Human capital value chain and ecosystem

Strategic debates on leadership development, talent development and more broadly skills development require us to shift our focus and perspective. We need to shift from solely attending to the logistics and variables of individual development; even if it is ‘contextualised’ in some way to address the limits or ‘failures’ thereof.

We need to engage with the skills development architectures and ecosystems at the firm, industry, national and global levels. For example, here is an articulation of this need in relation to the debate on management and executive education and the business schools: the purpose, role and organisation of Business Schools. 


The skills development architectures and ecosystems need to be located within the broader innovation and value-creating ecosystems at the firm, industry, national and global levels. The below uses visual imagery and metaphors to give a sense of an ecosystem. Consider how cities and nation states differ in their investments in, and development of, ecosystems. The above cited learning module provokes investigation and discussion on this. Shifting lens and focus to the firm/organisational level, reflect on how your firm’s ecosystem has and is evolving – what spaces are there in the firm for innovation and how are these delimited, invested in and leveraged.

 urban ecosystem

As we engage with the skills development architectures and ecosystems at the different levels we need to unpack and map out the human capital processes and value chain within firms.  How do the various human capital tasks, processes, functions, structures and strategies within the firm interrelate and fit together?

The below visual uses the metaphor of time and frames of reference to reflect on interrelationships and fit. It provokes the imagery of, and thoughts on, different time rates, levels and experiences. This includes the play on the different frames of reference of individuals, teams, human capital sub-functions and human capital function as a whole; and their different uses of time and how these may be synchronised. The visual also plays on the internal structure of individual watches and as a collective. Together these give a sense of the complexities, contingencies and competing forces of the human capital value chain.


Here is a case study of leadership development in the South African retail banking sector, which illustrates how one explores the skills development architecture and ecosystem as well as how the purposes of leadership development and the organisational structures and boundaries evolve over time:  leadership development case study.

It attempts to unpack the learning, development and human capital value chains. Any reference to this concept of value chain invokes the name and work of Michael Porter. However, one needs to be careful of a mechanical application of his value chain analysis in the learning, development and education space.

The following figure, drawn from the leadership development case study, provides one possible way of visualising the policy space, architecture, ecosystem and the many stakeholders.