Creating and managing a great virtual talent pool is what will give tomorrow's managers the edge, says our futurist Tom Cheesewright
"People are our greatest resource."
How many times have you heard a CEO say that?
If you're looking to value an organisation from the outside, the last thing you want is a business that is reliant on a select group of great people. You want to know that the value is locked in the properties and the processes as much as possible, and that even if the people change the value will remain.
From inside a business though, little matters more than the people, be they staff, customers, prospects or partners. These are the people who determine both your success and your sanity.
While processes are being progressively automated, it will be many years before the brilliantly generalist human being will be replaced in the workplace. We are just too good at a range of skills to be totally displaced. In the mean time we need to get better at finding good people.
A few years ago I spent time teaching business people how to use social media. There's probably still demand for it now, such is the pace of change in the social world.
The look on a salesman's face when you showed him how to find people in his target industry, with the right job titles and in the right geographies, was always enjoyable. Part excitement (this is data he always wanted) and part fear (now every competitor can find his customers).
Whether you are seeking employers or employees, customers or suppliers, the information is all out there now. Between analytics tools and social networks you can find out just about everything you want to know about the people you're interacting with online, or those that you want to interact with.
But this is very different to knowing those people. Part of the role of a manager has always been to build and maintain relationships. Learning how to translate the data of a social network into the trust of a relationship is now a key skill. And it's one that people seem to be struggling with.
You had me at hello
LinkedIn is the network most of us use (legitimately) in working hours. I'm on the telly every now and again, and when I am, I tend to get a bunch of connection requests on LinkedIn. Some of these come with a message, explaining that the person saw me on TV and thought I might be able to do some interesting work for them. These requests I like.
Other requests though come with nothing but the request itself. Imagine this was the physical world and not the digital one - always a good way to test the sense of what you're doing online. Someone walks up to you at an event and simply says 'Hello, I'd like to know you' and then stares at you vacantly. You have the context of the event, just like online you have the context of the person's profile. But it's up to you to try to discern the person's intentions: are they trying to sell to you? Buy from you? Work for you? Employ you?
Online these things are much slower to discern than they might be offline, so presenting your intentions and capabilities clearly becomes vital.
Your people portfolio
Social networks may be the most common way to research and connect with people these days but they’re far from the only option. Increasingly online labour exchanges are allowing potential employers to source relevant contractors from around the world. Job boards have been around for a long time but newer sites like TopTal are springing up where talent is human-screened for technical talent and the softer skills to give you confidence before working with them. This goes a level deeper than the referrals offered by LinkedIn, where quality can only be judged on how much you trust the referrer.
Between social networks, personal networks and professional sources like the digital labour exchange, one of the great skills of tomorrow’s manager will be building a portfolio of talent that they can call upon when the need arises. This is already important today, but in tomorrow’s more distributed, networked working environment, it will be absolutely vital.