A New Way To Think About IT Talent Management

by drjim on August 11, 2008

Talent Management problems are very similar to supply chain problems

Talent Management problems are very similar to supply chain problems

So hopefully we can agree that most firm’s approach to talent management is at best broken, and often missing-in-action. What’s an IT manager to do? Well, let’s first look for a process that actually works in the modern corporation and then let’s see what we can do to model it for talent management. That can’t be that hard to do can it?

If you very coldly view staff as “products” for just one fleeting moment, then you might be able to agree with me that one might be able to view talent management as some sort of soylent green supply chain problem. There has been a lot of work done on how to improve and optimize supply chains over the last 60 or so years and we can use this work to improve how we manage talent today. If you’ll allow me to extend the product analogy just a little bit further, then you’ll find that the nirvana of talent management would be if we could create a “just-in-time” delivery system that would provide the right employee at the right time to get the job done correctly.

Since inventing a brand new way to do talent management would be too risky, let’s take a closer look at what supply chain processes can do for us here:

  • The bane of talent management is forecasting how many people will be needed over time. Supply chain processes have exactly the same challenge; however, they’ve come up with a way to do it.
  • Reducing the costs of manufacturing a product is very similar to a company’s efforts to minimize the amount that they spend to develop talent.
  • The common practice of outsourcing parts of a manufacturing process is equivalant to hiring outsiders to do jobs.
  • The challenge of making sure that products get delivered on time can be thought of as being similar to planning for company events where succession is necessary.
  • Finally, supply chain management deals with how products move through a supply chain and eliminating bottlenecks that occur in that chain. Managing a pipeline of internal talent is very similar as you attempt to have employees advance through development jobs with different responsibilities.

In the end, there are four principles that can be drawn from supply chain management and applied to talent management. What’s interesting is that two of them deal with uncertainty that appears on the demand side (make vs. buy and forecasting) while the other two deal with uncertainty on the supply side (improve development ROI and how to protect that investment). We’ll discuss these four principles in detail next time.

What do you think? Is it too chillingly cold to try to apply supply chain principles to HR tasks? Should we not try to fix something that you don’t think is broken? Do you have another example of an existing process that would be a better model to use? Leave a comment and let me know.

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