The Myth Of Talent Management: Why It Doesn’t Work

Just like the Chicago Bulls, IT managers have to find a way to manage their talent
Just like the Chicago Bulls, IT managers have to find a way to manage their talent

Everyone who has lead a team, managed a department, or run a company knows that in addition to all of the other “keeping the doors open” jobs that they have, the task that can sneak up on them at any time is staffing. This coin has two sides: you don’t want to have too many warm bodies on your team if you don’t have the paying work to support them. At the same time, you don’t want to have to few or you’ll not be able to secure new work and that will eventually lead to your firm’s demise.

Two weeks ago I found myself in the wrong position on this issue. The project that a team that I was responsible for had run into some delays. This meant that the schedule had been stretched out and yet the funding for the staffing had not been changed. What this meant is that I had to start to shed project members. This ended up requiring me to to make several trips down to the cafeteria with team members to let then know that their time on the project was up. Needless to say this was not fun for me and it was clearly not fun for them. As I did this, I was wondering what’s a manager to do to avoid this type of poor talent management?

After the bloodletting was done, I started to do some research in order to find a better way to manage talent. A smart guy by the name of Peter Cappelli over at the University of Penn’s Wharton School has spent some time looking at this situation and he reports that things are pretty grim.

What is talent management? In a nutshell, it’s an attempt to anticipate the level of need for staff and then creating a plan for how you are going to achieve it. Dr. Cappelli says that he’s found that most firms fall into one of two groups for managing their talent: either they do nothing and run around when they have to fill a position or they have a staffing forecasting system that’s left over from the 1950’s which is now inaccurate because the world is moving so much faster.

Anybody remember internal development programs? When I worked at Boeing certain workers were identified as “Hi-Pots” (High Potentials) and they were placed on a career path that rotated them through multiple departments. This approach has pretty much gone the way of the Dodo. The few shining exceptions are at GE and PepsiCo that have their famous management academies that mangers attend as part of their job. While these are great programs, who cares since only a few managers in the world have access to them.

In the 1990’s hiring folks from outside became all the rage. It was possible because there were so many people who had been shed from other companies that the pool of available talent was quite large. Bad news – that pool’s all but dried up now. Additionally, as the pool got smaller, firms who had spent money training their employees started to see them leave and go to work for their competitors. This, of course, made them even less interested in investing in training their staff.

Ok, so where do we stand right now? Most companies / departments / managers don’t have any sort of talent management plan in place right now. However, the upper management is starting to realize that this is one of their key challenges. The ultimate question is how can your firm’s talent be managed in such a way that it will allow the firm to ultimately make more money (and spend less)?

I’ve got some thoughts on things that you can do, but first do you agree that things are as dire as I’ve laid them out to be? Does your firm have a talent management program? Are YOU being managed as part of a talent management program? Post a comment & let me know.