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The Talent Gap and Community

February 19, 2009

I recently read an article in the WSJ about the “Talent Gap” and what to do about it (http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB118841695428712511-lMyQjAxMDE3ODE4NjQxMTY2Wj.html). In addition to the usual (and accurate) doom and gloom about the retirement of the Baby Boomers, they raised two other issues that I hadn’t previously considered:
  • The need for leadership and talent within *emerging markets* — just consider the issues Mattel is facing right now with the “my Barbie tastes like lead” recall. First they faced a stateside PR nightmare when they had to issue a recall: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20592481/.  And now, they are facing a Chinese PR nightmare because they seemingly recalled too many toys and cast a less than favorable light on their Chinese suppliers: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20903731/. These supply chain issues are certainly not unique to Mattel, but in almost every case, they can be traced back to talent issues at some level.
  • *Expectation gaps* – Boomers, Gen X’ers and Millenials all have very different views of work/life balance and work itself. Many Boomers are looking for managers who remind them of themselves which means that they are failing to see and reward some of their most talented people. Couple with this with an overall labor shortage among managers, and dysfunctional turnover becomes an “all over but the crying” sort of reality. What talented Millenial is going to stay at an organization that can’t see their potential when another company does? Answer? None.
What this means is that the talent gap facing US companies is even more pronounced than the pure demographics convey. What’s interesting is that despite some pretty thoughtful recommendations to address these various gaps, the authors of this article don’t make the one recommendation that would address almost all of their identified issues: a business social network for the corporation:
  • *How do you transfer a massive amount of information from one generation of experts to the next?* You make it easy. You make it socially based. You store the interactions someplace where they can be searched. In short, you use a Community. The magnitude of the problem precludes formality or a quick fix. The solution needs to be something that can be started today and extend into the “retirement” of the Boomers. Community enables Boomers to share expertise easily and naturally, and at their convenience. Moreover, it directly appeals to the preferred interaction model of the Millenials and to a significant portion of the Gen X’er’s.
  • *How do manage and extend talent in emerging markets?* You enable your best managers to share their expertise and insight to newbies, irrespective of either’s physical location. You build a searchable knowledgebase over time that enables newbies to quickly find answers to common problems and tap the collective wisdom of the organization. You use Community to recruit and retain your best talent so that you continually grow your talent pool.
  • *How do you deal with expectation gaps between generations?* You flatten the traditional hierarchy so that the ideas and contributions of all employees are presented on an equal playing field. By dissociating the message from the messenger, companies have a better shot at identifying the best talent in the company and promoting from within. You allow participants to rank and rate each other’s ideas and even each other. Community provides a way to collectively identify and rank the best ideas and the talent in the organization in ways that avoid the typical “promote by narcissism” approach of most management teams.
While there are many other powerful uses for business social networking, it’s clear that talent management is an area that could be profoundly improved through the use of community. It’s equally clear that we may need to connect the dots for many of our peers in the HR community. If journalists who cover this space don’t see the obvious connections between talent management and community, issues like recruiting, retention, and learning / development may also suffer from a lack of “vision.” In short, we need to push this agenda, and we need to do it by drawing explicit connections between the features of a business social network and real business challenges. So what did I miss? How else can community help address the “talent gap?”
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