Friday, January 19, 2007

Mass career customization : Is that feasible ?

Recently, I came across an interesting article in Knowledge at Wharton titled "Plateauing : Redefining Success at Work" that talks about how people are redefining their careers (deciding how they can keep contributing to the organization - but in their own terms/according to their own work preferences). It goes on to discuss how organizations are responding to this trend. In this context, the article mentions an initiative at Deloitte aimed at 'mass career customization'. While I have heard about this concept before, I am quite impressed by the way the program is designed - going by the broad level information given the article (multiple choices available to employees on multiple dimensions with the rewards, advancement implications defined for each possible combination of choices, negotiation/guidance on them etc.). The article says :

" At Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, senior advisor Anne Weisberg is involved with a pilot program called mass career customization, which allows employer and employee together to customize an individual's career "along a defined set of options." It's a realization, she says, that "the 'one size fits all' approach no longer works." In the pilot program, which started in June with a practice group of 400 people and will run for a year, "we have unbundled the career into four dimensions: role, pace, location and schedule, and work load." Under the role dimension, employees can specify, for example, whether they want an external role involving significant client interaction, an internal role without that client service aspect, or a role somewhere between the two. Under pace, the issue is how quickly an employee wants to move up. Under location and schedule, issues such as part-time hours, working at home and willingness to travel are included, while work load looks at variables like the number of projects an employee is wiling to undertake at any one time. "There are tradeoffs to these choices," Weisberg emphasizes. "A totally internal role has a different compensation structure and advancement route. But the tradeoffs are articulated and an employee can move from one set of options to another. It's a recognition that people need to fit their work into their life and their life into their work over the course of their career, which is 40 years. No one solution will work" for all that time."

I feel that it would definitely be a 'next generation HR practice' if such a system can be successfully implemented. However, I also feel that the implementation could get very complex and challenging. Since there are many combinations (i.e. career choices) possible (based on the possible choices on various dimensions) and since it is possible to switch between career choices, the system could get difficult to track and manage. A more fundamental issue could be whether the organization continues to be in a position to keep its part of the bargain (regarding the availability of the choices and its defined reward/advancement implications). This because the definition of the set of choices and their implications are based on a prediction of how the business will grow/develop/change. If there are unexpected changes in the business/industry (e.g. significant change in the demand for various services, new service lines coming up, change in industry practices, change in the service delivery model etc.), the organization might need to redefine the implications of some of the career choices.

If these kind of factors can be factored in to the implementation plan and if there is enough flexibility (and trust) to innovate and adjust, this kind of systems can be made to work and this could in turn contribute significantly to employee engagement and productivity.

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