“The only sustainable competitive advantage is to learn faster than your competition and to be able to act on what you have learned.” John F. Tanner Jr.
Change is, at the same time, both inordinately slow and blindingly fast. I know this is true because recently, the “future” I had believed to be at least ten years away was served up to me on a platter.
Okay, that might be an oversimplification. I’m a trend watcher and a futurist by both background and inclination, so my definition of tomorrow is always five or ten years ahead of mainstream adoption. However, this experience still highlights an important fact: the shorter the change curve, the more disruptive it is. Covid-19 has pulled the future at least five years closer, and big data and AI are potentially allowing us to SKIP STEPS between where we are today and where we need to be tomorrow.
But what does any of this have to do with the Resource Management Office?
The value of resource management
From my perspective, I’ve been expecting the Resource Management Office to fill the void left by transforming the PMO into a strategy realization office. It’s a nice, neat vision. People’s lives improve because we get projects scheduled in the correct order and staffed by the correct people. Thus, the value of the entire corporation improves because we get strategy executed and, if we do it right, we also enable a progressively more innovative culture.
Unfortunately, the average company (we’ll call it a C-level company) simply doesn’t have the enterprise wherewithal to make any particular vision a reality. Given that most people work for C companies, what can we do to accelerate a transformation that we were already struggling to implement?
Rethinking the shift toward a people capability-centered enterprise.
Since the 90s, organizations have looked at ways to reduce the amount they spend on “labor” to free up more capital to spend elsewhere. Given today’s 2% or 3% interest rates, money is practically free. What isn’t free is having the right skilled people. As the “great resignation” signaled in April of this year, talented people are asserting their right to control where they work and what work they are willing to do.
Some organizations write this off to “mental health,” conduct surveys, and encourage a wellness mindset. While these actions are well-intentioned, I believe a better solution might be to focus on how people engage with their work, beginning with the topic of skill development.
When IBM cut employees’ pay and forced them to “reskill,” the battle lines were drawn. Since employees must be forced to keep their skills current, one blogger suggested that a better way to handle the situation is to simply lay them off and hire new people who already have the skills their organization requires.
While I’m sure resistance can be true in specific cases, why would we believe it to be true in the general case? The answer, from my perspective, lies in something my mother taught me as a child: “people don’t like to be forced.” If we accept for just a moment that the solution to our skill shortages is as simple as involving people in their learning, how do we make this possible?
Give people control of their skills. Let them plan their skill development based on what their organization needs. Let them develop skills to work in other departments if that is what they want. Yes, people might decide they don’t want to continue to pursue careers their employers can make available, but that is both their right and their choice (I’ve had one employee leave for the clergy and another for Hollywood).
Why resource management is the way forward
Where should we start with this transformation? Move skills closer to the day-to-day job.
HR uses skills for salary and promotion. We are interested in skills to get work done today and tomorrow. Asking each manager to get involved is probably a bridge too far, which is why I believe using the concept of resource management—which we will hopefully rename people capability management—is the answer.
So, how does a new emphasis on skills impact the future of the Resource Management Office, especially since so few of them even exist today? I believe that right now, there is a small window of time where clear, visionary leadership can help direct the future.
Think about it this way: why shouldn’t the resource management office be the focal point for helping people plan and develop their skills? After all, resource management at its core is about matching skilled people to work.
Obviously, we can start this transition in IT and other skill-focused areas like NPD (view this as a level 2 maturity). This will give us time to learn what works as we directly measure the value created by this transformation. From here, we can start working on building a culture of dynamic teams drawn from cross-functional organizations using skills (and ultimately knowledge) to help us form the best teams.
All the business publications say this is the optimal direction for the future. They’ve just never given us an easy way to get there. Resource management and skills should provide the answer.