by Linda D. Sharkey and Paul Eccher
THE PROBLEM WITH TALENT MANAGEMENT (TM) today is that companies are clamoring to find, develop, and retain top talent but lack a holistic approach for doing so. While talent is a prevailing concern of CEOs and the HR leaders who support them, the field of TM is still young, and the basic tenets and best practices have not yet been well defined.
Business leaders and senior HR professionals consider TM as the number one HR priority over the next five years; yet, only one-third of companies have dedicated resources to TM, 26 percent of the companies have no TM practices, and 42 percent have practiced TM for less than two years.
Everyone is looking for the magic bullet or quick fix, but no one seems to have cracked the code to creating an integrated talent methodology that yields sustainable bottom-line results. How often have you heard from managers and leaders, “Talent reviews are just a check the box exercise,” or from a talented junior executive, “I put all this work into the process and nothing ever comes of the effort; no one seems to care about my advancement,” or from overburdened HR Managers, “Oh great. Here is yet another activity that we have to help complete when we are more than overloaded now.” These are all legitimate claims that we have heard repeatedly; and these laments are often true, even when there are the best of intentions in place.
Since much of the energy spent in identifying and developing talent yields limited quantifiable results, we set out to find out why. In examining the practices of companies and researching what works in developing talent, we came upon what we believe are the root causes for ineffective, incomplete, and low-impact TM initiatives.
We see six causes of the TM problem:
1. Lack of leadership engagement. TM efforts reside within HR, and ownership and the ultimate success or failure of these efforts falls on the laps of HR. Without senior leader sponsorship and engagement, TM initiatives often take on the look of a program versus a critical initiative. When the senior leaders do not engage in identifying and grooming talent, they send a clear and crippling message to all others: “Don’t worry, this TM stuff just isn’t very important to our business.”
2. No clear link between business strategy and TM strategy. Often companies start with the mechanics of a talent review process without defining what they are trying to accomplish. Without a clear understanding of the “why” or strategic intent of the effort, the initiative feels reactionary and like a “check-the-box” exercise—even with the best of intentions. Clearly articulate how the TM strategy supports business success in tangible, measurable terms.
3. The culture does not support the talent initiatives. We find that leaders may be well intentioned about developing talent but they don’t see underlying cultural elements that impede their efforts. Often leaders are more focused on the results at the expense of the people. Many are uncomfortable coaching talent and giving constructive feedback. Some don’t believe in sharing talent. If the culture does not support development, investment in talent, helping people gain new experiences, then just about any talent initiative is doomed to die a quick death.
4. No overarching framework. For TM efforts to be sustained, there must be a common understanding and language for the enterprise as it relates to talent. It must be a clear and simple framework for showing how the important levers of TM support the future success of the business. A consistent framework that has built in flexibility to account for business unit differences and unique regional priorities allows for local talent managers to formulate innovative solutions mat are tailored to the respective unif s or region’s needs. If units feel they can design their own plans with clear outcomes and accountabilities, they are much more likely to drive the appropriate execution and change.
5. Lack of an integrated approach. HR processes are often siloed, and alignment between the business strategy and these processes is often disconnected. This misalignment of activities costs money in hiring the wrong talent for the strategy or not having development programs aligned to the most critical skill gaps. This causes considerable confusion about what is required of talent to get ahead.
6. Lack of transparency and benchmarks for assessing results ofTM initiatives. Often there is a black box in communicating results and successes from the TM initiative. Some believe that TM is a closed exercise and don’t communicate the results openly and regularly. People then become cynical and don’t see the results of the work and how actions taken are linked to the talent process, business strategy, and the overall improvement of the company and its leaders. Transparent communication, specific goals, and clear metrics are critical aspects of TM.
Our work with one Fortune 500 company illustrates how these six root causes play out. The new HR leader was selected to create a “best-in-class” TM initiative. With grand enthusiasm, he leaped into action. Within a few months, the enthusiasm turned into worry and fear; progress would not be easy. What happened? Our bright-eyed HR leader was unable to get the attention of those who had hired him. Senior leaders were immersed in business crisis and had no time to dedicate to TM initiatives. So, our HR leader leapt into creating a TM strategy, without any alignment or understanding of the business needs. The elaborate new TM strategy required peer-to-peer coaching and aggressive job rotations. In trying to roll-out these ambitious plans, the fearless HR Leader found that the company’s culture was one in which peers competed with peers (not coach them), and business leaders often hid their talent (not share or rotate them to new, enriching assignments.
