Attract, Acquire, Inform, Develop, Inspire, Retain, Backfill
" the most significant change in GE has been its transformation into a Learning Company. Our true "core competency" today is not manufacturing or services, but the global recruiting and nurturing of the world's best people and the cultivation in them of an insatiable desire to learn, to stretch and to do things better every day This is all about people: "soft stuff."
-- Jack Welch's current letter to share owners in General Electric's annual report
It's all about people. This is the central theme of books and articles by the leaders of today's most successful companies. Talent is the competitive advantage - not deep pockets, the most modern equipment, or manufacturing power. In the past, individual innovative talent and skill was of lesser value: people were more or less interchangeable cogs - "the desk has a job." In the 21st century companies that can continuously create new ideas, innovate and execute, will win. The advantage will go to companies that can attract, nurture, and prepare new talent to quickly move into action at a time of revolving door employees, globalization, and rapid organizational change.
No one argues that people -- whether they are characterized as "talent" or "intellectual capital" or "human capital" or "brainpower" or "innovation diffusers" -- are pivotal to the success or failure of enterprises. Yet for many companies the message has not yet hit home. Especially during economic downturns, learning efforts often are the target for budget cuts. Massive layoffs leave an impression that there is talent surplus. Yet statistics say something different. Nationwide, for example, there is a shortage of information technology specialists estimated at 800,000 to 1.6 million. Though some positions may be deemed superfluous in companies, top talent is still in demand. No one questions that talent will be the pivotal success factor in 10 years.
This is a typical of example of a common enterprise failure that author Bob Sutton dubbed "The Knowing-Doing Gap" (the title of his book) -- the state of knowing something but not taking action to implement the knowledge. Business leaders may value human capital, but not take action. One measurement of how seriously an enterprise values its workforce is how learning opportunities are deployed. Historically, the responsibility for "training" occurred in departments removed from strategic planning. Aligning the workforce with strategy is essential in the 21st century. That means moving talent development to the core of enterprise.
Some business leaders are returning to first principles by questioning old assumptions about corporate learning. They are not organizing around an event or a technology but examining the reasons for learning. What is the goal? What is the best educational pedagogy; the most appropriate use of technology; the optimal blend of virtual and face-to-face; the closest tie to everyday practices; the most conducive to reflection; the most consistent with the culture of the enterprise; the most stimulating to employees who are looking for the best learning opportunities? What evaluation tools help determine whether educational endeavors are on track?
The effective learning program is action-oriented and continuous -- information exchange, reflection, feedback -- so the workplace becomes a community of practice, enhancing individual performance and linking the individual to the bottom line needs of the company. The approach is learner-centered, allowing the individual to set the pace and make choices based on learning style and needs. The approach is networked and global, available when and where needed. No longer an "in house" function, a company's learning effort will extend to the larger pool of future talent -- suppliers, partners, and even competitors. Throughout this website are pointers to learning that supports talent development.
The following is a snapshot of what enterprise can do to enhance the work force from recruitment to development to retention:
- Fill the Pipe - Essential for developing the future workforce is businesses' global involvement in K-12 education, trade schools, colleges, and universities through partnerships and alliances, mentorships and community outreach
- Attract - Savvy candidates will be looking for opportunities to get a leg up - not on the corporate ladder as but on their own lifelong learning curve. Smart companies see their learning programs as magnets for talent - offering the best opportunities for informal learning
- Inform - Making information accessible in the appropriate context -- where and when people need it to do their jobs -- supports people to understand goals, develop their competencies and vision (beginning with initial onboarding, then ongoing access to just-in-time information, communities of practice, mentors and coaches)
- Develop - Helping people articulate and grow the value of their role in the company - both in terms of value to the company and how work with others -- can mesh business with personal goals. Flexible offerings to meet different learning goals are key to inspiring individual workers.
- Motivate - Set up reward systems to link employee learning/development to the bottom line, how competencies help meet goals that both the company an individual share, useful feedback in the form of evaluation involving self, peers, person to whom they deliver
- Retain - People want intellectual challenge. Talent support allows growth and challenge by identifying within company for ongoing professional development.
- Backfill - With a more fluid workforce, repositories with information about "who knows what" are critical for retention and creation of institutional knowledge. Learning programs should be iterative to support technological and face-to-face sharing of systems, information and perspective
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