Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Revealing the deeper talent set

Most large corporations are proud of their "human resource" or "human capital" management abilities, yet I have so often found that very little is known about the qualities, experiences, interests, and talents that exist within those resources. People are hired to do a particular job, only the relevant qualifications become memorialized somewhere in a HR database, and that becomes who they are, the only face the company sees.

Back in the 1980's there were movements to create more transparent, multidimensional databases of personnel, particularly among multinationals who were always moving people from one country to another. But even those systems logged only the dimensions that the company thought relevant.

Tip of the iceberg is a good way to look at it -- what we see of each employee is only the bit that we care to shine a light on. Yet the talent pool in every company is probably a hundred times more valuable than the surface value of those assets. We seem to skim the surface, looking only at the familiar or the apparently relevant. This lapse is systemic, and it is personal. How many employees feel that their immediate manager undervalues them, dismisses their not- immediately-applicable qualities and experiences, and looks only at their immediate field of expertise? How many of us can remember all the stuff that our direct reports put on their resumes back when we hired them? And anyone applying for a job has only a couple of pages in which to describe their qualifications, so usually leaves out the rest of the iceberg anyway.

We will pay a couple of hundred dollars for a royalty-free stock photo, or we'll lay out a couple of thousand to commission a photographer to shoot something specific for us. But how many gifted photographers are there already on the payroll? How many musicians, artists, writers, linguists, web-designers, technicians, videographers are hiding within the mild-mannered accountants and call-center staff? And if we are looking for management or marketing or leadership, how many experienced and passionate community leaders, volunteers, mentors, lobbyists, activists, organizers, are secretly leading double lives as programmers or line workers?

Seems to me that, without invading anyone's privacy, some of the emergent social networking tools might help a company find out what kind of resources it REALLY has at its disposal.

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