We’ve all been told about the importance of talent management as the economy rebounds, but often hear about the same old practices. Tom Washington reviews three books to spark some new ideas
John W. Boudreau
Havard Business Press $35
HR professionals have made major strides towards
becoming strategic partners. But they need to do
more – by generating value through savvy decisions
HR leaders typically assume that to make such
decisions they must develop sophisticated analytical
tools from scratch. Even then, the resulting tools
often fail to engage their peers.
In Retooling HR, John Boudreau shows how HR
leaders can break this cycle – by adapting powerful
analytical tools already used by other functions to
meet the unique challenges of talent management.
Drawing on his research and examples from
companies including Google, Disney, IBM and
Microsoft, Boudreau explains six proven business
tools that leaders already use. And he shows how
HR can apply these tools to talent management,
such as applying logistics tools to optimise
succession planning and leadership development,
and adapting customer research tools to find
untapped value in total reward.
The book’s value comes in its real-life case
studies of top-drawer organisations, and for HR
practitioners finding the need for a change of tact
when it comes to talent management, it is full of
02 Workforce of One – Revolutionising
Talent Management Through Customisation
Susan M. Cantrell & David Smith
Harvard Business Press $55
Billed as ‘a game-changing approach to talent
management’, this book has much to live up to.
In Workforce of One, Accenture’s Susan M.
Cantrell and David Smith argue that in a
competitive global marketplace that now includes
four generations of employees with widely diverse
backgrounds, values and skill sets, companies that
want to hire and keep the best talent will need to
treat individual employees as a ‘workforce of one’.
This means replacing generic practices with
strategies tailored to each person’s unique strengths,
motivations, interests, learning styles and career
While this may sound daunting, the authors
show that the very HR practices that enabled
standardisation and cost control in talent
management are now providing a platform for a
new era of technology-enabled customisation.
Based on extensive Accenture research in over
one hundred organisations, Workforce of One
outlines four approaches employers can take –
segmentation, modular choice, broad and simple
rules, and employee-defined personalisation – to
offer customised work experiences to employees
without sacrificing control, scalability, or
As far as achieving the goal of creating work
that is sculpted to fit lives, instead of lives sculpted to
fit work, this book is a genuinely useful tool. It is
detailed enough to apply practically and
authoritative enough to have complete faith in.
03 Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder –
Creating Value by Investing in Your
Harvard Business Press - $55
It is said that employees are responsible for 90 per
cent of a company’s profitability. Yet many firms
assume that only their highly-skilled, best-educated
workers are worth investing in – and that cutting
wages and benefits for the workers at the bottom of
the corporate ladder is a fast and effective way to
improve the bottom line.
In his eye-opening book, researcher Jody
Heymann shatters this myth, and provides
convincing evidence that investing in front-line
employees has a powerful and positive impact of
corporate profitability. Far more than being
expendable, Heymann describes how low-skilled
workers such as call centre operators, factory
workers, cashiers and repair personnel strongly
influence product quality, customer service and
Again this book draws upon real-life examples
of working conditions, demonstrating how
employers have excelled financially by offering
their least-skilled employees higher pay, flexible
working opportunities, training and career
development, and more.
In today’s economic climate, where key skills are
often at a premium, HR professionals will do well to
heed the lessons learnt in this book. It can be wordy
at times and require some in-depth analysis, but the
case studies are varied and the ultimate goal of
profit is never far from reader’s thoughts.