Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Leader-manager and Labor-talent

A recent essay about labor and talent caught my eye; its theme: there's a big difference between talent, which is scarce and is the product of the unique attributes of just a few individuals, and labor, which is plentiful and generally follows the plug and play of Fredrick Taylor's management science theory. That op-ed, and many others similar to it, distinguish between the talent supply (really, availability is a better word) and the labor supply.

These essays are summed up by thinking about how supply and demand are at work on a few key points:
  • Talent is paid more than labor
  • Labor is portable; talent less so
  • Labor is relocatable (as in outsourcing); talent is more likely close to the flag pole.
  • Labor is replaceable (as in robots and drones); talent is more likely robot or drone compatible (as in programmers and operators, to include high-level talent like doctors)
  • Talent is more or less in charge of themselves; labor is more beholding to managers
  • Talent may be eccentric and team-toxic (or, their teams are more like groups); labor is more likely homogeneous and team friendly
In the project world, "talent" is often given the moniker SME; labor is functional or technical staff.

And how do leaders and managers react to talent and labor?
  • Manager apply labor with best operational efficiency in mind
  • Managers understand that a mix of labor and talent may be a better economic trade than an all labor force.
  • Managers use labor to make the trains run on time
  • Leaders recruit talent to introduce friction and destructive innovation, trading growth for OE
  • Leaders can envision a future without any trains at all
And, here's one last idea: is talent to be managed?

This month's PMNetwork online magazine (October 2012) has an article on just this question (The myth about talent). But many in industry aren't spending a lot of time musing over the answer: they are moving ahead, as discussed in this essay on development of talent in the K-12 school grades.