Sunday, March 16, 2008

Strategic Talent Management Initiatives of your Company

Interest in talent management has reached the appropriate level - fever pitch.
No longer solely the domain of HR departments, CEOs have come to realize they need talent management to execute their strategic objectives. The time has come for HR professionals to move from talking about the need to become strategic business partners to delivering by designing and executing talent initiatives that are strategic in nature and focused on building and sustaining competitive capacity.

This is an historic opportunity for the HR function to deliver value at least equal to any other functional expert on the CEO's team. Yet it is this same fever pitch condition that worries us HR might rush to offtarget programs, processes and metrics characteristic of the competencies craze of the mid-1990s. Thus, we feel compelled to say: "yes, seize the moment, but take the time to get it right."

But what does getting it right mean when it comes to a company's talent management initiatives? Sooner or later, you will be asked, "Are our talent management processes working? Are they effective?" These are valid questions, and it's essential to think through them in advance to avoid that "deer in the headlights" look when your CEO asks you. We want to offer six questions for talent management professionals to consider in thinking how they might go about measuring the effectiveness of their companies' initiatives. Whenever possible, we have included examples of what some leading companies are doing in response to these questions.

1. Have you framed your organization's talent management agenda correctly?
This question is an invitation to put all of the problems, issues, concerns and challenges involved in measuring talent management into an appropriate perspective for your company. Get the issues on the table, but don't be overwhelmed by them. Help your CEO create your company's talent manisfesto. Capture the high ground, and then follow up with specifics that will reinforce your policy statements.

For example, companies such as GE have talent manifestos that are unambiguous about people being central to their organizations' competitive advantage. This framing puts CEOs out in front by their statements linking people to the creation of "an undeniable competitive advantage," as GE's CEO Jeff Immelt said concerning his company's talent practices. If employees know the CEO is firmly behind getting talent management right, they will quibble less about whether or not the measures and metrics are perfect; they will get down to work on doing the right things and doing things right.

2. Have you engaged all key stakeholders in clarifying your organization's views on talent management?
Answering this question will help you "take action before getting started," as New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra might have said. Instead of succumbing to the temptation of offering a variety of talent initiatives immediately, HR professionals would be well served to engage their line counterparts in an intensive dialogue about what they hope to gain from such initiatives. Fundamentally, it is important to get to the heart of the matter by addressing questions such as: "Can we clarify what we mean by talent management?", "What exactly do we believe the differences are between 'strategic talent management' and 'strategic HR?'" and "Just who is it we are talking about when we use the term 'talent?'" It is not a matter of finding the right answer but finding the answers that are right for your organization.

For example, let's say your talent management team engaged a variety of line leaders and came up with the following definition of strategic talent management for your organization: "Integrated people processes focused on supporting the career development needs of individuals demonstrating superior performance and/or those assessed as having significant potential to contribute to the organization's strategic objectives."

Every word should matter while arriving at a definition of talent management through a high engagement process. With the example above, you have agreed with your line managers that your processes will need to be integrated, thus gaining support from business unit leaders for the cross-boundary movement of talent. You have defined talent as high performers and those with significant potential, rather than using the term "talent" as a catch phrase to discuss your entire workforce. And you have raised the bar by stating that the output objective is to create competitive advantage by stating that your talent initiatives will contribute significantly toward achieving your company's strategic objectives.

As an example of making it happen, the Canadian RBC Financial Group decided it needed to go through a massive transformation to stay on top of its industry. In so doing, it changed its business model and, as a result, changed the skills and capabilities it would need in order to be competitive. This included changing who would be viewed as talent and what these individuals would need to do in order to remain in RBC's talent pool. RBC's senior executives laid out in plain language what it would take to be identified as talent and what it would take to remain with the designation of high potential. While there were difficult conversations, employees respected the candor with which RBC presented these messages.

You now have framed your company's talent management agenda and helped clarify your line leaders' views on what talent management means in your company. Let's see how we can get on with successful implementation.

3. Have you linked your talent initiatives to building mission-critical organizational capabilities?
Every organization has a business model upon which it competes, and capabilities that enable it to execute that model. Microsoft, for example, successfully competed for more than two decades on its technological and marketing capabilities. But those capabilities became liabilities when Google changed the competitive landscape by enabling the flexible search aspects of the Internet to overtake the computer's operating system as the dominant mode of communications and commence in the business world.

