Thanks to a posting by Bruce Hoppe on his Connectedness blog last February, I came across an interesting study by Robin Athey, who leads Deloitte's research on organizational performance. Deloitte has just published a white paper written by Robin called "It's 2008: Do You Know Where Your Talent Is?".
Robin does a very good job of re-framing the talent challenge faced by companies around the world. As Robin points out, most companies still tend to focus on attracting and retaining talent. Unfortunately, at the same time, they neglect the opportunity to more effectively deploy, develop and connect their employees. As she rightly observes, if companies do a better job of deploying, developing and connecting their employees, they will have much greater success in attracting and retaining talent. On the other hand, without more focus in these areas, companies spend much more than they have to in efforts to attract and retain talented people.
She makes a strong case as well that development of talent does not primarily concern investment in formal training but instead involves thoughtfully structuring experiences that accelerate learning:
The best way to develop critical talent is through the collaborative resolution of real-life issues ("action learning") . . . . People learn the most in situations that stretch them - the "trial by fire" experiences that put them slightly outside of their comfort zones. . . . People also learn from those they trust: bosses, subordinates, and mentors, both internal and external.
Given this perspective, it becomes clear that development, deployment and connection are all closely related. Development does not occur unless talent is deployed into opportunities that stretch them and unless talent is able to connect with appropriate and trusted expertise to accelerate their learning.
I have three broad comments on Robin's excellent white paper. First, I agree with everything she says, but she tends to adopt a relatively narrow "enterprise-centric view" - an increasing amount of development, deployment and connection for talent occurs at the edge of the enterprise in collaboration with talent from suppliers, partners and customers. This is the reason that JSB and I in our book The Only Sustainable Edge put so much emphasis on "productive friction" at the boundaries of the enterprise as a key driver of capability building.
Second, she correctly emphasizes that talent strategies must focus on the "critical talent" of the firm - "the first step is defining exactly which jobs are critical" - meaning "people who create the value an organization needs to succeed." I couldn't agree more (although I would tighten the definition to focus on distinctive or differentiated value), but then I would ask a second question: for any jobs which are not classified as critical, why is the company still retaining those jobs? One of the reasons that companies don't do a great job on talent development, deployment and connection is that they are spread too thin, trying to do too many things. For any non-critical job, the company should be aggressively trying to shed these jobs and collaborate with companies that view these jobs as critical.
Finally, Robin makes the case that talent is increasingly becoming a scarce resource, giving rise to active talent markets. I mentioned in an earlier posting that economic value gets created around scarce resources. From my perspective, attention and talent are the two scarce resources that will shape value creation opportunities over the next decade.