The Future of HR, part 25: Just in Case or Just in Time?

We need people, now!

In most companies I have worked for there was a key question about human resources: how can we quickly find the right people for the right jobs or assignments? As young HR manager (managing nobody but myself…) I would go around to talk to the real managers in my sector (HR managers had ‘sectors’) and ask them what their burning business issues were. “Tom”, one of them would say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if, when we are looking for a candidate, let’s say a software engineer for Russia, who needs to have experience in FORTRAN and COBOL (you can see this is a long time ago), who should have around 10 years’ experience,  speaks Russian, who is not married, does not have kids, and is interested to go to Russia,  that we could find candidates for this position quickly, because HR has a database with all the people with all the relevant data”. And off I went, to find a smaller business issue I could deal with.

The CV Database

Years later in my next company, they started to build the database (with a lot of imagination called “The CV Database”). First an international committee had to work on taxonomy. I was part of this committee and we struggled session after session with relatively simple questions as: does ‘Europe’ include UK, or should we have two categories, ‘Continental Europe’ and ‘UK”? The next challenge was to fill the database with all the cv’s. I suggested asking everybody to fill in their own CV, but that was out of the question. There should be quality control, and if everybody could fill in their own education and experience, chaos would be the result. A whole team of CV translators was hired, who checked and entered the cv’s of the employees who had submitted their cv’s (some after various threats, as “No CV/ No pay…”). The project turned out to be a mission impossible. After two years and a lot of money, the central CV team was dismantled.
Technology moved on, and with the internet the possibilities to quickly capture information has increased.

How can we quickly get insight in the capabilities of our people?

The question is still on the table though: how can we quickly get insight in the capabilities we need. The thinking behind it is often ‘Just-in-case’. We capture all the information we need of a big group of relevant employees, and then when we have a concrete question, we have quick access.

Just-in-case does not work

‘Just-in-case’ does not work very well, unfortunately. A lot of information is captured that is never used. It is very difficult to keep the information up-to-date, especially when it is a central effort. To install the required discipline in the organisation takes a lot of effort.
I was triggered by a story I heard from an internet store. They operate globally, and their website is available in more than 10 languages. Their offer changes daily. If they would follow the ‘Just-in-case’ principle, they would have to translate every page in 10+ languages. They don’t. They translate Just-in-Time (in fact, Just-a-little-bit-late). The first 20 Frenchmen or so who look at product X on the French website get the details of the product in English. After 20 French visitors a signal is send to a translator English-French,  who quickly translates  the page, and Frenchman nr. 21 gets the information in French.
What is a comparable solution for HR? How can we find a solution that helps to quickly mobilise the people with the required capabilities, to bring the best we have to our clients globally quicker? A solution that does not require to capture and categorise  the data of thousands of people? A  ‘Just-in-Time’ solution is what we need, not ‘Just-in-case’. Part of the solution is a more open ‘opportunity’ market, where demand and supply can be matched. Part of the solution is more targeted internal opportunity marketing. Work-in-progress, to be continued.

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