Tuesday 7 April 2009

10 reasons NOT to implement a Differentiated Workforce


    The second of Problogger’s 31 day challenges to build a better blog (31DBBB) is to write a list post.

In fact I’ve already just done a top 10 for HR Zone (which although it’s been published today was actually written at the end of last week, ie before the challenge was set), but here’s another.  This is my top 10 reasons not to implement a differentiated workforce (at least in the way that it’s described with the Differentiated Workforce book).

I’ve already posted on this book, but only after having read Chapter 1, and there’s a lot more I don’t agree with, having read the whole thing.  You can also hear more on a recent Talking HR show, and my interview on HRchitect’s Web Mingle.

So, here’s the list:

1.   A differentiated strategy and a differentiated workforce are two different things.  I agree that people management strategies should be differentiated, but differentiating the workforce is only one way of providing a differentiated strategy.  It’s not a best practice all organisations should implement.
2.   Differentiating the workforce in the way the book describes is only ever going to result in added value.  Greater opportunities lie in creating value, by, for example, building an organisation’s HR architecture around a particular organisational capability.
3.   Differentiating the workforce can be done in lots of different ways.  Differentiating by ‘strategic capabilities’ ie core business processes is only one of many options.  The authors claim that traditional approaches to talent management are not the answer (p53) – and they do have a point here – but job evaluation isn’t the way most organisations identify their talent groups.
4.   It’s not often going to be practical to move ‘A’ players into ‘A’ roles unless these are the ones the players are skilled and qualified to perform.  Matching players and roles is about ensuring that over time a higher proportion of the most talented people are working in the most important roles.  It’s not necessarily about moving existing employees.
5.   ‘A’ roles shouldn’t be the same for all organisations in a sector (p76) – there’s nothing differentiating in this.
6.   Deliberately seeking to attract candidates from below the midpoint of the labour market into ‘C’ positions (p104) is a joke.  Yes, some organisation has got to employ these people, but there’s no reason that it needs to be you.
7.   Forcing a positively skewed performance distribution on ‘A’ positions (p137) is an even bigger joke.  Yes, you want more talented people in more important roles but you want higher performance from them too.  You set more demanding expectations, and still work towards a normal distribution curve.
8.   Holding both line managers and HR accountable for the development of a successful workforce (p88) goes against on of the fundamental principles of good organisation design – to only ever hold one person accountable (RACI analysis).  For me, it’s HR that needs to be accountable for the outcome – which could be the right match of ‘A’ players in ‘A roles’, and business leaders accountable with what they do with that.
9.   Being an employer of choice (vs employee of choice) doesn’t need to mean what they describe it as (p113) – see this post.
10.   The HR scorecard, Workforce scorecard and the author’s adaptation of Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Business scorecard (p156) make sense as a framework for objective setting and measurement at a high-level, but the perspectives within the first two of these simply don’t make sense as they’re not part of a strategy map (p169) – better use the HCM value chain.



What do you think?





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  1. Jon,

    Thanks for your ideas on this. I think you really expanded some things and made some valid arguments. Specifically I liked #3 and how there is discussed more than one way to differentiate the workforce. What would you you suggest the best way for identifying talents groups is?

  2. Hi, thanks for the comment. I think differentiation can be by:


    - The current leadership team
    - Roles that are particularly central to business strategy - ‘strategic job families’ (Kaplan and Norton, 2004).
    - Roles in which investment provides the greatest return - ‘pivotal roles’ (Boudreau and Ramstad, 2004)


    - People with specific capabilities, networks and relationships which would be difficult or time consuming to replace
    - Individuals with generic skills which are scare in the employment market and would also therefore be difficult to replace
    - High performers who make a particularly significant contribution to the organisation
    - High potentials, which could include employees and especially graduates in early career grades, or at positions just below the leadership team
    - etc.

    A combination of people and roles (key people within key roles).

    Hope that helps!



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