Chain of Thought

The Dangers of GE's “Go-Deep” Talent Strategy

An article in this morning's Wall Street Journal reminded me of you. When I say you I mean the amalgam of MH&L's audience of supply chain professionals. The WSJ article described General Electric's new approach to building talent: “Go Deep, Not Wide.” The article said GE is no longer relocating senior leaders to other parts of their business to give them broader exposure to the company's products and services. Instead, these people are being kept in their business units to give them a deeper understanding of their specific products—in hopes of winning more sales.

According to what the MH&L staff learned about today's supply chain and logistics professionals from their answers to our annual salary survey (which will be out soon in our March issue), they match the new GE ideal of talent. The average respondent has devoted 26-plus years working for a transportation/warehousing company. And they're fairly satisfied with their lot in life. We asked how satisfied they were with material handling and logistics as a career, and more of them registered satisfaction this year than last—72% vs. 70%. That's impressive, considering the long hours and miniscule raises they told us about.

However, they also told us they have to see width as well as depth. There's more work across their organizations and fewer people left in their company to do it—which means it's up to them. They voiced concern about the next generation who will eventually take their place. Their concern has to do with the fact that too few young people are seeking careers within the supply chain arena. When respondents were asked to name the biggest challenge facing the industry today, we heard answers such as: lack of new personnel; attracting quality people; an aging workforce; finding good employees; getting younger people interested in the industry; and older workers hanging on too long.

The new GE philosophy of going deep rather than wide in their talent search would seem to work against itself in that light. After all, those “deep” thinkers will have to be replaced with fresh blood at some point. Nobody lives forever. Will they go deep or wide to replace them?

In that same edition of the WSJ was a letter to the editor criticizing manufacturers for complaining about the dearth of talent to fill their skilled positions. “The problem is that hiring managers lack the imagination and insight to find prospective employees with the qualities necessary for success,” the reader stated. “Instead they depend on standardized personality tests and key-word searches of resumes to find the disaffected employee of their local competitor.”

Our March issue will offer a solution for that too. Paul Strzelec, CEO of Digital Tempus, a talent development firm, will give his take on opportunities to mentor people in colleges and universities through internships. He cautions against making some common mistakes in this endeavor, however.

“It is at this intersection of Academia and the corporate world where things can go very right or very wrong in the development of planning talent,” he writes. “Ideally, students would engage in an internship program that offers a balanced perspective of planning and execution responsibilities. More often, students are provided execution responsibilities and are injected with a perspective that emphasizes the here and now. … If everyone is violently executing (fighting fires), who is planning the business?”

I wonder if GE thought of that in its “go-deep” philosophy of talent development. Sure, they may get more sales if customers believe GE is staffed by subject-matter sages, but without the talent for eyeing the wide business horizon, any business battle ship is in danger of hitting uncharted rocks—then really going deep.

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