Talent Management: A New Take on “Best Employer” TM Orthodoxy


Do you believe that effective TM is about being a better “employer magnet”? The orthodox TM approach is to achieve TM success by being a great, no, better employer than the competition. Witness a recent (8 May, 2011) article in the Vancouver Province titled “Take a good look at yourselves”, by Paul Luke, page A32. The article covers several ideas and thoughts of Louise Pauze (management consultant).

She makes the following key points:

  • Companies need to win the demographic war (she cites several significant demographic trends in Canada over the next 10 years).
  • There are three kinds of employers; those with personalities (charisma), those without, and those with fake personalities. Clearly the first category is the one that can prevail in the demographic war.
  • The corporate brand is the visible face of the employer’s personality. It has three indispensable elements: embraces a new employee attraction strategy; it shapes a workplace experience that is appealing enough to retain current employees; it maximizes the value of human capital through employee engagement (productivity improvements through building trust).
  • Must practice two-way transparency by sharing information and seeking feedback if we are to build an authentic personality.
  • Must be careful to manage expectations so they are realistic and authentic.
  • Must beware of trying to be all things for all people.

Let me get one pique out of the way: I think the metaphor “demographic war” is very dangerous let alone unhelpful. The concept of competition in business does not include the notion of people killing other people in order to achieve success. Talk about a brand builder: We are an organization with personality (so we are successful at attraction and retention) and we achieve this by being at war with the country’s demographic trends. Might as well as say we are at war with the tides in Nova Scotia. This is just such an unhelpful way of constructing the demographics issue. Readers

If was to build a robust TM strategy around the employment option, I would be interested in picking up many aspects of the above ideas. However, as readers of this BLOG know my notion of TM is that it is about the practice of securing appropriate access to talent as, when and how needed. This may be achieved by options other than employment.

The war metaphor has some interesting implications if we allow ourselves to run with it for a bit”:

  • It is a militaristic metaphor, so we are drawn to military like solutions: Win, lose or draw
  • It makes it easy to envisage strategies that include such verbs as attack, retreat, siege, reinforce, protect, fortify, bombard, misdirect, etc.

I must admit, I find a number of these images quite inappropriate to the challenge of finding robust TM strategies. This just reinforces my opinion that we need to be careful with the metaphors we use in life’s deliberations.

The metaphor of “personalities” makes it easy to see the three fundamental options Louise. The first one (the one she advocates) is akin to establishing a “fort” or “stronghold” like entity where the organization is a “haven” for talent. a haven by nature both attracts and retains because it is “unsafe” outside of the haven’s walls.

This seems to be a recurring thematic conceptualization in orthodox TM. It views the environment in a negative connotation (war) and the necessary response is one of protection (retention) and enticement (attraction).

What if we don’t incorporate a “fearing” like interpretation on our environment? Most of us don’t fear the weather as such (storms and the like notwithstanding). We accept that it is so and find ways to get on with our lives anyway. At an emotional level I prefer the way I have positioned TM (securing access …) as it seems to be more neutral regarding powerful trends such as the demographic ones. It views the existing and future environments as things to be worked with. Other agents/organizations may be competitors, partners, etc. at the same time (the notion of “frenemies” is one I have heard recently).

I realize that this is a matter of preference. However, we do learn, that some preferences are more useful than others. I just prefer world views that are more descriptive, less judgemental especially during a strategic decision making process. I have found it so much easier to see more possibilities. Do I have strong views about what I like/dislike? Of course. I just work hard (sometimes not so successfully) at parking this judging step to a more useful time and place.

What’s the underlying learning for me?

When we deal with systemic issues (ones that persist in spite of best efforts), I believe we should look at the form of defining/describing the issue (especially the metaphors) as the root of our dilemma.

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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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