All Model, No Talent

Posted on Oct 29, 2012 | 3 Comments

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?

3 Comments

  1. Russ Williams
    November 1, 2012

    Yes, there is absolutely an acute shortage of human capital. Last fall I was asked, multiple times, to mentor or meet with struggling ED’s of charter schools. I found it fascinating that the boards had often promoted someone with simply an instructional background into an executive leadership role of a complex nonprofit. A charter school, typically a stand-alone 501c3, in addition to basic nonprofit management requirements, also has an operating school with expectations of delivering strong outcomes for the students. Entrusting the delivery of strong fiscal, operating and instructional results to someone versed only in one of those domains plays right into Drucker’s observation that “The new programs may well have been necessary and even well-planned, but their execution had to be entrusted to whoever was available.”

    Kenneth Chenault of American Express has said on numerous occasions “leadership can be learned” and “it is a responsibility and a privilege that must be cultivated.” We agree and believe comprehensive and research based leadership development programs designed to strengthen the talent pipeline in the nonprofit sector are needed. This is nothing new, the White House forum on Nonprofit leadership in November 2011 said essentially the same thing. On a positive note, we see some foundations taking a step back, assessing their investment portfolios and realizing the common thread where investments are scuffling is human capital. We believe as more foundations and philanthropists come to this realization many will begin to set some portion of their investments aside for efforts to strengthen leadership within the organizations or sectors they are passionate about. For us, it is education. For others, it may be women’s issues, the environment any many other worthy causes. The important thing is stronger leadership for the nonprofit sector. Much of the work we are doing via edLeaders will be openly accessible and shared with other leadership development programs who wish to learn, collaborate openly and collectively drive stronger outcomes. When the goal is helping people to drive stronger outcomes – nothing is proprietary.

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  2. Maverick18
    November 2, 2012

    Nowhere is the shortage of real ability more acute than in elected public service. Unfortunately, the sacrifices required by honest public service, including living under a microscope, have driven the best and the brightest away. The CA legislature, perhaps the worst in the USA, is good example. Yes, there are a few good members, but they are overwhelmed by misfits and dunderheads. And CA unfortunately, is not alone. How about Illinois, where our current President served as Senator? The last two governors are both doing time. They were, of course, following a great State of Illinois tradition when their administrations were followed by indictments. At the Federal level, consider the ongoing lack of tax reform, endless out of control spending, or just look at USPS. I’ve become quite convinced that our motto must remain “In God we trust” because it is quite clear that our public leadership cannot be trusted or relied upon.

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  3. What Peter Drucker Would Be Reading | The Drucker Exchange | Daily Blog by The Drucker Institute
    November 6, 2012

    [...]     Dx Comment of the Week: Last week, when we asked whether “an acute shortage of human capital” prevents us from tackling major social problems, [...]

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