Instead of hanging on to a business model that had served them well but was in need of a transformation, Microsoft recently has been engaged in a massive process they call their agility project. The company is building new organizational capabilities to enable it to compete in a new world, and the company's talent team is front and center in identifying and developing the skills and behaviors its workforce will need to take on Google and other competitors in this new competitive environment.

Highly skilled talent professionals help their organizations see a clear line between articulated strategic objectives, organizational capability requirements and the talent initiatives that will be undertaken in order to build them.

4. Have you identified multiple touch points as benchmarks of success?
What is excellence? What does "world class" mean? While we stated earlier that companies should design talent initiatives that are right for their organizations, they also need ways of assessing that those approaches are robust. With that in mind, it is important to identify multiple opportunities to benchmark whether or not your talent processes are humming like a well-oiled machine, what GE's Immelt refers to as "multiple touch points."

GE has what we believe is an important step in conducting assessment reviews: They create monitorable milestones to show comparisons to the company's original plans. GE is well-known for conducting division-by- division comparisons of performance, and not just for punitive reasons. The company engages in cross-unit knowledge sharing as a means of organizational development for many of its processes, including talent management. Thus, GE engages in both hard and soft assessments. Remember, monitorable does not always need to mean quantitative - sometimes it's better to have meaningful dialogue than dubious figures.

Take the consumer products and personal-care giant Avon Corp. as another example. Marc Effron, Avon's global head of talent management, conducts internal and external benchmarking comparisons. He uses his group role to teach talent professionals in units in emerging markets how Avon's more successful units have attracted, developed, engaged and retained high-caliber talent. But Effron also has built strong external networks to make sure his talent organization remains at the top of its game. He has done so by creating the Talent Management Network, an informal volunteer group of approximately 25 talent management professionals who have agreed to share best practices and ongoing challenges in the field.

5. Have you created measures that matter?
We would argue that it doesn't matter if your company has 200 more individuals than last year who are tagged as talent if you aren't doing anything meaningful to develop them. What matters are outputs and results, not additional processes and activities. And this takes us right back to question three: "What capabilities are needed to win in the marketplace, and are our talent processes helping to build those mission-critical capabilities?"

HSBC is one of the world's largest financial services companies. Their brand strapline is, "We are the world's local bank." To HSBC, this is far more than a marketing slogan; it is the essence of what it aspires to be. With that in mind, the bank has designed talent processes that actively seek to identify local talent in every region of the world and make sure those individuals get the development they need in order to flourish. Diversity is the hallmark of their talent initiatives, so diversity becomes central to their effectiveness measures, with questions such as: "Which regions are doing the best job of identifying and grooming talent?" or "What are they doing that is different from other units?"

In this, as in all other areas, public and not-for-profit organizations should be answering the same questions. Some already are doing so. The U.S. Air Force Education and Training Command has a knowledge readiness initiative - using a talent management learning platform - that will measure whether a person (or unit) is ready to go to war.

Organizations with well-tuned talent processes understand that the "gold standard" is to have outcome measures that illustrate how their talent processes are contributing to organizational success compared to relevant competitors over a sustained period of time.

6. Have you cautioned everyone not to expect measurement perfection?
Economists call them "externalities," forces you must contend with in your company's competitive environment that are largely out of your control. Externalities likely will impact your talent initiatives as well - positively and negatively. For example, it is more likely that mining companies will have the luxury of moving talent around the world for developmental purposes while commodity prices are on their current high plateau.

If you happened to have established a metric a few years ago - before prices rose to increase your cross-boundary moves by 10 percent so as to build a more internationally mobile talent pool - meeting it doesn't mean your talent program has succeeded this year. Nor does the reverse mean failure for financial institutions in the current credit crunch.

Metrics are important, but they should be balanced with a lucid, focused, concise and jargon-free commentary that states your overall objectives and provides the essential details about the company's talent manifesto. As with all measurement, it has to be far more than numbers.


At October 6, 2010 at 8:06:00 PM PDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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