Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Creating an Internal Labor Market: The AdNovum Case

London Business School Professor Julian Birkinshaw describes an innovative way to staff projects in a column for Fortune.  He explains what happens at a software firm called AdNovum.  That company has created an internal market to match talent with projects.  The founder explains how it started: "So we developed a Facebook-like system on the Web where you as an employee could portray yourself, especially your skill set, for others to review. And we encouraged people to keep their CVs and their skill sets as accurate as possible."  Project managers used this data to select staff members for key projects.  Company managers met to discuss the matches being made via this system, and they would adjust staffing to meet the practical realities of deadlines, budgets, etc.  Over time, the system has evolved.  Nevertheless, the basic concept of trying to find a more innovative way to match talent supply and demand continues to endure.

I am intrigued by the concept, though I would point out that this internal market concept works quite appropriately for project-based work, but it may be less applicable in other types of work environments.   At Enron, for instance, executives used to describe their internal labor market.  They would describe how talented folks could "vote with their feet" by moving to a role in one of the new businesses being created.  That "vote" would inform executives as to which of the new ventures appeared most promising.  What is one of the problems with that type of free movement?  People may rotate too frequently, leaving managers unable to ascertain the true long term consequences of their actions. For project-based work, one can clearly measure results at the end of the project.  For managerial assignments, it can be more difficult to measure performance if someone rotates on to a new assignment before the implementation of their strategies has been completed and the results have been identified over a sufficient period of time.

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