Talent Management: a Military Perspective on a Learning Organization


How does the military operationalize a learning organization? A short article in 24 May, 2011 National Post titled: “Battle-tested lessons for small businesses from a former Navy SEAL”, page FP13 outlines three intriguing and challenging ideas:

  1. It’s 80% training, 20% execution. Executives (actually most organizational roles) typically spend 100% of their time executing and 0% training. (italics, my comment)
  2. Every seat counts – do we have 100% confidence that those directly reporting are fully support them?
  3. Everyone is expendable. Make sure contingency plans are thought through.

Point one makes a dramatic statement: unless we take the time out to learn, we can’t actually claim that we are getting fundamentally better. Note, I differentiate “fundamentally better” from the improvements that come from repetition and creation of automatic patterns of behaviour/decision making – at best these are incremental in nature. Why? because repetition type learning installs just as easily poor habits as well as superior ones. Why? Because we don’t think about what we are automating – we do it because it worked for us in the past. When I hear any executive make the claim that they are a learning organization, I always determine the learn/execution ratio. I am not committed to the 80/20 ratio espoused above, I just need to see that the first number is of some consequence.

Point two reinforces the points about “fit for the job” in my earlier post today. Allegiance and affiliation are absolutely critical in some roles (and just as importantly, not in others). Where they are, we are well served to respect and act upon this second point.

Point three drives home that a key notion of uncertainty and risk in TM is the sudden unavailability of a critical talent. We often call these critical or pivotal roles and we are well served to know which ones they are in our organizations. If we don’t recognize which roles are critical and if we don’t have appropriate contingency plans in place – how can we claim we are doing priority TM? Like the litmus test above for learning organizations, I consider this a similar test to whether meaningful TM is even being done in an organization.

Cheers.

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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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