Why not trade surplus talent with other firms?

by 07 Sep 2009

If you want to be strategic and make quantum steps in performance, look outside your familiar zone. Step beyond the best practices in your industry and find new ways to leverage your resources, including talent.

In fact, the best way I know to learn about radical new approaches and innovations is to examine the best practices from organisations operating completely outside your industry. I call this practice of adapting “unheard of” practices from other industries parallel benchmarking.

It is known as parallel benchmarking because you are learning from completely different industries that still, however, share a parallel problem. The practice I am suggesting that your firm consider is from baseball and involves “trading” surplus talent with other firms.

If you want to make dramatic improvements in business practice, you need to study how best-performing firms in completely different industries attack your problem.

If you want to go beyond merely talking about outside-the-box solutions, consider changing your approach and focus on “likely to be laughed at” talent-management solutions such as those emerging around Twitter and YouTube, and developing a “talent trading” program.

Almost all firms at some point have a surplus of employees that results from changing business conditions. Unfortunately, the typical approaches for getting rid of surplus employees are cost-containment approaches that provide no payback to the firm.

The most common approach, where corporations lay off surplus talent, is a lose-lose approach. You release talent and get no remuneration for it, despite having invested in it for years via salaries and training. At the same time, you incur huge costs because you pay for severance, outplacement services, and damage to your employer brand reputation.

But what if there was a solution where, instead of releasing talent, you could exchange or “trade” talent with other firms and get something of value in return? Now that would be a talent-management breakthrough that would make any CFO smile.

Dr John Sullivan is professor and head of the HR program at San Francisco State University, and is a noted author, speaker and advisor to corporations around the globe.