The Book Corner - Review

Retooling HR: Using Proven Business Tools to Make Better Decisions About Talent by John W. Boudreau

Retooling HR: Using Proven Business Tools to Make Better Decisions About Talent

By John W. Boudreau
Harvard Business Press, 2010

[powerpress: http://gsbm-med.pepperdine.edu/gbr/audio/fall2011/BookReview_JeffreySchiberl_RetoolingHR.mp3]

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4 stars: Thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating materialJohn Boudreau’s book takes an intriguing approach to the perennial human resource (HR) management challenge relative to talent decisions. While he acknowledges the HR function in most organizations effectively supports decisions about human capital, he advocates making better use of proven business tools. Specifically, the millions of dollars that are invested in HR information systems that analyze data relative to turnover and cycle time as well as produce scorecards, drill-down reports, and benchmarking can be enhanced by also making use of tools such as portfolio diversification, consumer research, and inventory optimization.

Each chapter of the book essentially explores how HR can reframe and utilize new tools to address a somewhat common human capital issue. Some of the human capital issues considered include leadership, incentives, talent acquisition, and talent development. Boudreau contends that the reframing of these issues often yields new insights that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. In effect, the book shows the reader how to address talent issues by utilizing models that are based in logic and derived from proven disciplines.

The author offers unique ways to clearly and effectively identify the connections between HR deliverables and business outcomes. The author encourages HR professionals to think in new ways. He acknowledges that the business tools he explores in the book are in many instances literally decades old. However, he proposes a truly novel approach to applying these tools to HR decisions. The approach places human capital analysis and decisions in frameworks that are predicated upon resources such as money, materials, and customers. Such a new approach will arguably facilitate better management decisions as well as develop support for investment in retooled systems and data development.

Boudreau poses questions such as, “How do you measure the ‘holding costs’ of an employee inventory?” and “How do you map the paths through the career pipeline and assign values to them that allow optimizing the flow of talent?” He confronts the inherent uncertainty in such questions in a manner that does not dehumanize human capital. Boudreau’s model is driven by his desire to create a fairer and more human employment relationship than is possible by adhering to current practices.

I found this book challenging and very thought-provoking. I give it four stars and both thumbs up.