The Book Corner - Review

Workforce of One: Revolutionizing Talent Management Through Customization by Susan M. Cantrell and David Smith

Workforce of OneWorkforce of One: Revolutionizing Talent Management Through Customization

By Susan M. Cantrell and David Smith
Harvard Business Press, 2010

[powerpress: http://gsbm-med.pepperdine.edu/gbr/audio/spring 2011/book_corner/Workforce_Farry.mp3]

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4 stars: Thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating materialThe recession is revealing heretofore unappreciated opportunities for companies to significantly increase competitive advantage and operating results by multiplying the value of their people. They are learning how to customize work and careers through differentiated individual experiences that mobilize each employee’s unique strengths, interests, and needs. In Workforce of One, Susan Cantrell and David Smith show how companies are doing this, based on the results of broad-ranged study. They offer a clear pathway for others to follow suit. The book builds on an implicit employee question, “what would an organization be like that I would truly want to work for?”

Since the days of Frederick Taylor’s standardization of jobs through scientific management and Henry Ford’s tightly controlled mass production, managers had generally accepted the view that such customization was not possible. It was generally held that unprecedented results could only be achieved at the sacrifice of an employee’s self-empowerment, motivation, creativity, and individuality. Customized Human Resources (HR) practices and sizeable economies of scale could not reasonably coexist.

More recently, however, in the 1970s and 80s, this viewpoint was revisited as successful high-tech companies experimented with personnel practices, such as Friday beer busts, open-ended flexible work hours, latitude in choosing project assignments, and tailored work spaces. Regardless of resulting successes and failures, the previous conclusion was no longer fixed.

This book argues that further widespread changes have expanded necessary considerations. Among them are major developments in information technology, networking and analytics, global workforce diversity, knowledge work, talent competition, ways to understand people, customer-focused marketing, management perspectives, and change management. Perhaps it is now possible to figure out how to retain both sufficient management control and, at the same time, customize jobs to meet individual employee needs. 

This theme sets the book’s course. It is carefully and comprehensively researched and offers case study sketches of companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Best Buy, Microsoft, and Men’s Wearhouse. Overall, it draws on successful practices of more than 100 companies. Further, it formulates a framework for understanding the critical issues involved in instituting workforce of one management and specific recommendations for making it happen. Findings are coalesced into four distinct strategies: segment the workforce, offer modular choices, define broad and simple rules, and foster employee-defined personalization.

Most interesting to me, Cantrell and Smith tackle and place in context a number of really thorny issues involving individual privacy, perceptions of fairness, regulatory constraints, management control, outsourcing, and alignment among employee orientations and company goals, strategies, and culture. Also spelled out are the culture and capabilities required of both the HR organization and managers throughout a company to move toward their targeted workforce of one approach.

This book will be of special interest to HR professionals and provides valuable insights and options to all strategy-level managers in an organization.

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