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Don’t Forget, They’re Free Agents!

Posted by Mark Bennett on December 17, 2007


AppsLab is always a good source of something to get you thinking, see things in a new way, or just get a smile, nod knowingly, and say, “Exactly.” We at TalentedApps enjoy an engaging working relationship with the team.

In a recent post, Paul cited the Knol announcement, thought about how it might be a knowledge management play, got to thinking about why KM wasn’t much of a success previously, and ended up talking about how employee contribution in skills, expertise (not storing), as well as attitude was really the performance that mattered and that measuring it would be key, thus bringing it back to Knol’s potential. (And thus also showing the kind of bright, imaginative, associative-thinking minds we get to work with.) He wrapped it up inside of a philosophy that with this kind of measurement of performance available, it would tend to drive and/or enable at least certain segments to contribute more and build their brand. This kind of measurement, reputation building, and so forth would enable more of a market economy/free agency within organizations to mobilize talent.

This is a great concept, and books such as Beyond HR, and Mobilizing Minds, call out the value of organizations taking a more “talent pool” or “talent marketplace” perspective. It requires willingness by top management to break down organization silos, have a “one company governance” leadership, and measure internal performance not just on a financial basis (i.e. ROI, etc.) but also on a contribution to value basis using “return on talent.” As Mobilizing Minds puts it, internal financial measures are still good sanity checks, but since so much more of a company’s value comes from intangibles like talent, which are also in short supply, it is wise to measure that as well in order to improve it. In fact, at some levels of the company, this might be the only measure you have that actually permits a results-oriented measurement model (as opposed to being only a cost center.)

Okay, so what does that mean?

This month is also the 10th anniversary of the Dan Pink article in Fast Company, “Free Agent Nation” which later became a book. While this article focused mostly on more people moving into the self-employed ranks, the principles put forth in this article also have been applied to understanding the challenges companies face in both the kind of changing talent market they face today (generation mix, globalization, etc.) as well as the changing and expanding sets of needs and expectations of employees themselves (GSR, remoting, engagement, etc.) In other words, the “Free Agent Nation” has impacted the Employee Value Proposition companies must present. The driving factors presented in Free Agent Nation of Freedom, Authenticity, Accountability, and Self-Defined Success fit right in with the drivers of having an engaged workforce, such as Identity, Relevance, and Measurability. Both also relate a lot to contribution as opposed to hoarding.

So, to bring it all together:

Like Paul says, we should admit the fact that we’re all free agents, even the ones inside the company. Likewise, companies should not forget that their talent is mostly free agent in nature. Employees should view their value to the organization in how they contribute their skills, expertise and attitude. Organizations, through their managers (in keeping with TalentedApps consistent theme of holding management accountable), must demonstrate value to employees by enabling them to contribute their skills, expertise and attitude. This is achieved by management, as Deloitte puts it, “developing, deploying, and connecting” talent, which means not hoarding talent, for instance but rather enabling talent mobility. Use measurements that really show talent contribution and put in place mechanisms like talent and knowledge marketplaces, networks, etc. that help get that talent where it’s contribution has the highest impact on the strategic success of the company. To get there, leadership must measure management on its success at getting talent where it matters most.

From both the employee and employer perspective, the off-cited parable of the talents applies. To paraphrase: do you want to hoard a talent by burying it in the ground or turn it into into ten talents? To the employee, it asks if you really gain more by hoarding knowledge. To the employer (manager), it asks if you really gain by hoarding your talent. In today’s world, you could unbury it and find it gone.

3 Responses to “Don’t Forget, They’re Free Agents!”

  1. […] Meg, you say, Mark already covered this topic a few weeks ago.  Yes, I know he did, but I’ve made a career out of repeating what Mark has […]

  2. […] by Amy on February 25, 2008 I am adding some thoughts to Mark and Meg’s posts on talent […]

  3. […] weeks there have been some great discussions around the benefits of employee mobility. Amy, Meg and Mark have waxed eloquent on the advantages of allowing an employee to move up via promotion or move on […]

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