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'Talentship' Requires Analytical Approach to Management Decision Making

By DeeDee Doke  9/1/2007
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‘Talentship’ Requires Analytical Approach to Management Decision Making

HARROGATE, U.K.—Which job at Disney theme parks is most important to customer enjoyment?

It’s not the job of dressing up as Mickey Mouse or even a ride designer. Instead, the seemingly humble role requiring the most attention to getting it right belongs to the parks’ sweepers, said University of Southern California (USC) professor John Boudreau during his presentation at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) conference held Sept. 18-20, 2007. They can make or break the “feel-good factor” so necessary to the sustainability of the Disney empire, he said.

That’s because it’s the sweepers who can ease the unpleasantness of standing in long lines for rides by advising parents with uncomfortable children where the parks’ shady spots can be found, said Boudreau, research director at USC’s Marshall School of Business and Center for Effective Organizations. If Disney’s leaders ask themselves, “What employee behaviors make the biggest difference?” the answers reflect on the sweeper corps. They stop sweeping and talk to guests, give accurate information, create delightful encounters, fix problems before they start, Boudreau added. And their knowledge of customer behavior and needs is helpful to park and product design teams.

Since the sweepers are pivotal to the conglomerate’s success, significant attention must be paid to their rewards and recognition, development and how to recruit people into those positions—all of which are issues companies must consider when using a systematic approach to talent management decision-making.

The Disney example illustrates how organizations must apply logical, reliable and consistent thinking when making talent management decisions, especially those that are pivotal to its long-term strategic success. Boudreau spoke about the kinds of questions that must be asked in deciding priorities in “talentship”—the term he uses to describe the “decision science” associated with talent management. He advocates the use of a decision-making framework where talent is concerned, which he says can help boost HR to the standing of such professions as accounting, finance and marketing.

Not only does such a framework have the potential to inspire greater confidence in the discipline by professionals outside the specific profession, but a framework to guide staffing decisions will also increase an organization’s success by improving the business decisions that are made, Boudreau said. “We need better models for understanding how talent drives competitive success.”

The foundation of a decision making framework developed by Boudreau with Peter Ramstad of Personnel Decisions International is based on three main performance outcomes:

    • Impact. Distinguish what is critical from what is pivotal, or essential, for an organization’s sustainable strategic success.

    • Effectiveness. Understand how specific improvements in the company’s policies and practices portfolio will most enhance individual and organizational performance.

    • Efficiency. Understand how specific improvements in the company’s policies and practices portfolio will most enhance those policies and practices.

To ensure these three elements are addressed, Boudreau said companies must focus on the following:

    • Sustainable strategic success.

    • Resources and processes.

    • Talent pools, structures and human capital.

    • Aligned actions, policies and practices and investments.

Traditional business metrics such as return on investment, cost per hire and cost of training are not necessarily applicable in talentship, Boudreau said. However, he said that an area that needs more attention when it comes to defining talent is the capability to understand and forecast the potential capabilities of individuals and groups as future job requirements may outstretch current job descriptions.

DeeDee Doke is a freelance writer based in the United Kingdom.

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