ISO: The Organization Man

There’s a great post on the Harvard Business Review blog by one of our esteemed columnists, Wharton professor Peter Cappelli, which asks the question: Is it time to bring back the Organization Man?

In that model, which drove the US economy for most of the last century, employers made longer-term commitments to employees, where they invested in development to fill jobs, and where employees responded with commitments of their own in terms of performance.  Jobs were filled internally with people prepared to do them, skill shortages were unknown, and employees were engaged with the needs of their employer.

Cappelli goes on to note that a critic would argue that if employers did return to the organization-man model, employees would simply take those investments and leave.

The only reason they leave, though, is because they can get a better job elsewhere than their current employer will give them.  To keep good people, employers need to take a bit of a risk on them by giving them jobs that they haven’t already done.  The employer should be able to take that risk; first, because they should have inside knowledge about who is promising and, second, because if they are right, the bet pays off by filling jobs more cheaply than outside hiring.  The end result is that companies would be able to retain talented employees who are more committed to the organization.  And employees would win too, growing in jobs and companies that they are loyal to.

He concludes by saying that if employers do choose to pursue this model, they should go all-in:

What won’t work is pursuing this model half way, giving some employees some development opportunities but then still filling more senior vacancies from the outside.  Why would someone wait around if it looks as though opportunity will not come?

Intriguing as the post may be, at least one commenter, Jacque Vilet, found fault with Cappelli’s idea:

You sound like my grandfather.   That is what is wrong with HR today.  It has become so attached/committed with the old ways and they don’t understand one iota of business —- they cannot see the world.

So,  is a return to what worked for nearly a century a forward-thinking idea or simply a regressive one? You decide.