Sunday, April 02, 2006

When the Talent is the Product,
Talent-Acquirers Determine the Inflatus Point  

Almost without exception, the North American enterprises that survive the next big competitive shakeout coming at the tail end of this globalization cycle are going to be outfits that recognize The Talent Is the Product. Baseball, as the U.S.' most explicit model for strategy in competitive industries, exemplifies this trend beautifully as I've said a bunch 'o times including here and here and here.

There's a point I make with clients well beyond what I've stated here in the past, and the baseball example burst forth today like a frozen rope off the bat of Roberto Petagine. The USS Mariner weblog hosted a get-together today at the Mariners' Seattle stadium and the keynote guest was team GM Bill Bavasi. He was asked about scouting and how closely did he as a GM get involved in the evaluation.

Bavasi reveres his team's scouting leads, Bob Fontaine and Bob Engle. Bavasi quickly answered that his involvement is this: if Fontaine asserts something, Bavasi accepts it as solid. He trusts Fontaine's and Engle's judgment and doesn't meddle because they know more in their specialty than he does.

Her then went on to say (paraphrased here) that people like he and a few other top Mariner front office folk were executives, and basically replaceable and that the real talent in the front office resides in the scouts. It's a kind thing to say, perhaps a little exaggerated, but it recognizes a key point.

When the Talent Is the Product, the level of talent of the people acquiring the talent strongly shapes your success.

HR or HC departments tend to be treated poorly. In my more provocative moments, I've suggested straight-faced to some corporate clients that the outsourcing cult's entire savage rite was done simply to escape having to work with HR departments. I've had a straight-faced nod in response. HR can be part of an organization's problem, but for enterprises that plan on doing well over the next eight or so years, good HR, great recruiting, great talent acquisition (capturing and keeping and keeping motivated) is as essential most everywhere as it is in baseball.

The talent of finding talent in a competitive endeavor is, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, the "inflatus point", where life is either breathed into the organization's core or sucked, irrevocably, out of it. Think it through -- ¿If a baseball team's scouts aren't doing a great job, how is the team going to acquire enough talent to compete persistently? ¿And in the same way, if organizations in competitive fields have HR groups that aren't doing a great job, how is the org. going to acquire enough talent to compete persistently? If it can't be made to work in baseball, how do you imagine it can be made to work in other competitive fields?

Running away screaming from HR is only a solution if you can give it to some other group that can do a consistently excellent job of it. Not likely, eh? There are some exceptions...I've worked with client companies that had individual managers who were exceptionally great, Carlos Delgado-vian, in their ability to consistently deliver B+ or better hires. But that skill gets compartmentalized to that manager's group. Make your HR do the job as solidly, it would permeate the entire organization's profile. Running away is not the answer.Fixingng HR/HC is. And don't even think of outsourcing recruiting -- ¿How effectively competitive would a team's scouting be if the organization's Fontaine or Engle also worked for other teams? If they were good, you'd be diluting the competitive advantage they could provide, and if they weren't, there wouldn't be much competitive advantage to collect, and what there was would be shared.

Do you have a Fontaine you can reliably trust, that is, are you hiring the best and the brightest to own and execute your recruiting from inside your shop? If not, how do you think you can overcome that handicap? And what can you do to help them achieve the success you need to thrive? Can you imagine what your organization would look like if therer were a small handful of Fontaines in your HR/HC group with the kind of authority Bavasi entrusts to his organization's scouts?

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