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Read This: “Bring Back the Organization Man” March 19, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in baseball, job search, Management & leadership.
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Last week I discovered an excellent article by Peter Cappelli from the HBR Blog Network:

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/03/bring_back_the_organization_ma.html?awid=5825209905911292232-3271

This is great stuff. I strongly encourage you to read this for yourself, but here’s what I got out of it:

1. Companies are tending to hire external candidates to fill positions, which takes less time than developing internal candidates and allows them to aggregate the specific skills and experiences needed at any given time (“plug ‘n play”), and replace workers and re-assemble a different team as business requirements change (“‘just-in-time’ workforce”). Unfortunately this kind of short-term thinking is leading to retention problems as employees realize they will have to leave the company in order to achieve their career goals. In response to the turnover, companies reduce their spending on training and development, which reinforces the cycle.

2. Hiring from the external pool is inherently unpredictable: “The supply of skills in specific areas is uncertain, so the quality and price jumps around a lot.” There’s also a question of whether an external candidate is a good fit for the company’s culture, something that can’t be easily assessed during an interview process.

3. Many employees fear losing their jobs to external candidates who have specialized skills that a company needs at a given point in time, and this fear leads to sub-optimal performance.

4. Mr. Cappelli suggests a return to the old “Organization Man” model where companies invested in the training and development of their employees. The internal pool of employees is a more reliable and predictable (and cheaper?) source of talent to meet the changing and unknowable future needs of the business. When employees see that the business is committed to retention and professional growth, their anxiety level is reduced and performance improves.

I agree, but I worry about how many companies are willing to make that investment, particularly if they are focused on short-term financial and performance goals.

There is a staffing model that assumes that a high-performing team can be assembled from available people, including current employees, external hires, temporary contractors, and outsource partners. I think of this as the “Hollywood model” where a team comes together to achieve a specific goal (make a movie), then disbands as a formal group when the goal is achieved. Some members of the team may re-aggregate in the future to make another movie, depending on their performance, availability and price tag.

This may sound attractive as a customized approach, matching the goal and the skills required to the team members, but it assumes that success is just a matter of assembling a bunch of specialists and mercenaries.The whole is not necessarily greater than or even equal to the sum of the parts, and may in fact be less. There are many possible reasons for this: no loyalty, poor interpersonal compatibility, no commitment to a “greater good,” no incentive to help teammates.

For another example, note how many Major League Baseball teams have achieved success on the field simply by acquiring expensive free agents instead of developing talent from within. Success in baseball more often comes when a team complements their home-grown players by selectively filling key positions with external hires who don’t disrupt the clubhouse culture.

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