Talent management, collaboration and competition: GE and IBM


    I presented a short talk at today’s informatology conference.  This was a plenary and I was asked to do something linking together the three strands focusing on talent management, learning and new media.

To an extent, and at a high level, there are some clear commonalities between these three themes, but digging a bit deeper there are some interesting tensions between them too – particularly if you see talent as something that is differentiated and exclusive.

So I talked about these tensions – about how a focus on competition vs collaboration can influence the implementation of talent management, change the focus of learning, and make it much less likely that people will spend discretionary effort on things like new / social media.

To support my points, I referred to a recent, excellent article in Business Week, “Can GE Still Manage?”.  The article asks whether GE’s highly regarded leadership and people management practices are now outdated.

So for example, it notes the role of Crotonville, GE’s 53 acre leadership development campus – somewhere GE’s 191 most senior executives will have spent a whole year at during their first 15 years with GE.

Business Week notes that GE thinks this is a virtue, but asks what if it’s not.

It compares GE with IBM:

“Like GE, it is old—dating back a century—and big. But it’s nimble and transparent as well. While GE posts vignettes of selected employees on its Web site, IBM offers a full 400,000-employee directory. It has been an innovator in connecting its people via an internal social network where workers post photos, CVs, and a list of professional skills… While it offers classroom training, the company increasingly favors social networks… and "any other tools that enable peer-to-peer learning."


And it asks:

“Who is the pioneer of peer-to-peer learning, or what executive coach and author Daisy Wademan Dowling calls the "leaders teaching leaders" model? A company called GE. The main difference at GE is that much of the peer-to-peer learning takes place in front of an audience at Crotonville.”


The interesting thing here is that, to me, the article seems to suggest that the difference between the two companies is the use of social media as opposed to physical facilities and that this is the key factor which leads to the two companies difference approaches to leadership

I don’t think it is.  I think the difference is about the companies’ difference approaches to differentiated talent management.

We all know about GE’s focus on differentiation – its Session C process and rank and yank approach.

And actually IBM differentiates it’s workforce too.  In fact IBM is the main case study in Dick Beatty’s book on this subject.  And I suppose also the basis for Tim Ringo’s remark at the CIPD HRD’s conference last week that the company might reduce its workforce from the current 400,000 to 100,000 people by 2017 (also see Ringo’s comments on focal jobs).

But this is a different sort of differentiation too.  BW’s article refers to its full employee directory.  And then you’ve got its Value Jam and other activities it has conducted to increase the inclusiveness of its whole workforce.  Activities that I don’t think would work at GE, where people are simply too competitive to devote their time and discretionary behaviours to collaborative activities like contributing to new media.


Where is your organisation on a spectrum from competitive to collaborative culture, and what does this say about your approach to talent management, learning and new media?



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I graduated from Imperial College, London in 1987 and joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a systems development consultant. After ten years in IT, change and then HR consulting, I joined Ernst & Young as an HR Director, working firstly in the UK, and then, based in Moscow, covering the former USSR.More recently, I have worked as Head of HR Consulting for Penna and Director of Human Capital Consulting for Buck Consultants (the HR consultancy owned by ACS).


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