Monday, 21 April 2008

Managing talent to optimise investment / Disney

Continuing some updates from my recent workshops...

One of my talent management references I was asked to explain more fully, or at least provide a link to, was John Boudreau’s example of talent at Disney parks being the road sweepers, not the Mickey Mouses. (Chris Parkinson from Amex also talked about a similar example at the CIPD's talent management conference recently).

This reference comes from a number of papers and most recently, Boudreau’s and Pete Ramstad’s book, Beyond HR (see my previous post on this).

Basically, Boudreau’s idea that talent should be defined in relation to those groups which are not just most important, but are also pivotal to business strategy - and therefore, in which a certain investment will have the greatest impact.

So, at Disney, the obvious candidate for being seen as talent would be Mickey Mouse. And indeed, the person in the Mickey costume is one of the most important. But Disney parks are all about providing a happy experience, and the biggest constraint on this is actually waiting in line - where people are not going to be happy. And if you ask, 'which talent at Disney would make the biggest different to the waiting in-line constraint?', it's not Mickey Mouse, or the other characters, its the road sweepers - because they're at the place where your waiting in line is a problem.

In addition, the difference in performance between the highest and lowest performing Mickey Mouses isn’t that great. The variability between people employed as road sweepers is much greater. So an investment in road sweepers, raising the weaker performers closer to the level of performance of the better performers, will have a greater impact than investment in the Mice.

It’s an interesting example, but I wouldn’t agree that the approach applies across the board. I don’t know how I’d improve the performance of a Mickey Mouse. But in many organisations, you can still gain more improvement from raising the performance of all of your most important people than you can from making your lower performing less important people more like your best.

Still, and despite my my objections to decision science, HC Bridge etc, this is still some of the best analysis on talent management that’s around.