonstrate that you are better at doing the above this time period vs the previous? Note this is not a results (achieved a goal) measure but an outcome (made a difference anyway) measure.

Leaders are expected to deliver in circumstances where their direct control/influence is extremely limited – but it is a doable challenge (history has shown this to be so). When we see it, we are always amazed at the difference they make.

Post Scripts:

17 April, 2011

This has been the most visited post in my BLOG. I suspect it is because the title suggests that there might be specific organizational practices discussion. Obviously this has an exploration of a critical TM concept – the role of deployment and effective use of talent as the point that really matters.

I argue that the outcome success of an organization’s TM practices are evident in the business outcomes themselves. Note I distinguish between results and outcomes. Does TM alone determine organizational outcome success? No of course not. The way I factor out the volume or noise of other significant contributors is to look at the organization over time. This is why these four organizations are of interest to me in this TM discussion – there has been a multiple year patterns here. So the implications of respective TM practices is I believe warranted. If you want to build a business case for doing better TM in your organization, you might benefit in your efforts by considering this perspective.

Breaking news: Microsoft apparently is having difficulty in replacing its tech. talent. An article in 7 June, 2011 Business Insider titled “Guess which company is winning the war for tech talent” by Matt Rosoff reports on a study done by TopProspect. TopProspect helps companies find technical employees based on peer recommendations. Microsoft has one of the lowest ratings. Disclaimer Note, I do not know Microsoft’s general strategy to recruiting tech. talent and it use of TopProspect versus other avenues.

19 June, 2011

 I have added parallel commentary about RIM as recent reports on its travails are remarkably relevant

9 July, 2011

I was recently perusing a seminal work by Peter Drucker titled “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities and Practices”, Harper & Row 1973 where in chapter 36 (Spirit of Performance) page 455 where in the very first line he says:

“The purpose of an organization is to enable common men to do uncommon things.”

Leadership is responsible for organization. Think about your organization. Can you honestly say that it is set up to enable you to do uncommon things? I found this statement by Drucker extremely sobering while also being heartening.

Best wishes and good luck. 

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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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One Response to Talent Management: Nokia, RIM & Microsoft vs. Google & Apple

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