The notion of system permeability probably seems quite abstract and conceptual for many readers. So, why do I use this notion? The reason is I want to be able to see issues differently and the use of language is very helpful in this regard. Think about something that you have fussed over for a period of time. The way you framed the issue was clearly part of why you struggled with the issue. You likely found that once you described the issue fundamentally different (e.g., described the problem as an opportunity) you were able to see possible solutions.
TM issues are in my mind based on how organizations define and structure their operating or business model and the subsequent roles. Also people in organizations are strongly tempted to view TM issues in terms of employee centric issues (attraction and retention, being a best employer, etc.). When these approaches work, they resolve their access to talent needs. BUT, what if in spite of good efforts, you are unable to satisfactorily solve your TM issue? What do you do next? Do you try harder doing what you have already been doing? What if this doesn’t satisfy your needs?
The notion of employees carries with it a system boundary notion. Think about it – the people within (our side of the organization’s boundary) are employees, those who are not employees are by definition outside our organizational boundary. This is true in/out, us/them, ours/yours type thinking.
Retail is an example where they began to think outside of their us/them notion regarding customers. Sometime in the past (anybody know?) a retail organization began to think of customers as people who could do some of the tasks that sales clerks or associates would have been doing. Groceries stores use suppliers to do considerable goods inventory work (shelf stocking, inventory management – taking out past due date inventory, and so on)
The above examples are all about TM issues being solved through considering roles tasks being done by non-employee solutions. This is conceptually the notion of system boundary permeability.
So! If you have a systemic TM issue, why not consider how your organization’s business/operating model creates the issue? A truly innovative and sustaining solution means finding an option where the TM issue literally disappears. This would be the highest order solution (aka ideal final outcome). In many cases we find below the surface solutions where we can access talent that is not employee centric and in many cases this ca be virtually free.
Finding innovative solutions will always be discomforting – the very process attacks that what you are used to doing needs to be changed. We will feel the threat of loss through this process. Permeability allows us to ask the question: “Couldn’t we do this part of what we do differently, and would that help us with our issue?”
This is why I use the notion of system permeability – it helps me see beyond the obvious and the “What is must essentially be the what will be“.