Tired and dejected, the HR leader reached out for answers. This is what he learned: Senior leader engagement is critical. Align the TM strategy to the business strategy. Assess the culture before prescribing TM solutions. Rely on a clear TM framework. Recognize the critical levers to pull to succeed. Measure TM outcomes with quantitative benchmarks!
Formula for Success
In our experience and global practice, we have developed an integrated framework that makes TM a strategic, sustainable process and drives continuous improvement that ensures that effective talent management is a part of the company DNA. Our formula is this: Key Enablers (Leadership Sponsorship and Supportive Culture) + Integrated TM system (strategic alignment, performance management processes and systems, HR capability, talent assessment, learning and development tools, data and storage analytics) = Sustainable Results (best talent, lower cost, diversity of talent, and improved outcomes).
To gauge your key enablers, ask Are our senior leaders visibly and actively engaged with, and supportive of, the TM activities? Does the culture support talent development and sharing? To assess your TM system, ask Are your TM strategies and initiatives aligned to strategic plans and objectives? Do you have objective, standardized ways to assess the core skills and behaviors of your leaders? Do your performance management processes effectively measure and provide specific feedback on the right behavioral skills and competencies of your leaders? Do your learning and development tools effectively support post-assessment development and growth of talent? Is the HR function viewed as a valued partner relative to talent acquisition, assessment, coaching, development and deployment? Do your data and tools make it easy to store, access and utilize information critical to the TM process? To gauge results, ask Do we track and measure the outcomes and results associated with our TM investments?
We invite you to use our model to diagnose where you are; design targeted approaches to drive improvement; regularly measure progress; adjust your plan; and make it an embedded part of how you do business to reduce turnover, increase market share, boost productivity; and lower costs.
Culture of Leadership
People can’t be managed, only led.
■CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT conducive B M I to growth—a culture of leadership—leaders can leverage their greatest asset—their people. But since people are sometimes cranky, late for work, unproductive, and disappointing, many leaders conclude that it is not worth their time to invest in people or the culture in which they work. Many leaders who govern the time, energy, and resources of others tend to treat people like things to manage.
People can’t really be managed—they can only really be led. Since leading people is required to leverage their talents, skills, and energies, what is the key to unlocking the elements that can best contribute to the purpose of the organization? What is the best way to provide effective leadership for a disparate group of individuals who come with their own assets, issues, experiences, dispositions, and baggage?
The answer to these questions of how to lead people most effectively is to create an environment where individuals can motivate and manage themselves with an intraprenurial mindset that allows them to think beyond self interest and engage in something larger for a group’s goal. It is in creating a culture of leadership where people willingly give of their discretionary effort to their teams and to their boss. It is about unshackling people and allowing them to blossom. It is about getting better results through better working relationships.
How can you unlock those unique elements for a team and encourage people to think outside of self-ambition? If s surprisingly easy to get people to engage if you have and follow the right roadmaps—and the payback is huge. How? Think strategic and tactical.
Strategic: Think like a bio-genetic engineer. If you had to raise 30 types of plants under one roof, how would you do it? You’d understand each variety of plant and make the growing environment conducive for each one. When you lead a team of people, the trick is to understand what makes them tick and create an culture that is favorable for each person’s growth. This is simple—if you have the right tools.
Since people are emotional creatures and make most of their decisions on an emotional (not logical) basis, use your relationship with them to create the proper culture for them. This gives them license to want to follow you because you make it comfortable for them to grow. Find out what is most important to them and honor that when you speak with them. Communicating in the language of other peoples’ values is like getting the pH in the soil correct for them. Their roots will grow, and they’ll want to stay there for continued nourishment. Because human beings can pretty much take care of themselves, use that self-management aspect and allow them some freedoms to do so. You lead them based on their values, and let them manage all that other stuff that comes with being human. Tactical: Understanding the specific motivational recipes for everyone you lead can be made simple, easy, and effective. Engaging in a fun, non-threatening, and high-energy session that uncovers the top drivers of individuals is the best way to get those recipes that are the keys to unlocking super performance. You do this by understanding people’s top values in an authentic way. People’s values are the roadmaps you will need to lead each individual most effectively. Having a list of someone’s values is like having an instructional manual or personal recipe cards for leading them.
With a values-sorting/prioritization exercise, individuals and teams can determine what is most important to them. Introspection is the first step to identify the top drivers for each team member. Honor those values in context with team communications and goals.
Such work is needed to properly utilize the talents, skills, and energies of people on a team. Leading people based on values-alignment is like creating an individual garden under the roof of a larger greenhouse. Each person can feel satisfied, contribute, and produce more abundantly this way.