Posted by: Ron Hanscome | October 16, 2009

Lessons Learned from the Library – Tracking & Managing Talent

One of the best parts of transitioning back to the analyst/consulting side of the HCM market is the ability to arrange my schedule to support other aspects of life that are important to me and my family. This includes transport of my active and social ninth grade eldest to various sporting events (he considers himself the chief ‘booster’ of his class), and ensuring my fifth grade athlete gets to football, basketball and Lego League (science/robotics team – very cool) practices. Most importantly, I can also volunteer at the boy’s private school library, where my wife became Librarian last year. After spending multiple hours per week in the last month performing various duties (my name tag at the Welcome night read “Librarian’s Slave Labor”), I began thinking about how library science might intersect with talent management processes to improve TM effectiveness. So let’s see what we can learn from the path a book takes as it gets put into circulation at the library:

  • Books arrive from various sources – parent donations, used book sales, etc. Each one has ultimately been picked to augment the existing collection, either to fill a subject gap or provide another copy for frequently circulated volumes. Books are packets of knowledge on a particular subject.
    • In similar fashion, people are bundles of skills & abilities that come into the organization to perform a specialized set of tasks – whether singular in nature (e.g., CEO) or duplicative (e.g., one of many insurance claims processors)
  • Each book that comes in is examined for wear & tear and repaired as needed – which requires some level of assessment according to the particular standards of the library. Books that don’t fit the standard and can’t be easily repaired are discarded 
    • Assessment is a critical part of talent management in order to check for knowledge gaps, culture fit issues, or even general psychological ‘wear & tear’ on the part of the candidate. How do you handle the ‘discard’ process?
  • Once a book passes muster, the next step is to add it to the library’s catalog. The book is tagged according to the cataloging approach taken by the library.While some overarching standards exist (e.g., Library of Congress, Dewey Decimal System), every library takes a unique approach to how they identify and display their collection. For example, this particular library divides fiction into three major categories: Early Reader, Juvenile, and Fiction. Some books that are written as a series (e.g., Hardy Boys, Magic Treehouse) are tagged and displayed separately. The librarian must make a judgement call as to which section is the best fit for the book – this is the “art” part of library “science”. Non-fiction books fit within the major categories of the Dewey system — the more decimals, the more specific the topic — and there is also room for the librarian’s interpretation of where the book fits.
    • How do you manage your organization’s talent without some form of “talent catalog?” If you have one, do you keep it updated on a regular basis? How do you ensure it continues to be accurate? Unfortunately there are few standards in this area to support HR in this endeavor (portable candidate profiles such as ResumePal will help if they achieve successful large scale adoption); however it’s important to realize that every organization will have some unique approaches to categorizing talent
  • Once a book has been cataloged, it is placed in circulation. Students know where to find it, the librarian always knows the book’s status (e.g., on the shelf, checked out and due back next week), and the librarian can monitor usage patterns to determine if more copies of the book are needed to satisfy demand. A teacher can request that a number of books pertaining to a certain topic be pulled from the shelves and sent to the classroom on a short-term basis for a particular class project. All of this is made possible by a set of consistent library processes supported by technology that enables the tracking of every book and analysis of usage.
    • Much like a library, your organization’s talent is always in circulation — forming up into teams to address a short-term project, taking a medium-term assignment in another location, being promoted to lead a new business venture, etc. Understanding the usage patterns of your existing talent will drive critical decisions on building skills from within versus acquiring talent from outside, re-allocation of resources based on priority, etc. None of these processes will work very well without consistent application and strong technology support.

I can certainly carry this analogy further, but I think you get the idea. What I got from my experience “behind the scenes” at the library is an appreciation of the need for consistency of process that is combined with good judgement around categorizing in ways that users can understand and leverage. Robust, easy-to-use technology facilitates a good experience for all users. We can take these principles and apply them to our processes for categorizing and managing talent within our organizations:

  • Do you have a standard way to categorize talent? How granular is it? Who does the categorizing and how easy is this process?
  • Does your organization have the concept of a ‘unified talent record’ that captures all the relevant skills, abilities, experiences and aspirations of an employee? How is that information tracked and consistently updated? How is that record consumed by the various applications that support HR?
  • How do you track who is working on what project(s) in the organization? Do you have any way to accurately predict the capacity of your talent compared to the current and future work that must be performed? (Check out Wingspread for an interesting methodology and technology to support this process)

Are there any other parallels that I’ve failed to enunciate? As always, your comments and perspectives are welcome.

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