How to Get the Talent Your Company Needs, Part 2

Last Updated Aug 22, 2008 4:53 PM EDT

Despite the bad economic news we keep hearing, a job boom could be coming soon, according to University of Michigan researchers. So it's time to finish my review of "Talent on Demand." It's been almost a month since I began this review, in How to Get the Talent Your Company Needs, Part 1. Consider that gap a sign that the second part of the book is a far more technical discussion than the first part. Author Peter Cappelli devotes part two of his book to "A New Model of Talent Management." His theme is that corporate America has shed the Organization Man model (which I will henceforth refer to as "OrgMan") everywhere except in how it hires and develops people. He wants to companies to kill off the OrgMan by adopting techniques from demand forecasting and supply chain management. He uses the second part of the book to develop these ideas, which were presented in the first.

He recommends a four-pronged attack on the OrgMan:

1) Assess how likely it is that forecasts for talent needs will be wrong, and what the consequences might be.

2) Look honestly at both the "make" (develop internally) and "buy" (hire from outside) approaches, and ideally figure out how to mix them.

3) Develop ways to lower the risk and cost of developing internal talent.

4) Develop new ways to match people with opportunities.

He goes into detail on how companies can break with old ways of doing things, applying supply-chain concepts like "mismatch costs," which look at undersupply (can't find someone with the right skills) and oversupply (too much of the right skill), and the "bullwhip problem," when demand spikes sharply for a brief period and then slumps. He looks at how using techniques like portfolios and demand simulations can help reduce the risk of hiring the wrong people, or devoting too much (or too little) resources to training, only to see those people go to other companies.

Most of his ideas are framed intuitively -- I am not a human resources professional, and I get where he's going. A strength of the book is the number of examples he uses from real companies on how to apply these techniques. These help make his discussion of supply-chain talent management come to life. Interestingly, he cites not General Electric or Procter & Gamble as the world's best (though they do get praise), but Indian firms such as HCL, Infosys, Tata and Wi-Pro as being perhaps the world's most sophisticated managers of talent.

All in all, the second part of the book is really geared towards helping human resources departments guide top management into better decisions about training and hiring people. The Talent Demand model he develops seems to make sense. I did find myself arching my eyebrow at the notion that the way to kill the OrgMan mentality in talent management is to centralize the function, but he's probably right.

Big Think Breakdown: A thought-provoking effort to create a new model for hiring and developing people. One can only hope its ideas will escape the HR department, and help more companies reduce employee frustration through better training and hiring.

  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.