Don Tapscott on how to reinvent talent management

There are three major trends which are impacting the effectiveness of talent management, according to leadership expert Don Tapscott, who said organisations and their HR leaders need to seriously rethink their approach to talent in light of these changes.

“Everything we think is true about talent management, is becoming untrue,” said Tapscott, who has authored or co-authored 15 books with a focus on where the world is heading as civilisation fundamentally reshapes itself.

“If you look at talent management today and you ask a HR person what that means, they may give a lot of high-level abstract, important, meaningful views of that.

“It really comes down to a series of functions – all of which are being obviated. There’s recruitment, there’s training, compensation, supervision and retention. These are the big ones.”

Tapscott said companies should not recruit new talent, as younger candidates had a different approach to selecting potential employers.

“Young people become interested in companies at an early age and reach out to them, building relationships with them through projects, internships, summer jobs and other challenges,” he said.

“HR should strengthen those relationships, so when it comes time to recruit, there is no recruitment.

“It’s a simple boundary change, because you already know who they are and who you want,” said Tapscott, who said the profound change underway around the boundaries of organisations was one of three major talent trends impacting business.

“Because of technology, the deep-structured architecture of the corporation is changing,” said Tapscott, who also serves as a senior adviser to the World Economic Forum, an adjunct professor at Rotman School of Management, the Inaugural Fellow at the Martin Prosperity Institute and Chancellor of Trent University in Canada.

“Everything we think is true about talent management, is becoming untrue”

“Talent is no longer inside the company only. Everyone in HR knows the expression, ‘Your most precious asset leaves every day on the elevator.’ I don’t think that’s true anymore.”

Uniquely qualified minds which create value and solve many business problems may exist outside organisations, and Tapscott said organisations and HR need to think about building business webs, ecosystems and networks, rather than just building traditional vertically integrated corporations.

A second major talent management trend is the continual entry of the net generation into the workforce, and Tapscott said this is the first generation to come of age in the digital age.

“Unlike their boomer parents who grew up watching television, this generation has grown up interacting and collaborating,” he said.

“Because of that, their brains are actually different. They think, learn and work differently. Their culture is the new culture of work.”

Tapscott said this is the first-ever global generation, and they have a set of norms that define them globally and differentiate them from their parents.

“The net generation desire freedom; choice is like oxygen. They want to customise things, they want to collaborate, and they want to interact,” according to Tapscott, who said it was untrue that they were “generation me” and “don’t give a damn”.

“There’s no data to support that. They’re a generation which loves to innovate, but they want to have fun at work,” he said. They think work, learning, collaborating and having fun are all the same thing, actually.

“It’s a generation that creates speed not immediate gratification, but they have legitimate expectations that things should happen more quickly.”

Technology is a big part of this and also the third major talent management trend, which Tapscott said was about collaboration.

There’s a fundamental change taking place in the nature of work and in the way that organisations operate, he observed.

“We’ve had command and control hierarchies throughout the dawn of time, really,” he said. “Now, finally, hierarchies won’t go away completely, but now we can finally have radical new models of work.

“The concept of teamwork is not just some motherhood euphemism, it’s the core modus operandi of the 21st century enterprise.”

“If there’s anyone who’s in a position to help lead many of these profound changes in the corporation over the next period, it could be the HR executive”

Tapscott also observed that HR as a function could play a significant role in the process, but needed to adopt new paradigms and ways of thinking in order to do so.

“I’ve always been befuddled by HR,” he said.

“Here you have people that are at the heart of talent, which is foundational to the success of every organisation.

“They’ve been in the business of managing HR functions, as opposed to thinking more broadly about how to orchestrate capability to innovate, and to create a great firm or government.

“Surely, this is a time when HR as a function could start to change profoundly – I think the problem has been one of paradigms.”

Paradigms are mental models, and they put boundaries around what people think and constrain their actions, according to Tapscott.

“They’re often based on assumptions that are so strong, that we don’t know that they’re there,” he said.

“Then something comes along and the paradigm is shattered. We need to embrace a new paradigm.”

When this happens, Tapscott said a leadership crisis ensues, in which vested interests fight against change.

“Leaders of old paradigms have difficulty embracing the new,” he said.

“If there’s anyone who’s in a position to help lead many of these profound changes in the corporation over the next period, it could be the HR executive – but they need to break out of the old paradigm and find a way to embrace the new one.”

For the full interview with Tapscott and story on the evolution of HR and talent management, see the next issue of Inside HR. Tapscott’s latest book is Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World. Image: supplied