Oct 29, 2012

All Model, No Talent

Mario Morino of Venture Philanthropy Partners has become fed up with fancy new approaches to solving major social problems.

The reason: No idea is at all useful unless good people can carry it out, and good people are what Morino considers to be in short supply.

“I wonder where we’re going to find the courageous, experienced talent needed to see these innovative approaches achieve even an iota of their ambitious claims,” he writes in a recent column. “I often sit in meetings baffled that our acute shortage of human capital goes unacknowledged.” In the end, he adds, “innovative models and best practices in the hands of mediocre players give you mediocre results, but worse, in the hands of ineffective players are a pure waste of effort and dollars.”

Peter Drucker would have agreed. “People decisions are the ultimate—perhaps the only—control of an organization,” he wrote in Managing the Nonprofit Organization. “No organization can do better than the people it has.”

A shortage of good people was one reason, Drucker noted, that theoretically sensible new programs in government so often go astray. “The new programs may well have been necessary and even well-planned, but their execution had to be entrusted to whoever was available,” Drucker observed in The Changing World of the Executive.

Photo credit: Ian Britton/FreeFoto.com

But there’s no reason to pick on the public or social sectors. All organizations suffer from a shortage of skilled employees, and many fail to assign their top talent to the optimal tasks. “The scarcest resources in any organization are performing people,” Drucker wrote in Managing in a Time of Great Change. “In the effort to create wealth, managers need to allocate human resources as purposefully and thoughtfully as the do capital. And the outcomes of those decisions ought to be recorded and studied as carefully.”

What do you think: Are we suffering from “an acute shortage of human capital” as we try to tackle major social problems—and, if so, what can we do about it?

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