Talent management and poker

John Ha

“I’m all in.” You are probably familiar with the statement. It seems No-Limit Texas Hold’em, the king of all poker games, is the craze these days. I’ve got to confess, I’m hooked. Addicted may be a better term. It’s such an intriguing game, one that’s based on maximizing the profit of good hands and minimizing the impact of mistakes and bad luck. Fools are those who think the game is all luck, and bigger fools are those who underestimate the power of Lady Luck.

In case you aren’t familiar with the game, let me give you an idea without getting into a full tutorial. It starts with every player receiving two cards that nobody else can see. There is a round of betting followed by the “flop” (three community cards). Another round of betting occurs. The “turn” card (fourth community card) is revealed. Another round of betting is followed by the “river” (the fifth and final community card), and then a final round of betting. The object is to make the best poker hand using five of the seven total cards. Of course at any time during the betting process, someone can go “all in” or fold their cards.

This card game really got me to think about how companies play the talent management game with their employees. I’ve played my share of hands in Texas Hold’em and seen even more, and it’s obvious that people can get lucky and end up ahead in this game. And when it comes to people, companies get lucky, too. Furthermore, many companies seem to depend on a strategy based on luck instead of a comprehensive plan designed to ensure that they make the right decisions involving their employees.

There is a term in Texas Hold’em called “limping in.” This is when you pay what’s called the “big blind,” the minimum bet on the table to start the game. A person who “limps in” usually doesn’t have a premium hand, but it can become strong once the first three community cards are revealed, so they decide to take a small chance. In other words, they might get lucky and reap some significant rewards. Unfortunately, another player may raise the pot before the “flop” is dealt, causing you to fold and give up your “big blind” bet. Do this enough, and it really adds up in losses.

I see companies “limping in” all the time with their people practices. They pay the minimum price (or resources) to staff their organization. Sometimes they get lucky and get some great employees. Unfortunately, just like Texas Hold’em, relying on luck over the long term is a losing proposition. If you want to win in the talent management game, you must have a comprehensive strategy and understand when and how to invest your time and resources into your employees. In addition, just like in poker, stronger competition weakens the luck factor. Companies are getting better at the talent management game and will make it tough for those companies that plan to rely on luck to survive, especially as the workforce shortage issue looms ahead.

In Texas Hold’em, every player eventually goes “all in” at some point in the game, putting their fate on the line. Some are forced to do it out of desperation, while others (the winning players) do it out of power and dominance over the competition. The same can be said for talent management. Weaker organizations find out how tough it is to recover from a long history of bad betting. It’s become increasingly tougher for them to retain key employees and attract replacements, and so they eventually go “all in” with a weak hand. Stronger organizations have found that their decision to adopt a comprehensive talent management strategy has given them the power to deploy a world-class workforce.

Fortunately, all the rules of Texas Hold’em don’t apply to talent management. You don’t have to be at the mercy of random cards to define your strategy. You can build your own strategy, one that is linked to your business plan and ensures you have the right person in the right job at the right time.

Now, let’s be honest. Companies constantly give lip service about how people are their most important assets. A small minority mean what they say, make the necessary investment and reap the competitive advantages. Stories about companies like GE and Southwest Airlines are well-documented. Jack Welch states in his book “Winning,” “I always believed the people part was how I could help GE the most.” Fortunately for GE, Welch meant what he said and lived it each day.

How is your game these days? Are you at the mercy of Lady Luck, or are you controlling your own destiny?

John Ha is the president of Reliability Careers, a provider of workforce solutions for the reliability and maintenance industry. This business not only provides traditional staffing services for companies but is dedicated to help customers better understand and identify their needs, produce talent through on-the-job and apprentice programs, and provide ongoing training requirements to keep the workforce on top of its game. For individual career seekers, the firm finds top-flight career opportunities in the reliability and maintenance field. Contact John at 918-388-2438 or e-mail info@reliabilitycareers.com.

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