Talent management needs to adapt, evolve

HR, finance and line managers will work closely together in future: Expert

Talent strategies in tough times: In May, the Strategic Capability Network hosted a special event with Sanjiv Kumar, managing director of human capital management at Buck Consultants. Kumar talked about how organizations can build a talent strategy that endures market volatility. For more information about SCNetwork, visit www.scnetwork.ca.

Talent management needs to adapt, evolve

Managing talent in tough economic times

SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies.

Talent management needs to adapt, evolve

In an effort to adapt to shifting business environments, human resource professionals need to cultivate new and evolving approaches to talent management, said Sanjiv Kumar, Houston-based managing director of human capital management at Buck Consultants.

“Take each aspect of what we think about as talent management and say, ‘What are some of the changes we are likely to find?’” he said, speaking at a Strategic Capability Network event in Toronto last month. “They have to continue to evolve. If there is anything we know in this environment, we have to look at the models that we’ve had and ask, ‘Are they still relevant?’”

Using analytics for business solutions

Moving forward, there will be a much stronger link between HR and business, he said. While HR, finance and line managers have traditionally operated separately, the evolving approach to problem solving involves co-operation among all three, he said.

The strategy, which incorporates workplace planning and the use of analytics in decision-making, will be a significant part of HR practice in the future, he said.

An increasing desire by managers for tools and solutions to human capital issues will prompt HR to participate in a broader capacity within the business, he said.

“It’s not HR in the back office processing transactions,” he said. “HR will have to bring a slightly different conversation to the table, which is to be able to bring the judgment, numbers and science behind how the business can make the right decisions.”

Google is an example of a company using an analytics approach to predict employee retention, he said. When the Internet search giant lost several high-profile people all at once, it set out to determine a formula to predict whether employees plan to leave or not.

Engaging the talent pipeline

An important element of managing and understanding talent is a broadened approach, he said. Instead of looking at talent as “just employees,” they should be viewed as a workforce, recognizing the combination of employees, contractors and temporary workers, he said.

Being aware of those different segments within an organization will lead to a more effective approach to employee engagement, he said.

“As we have a world where there is more flexibility required and people have different work arrangements, organizations have to start thinking about how they adapt the organization and processes to each one of those needs, as opposed to a single, one-size-fits-all (approach),” he said.

“What organizations are graduating towards is: How do they accommodate individual differences in the programs and how do they structure the processes to offer that?”

JetBlue, a small American airline, is an example of a company that excels at employee engagement through flexibility, he said. Company management knew it could not compete with the salaries and financial rewards offered by larger air carriers so, instead, they provided flexible work hours and the option of working at home. After the new approach was implemented, the company noted an increase in productivity, engagement and customer satisfaction, he said.

Finding the ‘right person’

Some companies have implemented unique programs in an attempt to adapt to the changing environments, said Kumar. In addition to business strategies, organizations have looked for recruitment alternatives to save money in the long term.

The hiring practices of online shoe retailer Zappos are an example of a company that uses a novel approach to attracting the right kind of employee, he said.

During the onboarding process, the company offers the new hire $1,000 to quit. This forces the employee to decide if the organization is right for her, he said. Even if the person accepts the money to leave, the loss for the company is much less than it would be had the individual stayed and undermined productivity, said Kumar.

While some companies have yet to change with the environment, many have started working toward developing new approaches to talent, he said.

“In many organizations, they are being proactive and saying, ‘What do we need to get ahead of the curve and be able to better manage our business from an engagement standpoint, from a cost standpoint?’” he said. “And, as they are thinking about that, they are saying, ‘What do we need to evolve in our own business practices to get there?”

Managing talent in tough economic times

SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies.

Complexity requires improved approaches

By Dave Crisp

The recession has highlighted a fact that has been evolving for many years: We live, work and do business in far more complex environments than ever before. What isn’t widely appreciated yet is how the Internet, instant communication and vast access to knowledge have accelerated this challenge dramatically in the last 15 years.

Never before has complexity increased so vastly in such a short time. It keeps rising so quickly, we might ask if we can ever catch up, but increasing parallel knowledge about human capability suggests we can.

Sanjiv Kumar is right in calling for a new look at selecting and managing talent in organizations — focus on basic key points and aim for concrete results. Unfortunately, we’ve been missing one fundamental factor: Individuals can no longer be expected to have all the answers in any given situation.

Crossing over to true collaboration in talent management, however, continues to be a big hurdle very few executive teams have successfully cleared.

Rising to the top has often meant increasing isolation and the realization you can’t trust associates in executive ranks who are competing politically for top spots or are too swayed by personal agendas to clearly understand the big picture. Much as we might like to simplify and streamline talent management processes, and have everyone co-operate, it’s not easy.

We desperately need to find and develop the right sort of new executives who can ensure greater input and inclusion in decision-making for much larger teams than has been the case in the past. Only by doing so can we tap the larger pools of knowledge available to solve evermore challenging problems. If we don’t find better ways to routinely put many heads together for broader, better solutions everyday, we are going to lose out to those who can.

The lone white knight on a horse is as out of date as the armour we imagine him wearing. Tomorrow’s winning CEOs will be those who learn to orchestrate teams of engaged employees without being daunted by race, creed, gender or everyone’s normal career-climbing aspirations, with everyone contributing continually at a furious pace and still managing balanced lives. It’s a tall order but we see companies that do it and they blow the competition out of the water: Toyota, Southwest Airlines and even Walmart.

Is it accurate to say we need to streamline and focus on measurable results in talent? Totally. Do we know how to find and develop the right people? Absolutely. We’ve had the tools for more than 50 years. Why aren’t we co-ordinating better on doing it?

Dave Crisp is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on leadership in action. He shows clients how to improve results with better HR management and leadership. He has a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co., where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.CrispStrategies.com.

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Ups and downs of talent management complicated, puzzling

By Tom Tavares

Talent management has a long and storied history in business. In the 1980s, petroleum companies paid top dollar to stockpile engineers for oil sands extraction projects, only to hand out expensive termination packages when the price of oil plummeted from $60 to $15 a barrel. After the rightsizing craze in the early 1990s, corporations were forced to put business plans on hold later in the decade due to talent shortages.

This seesaw pattern has repeated itself during the last several years. Talent management emerged as a hot topic when projections for aging baby boomers created fears about massive shortfalls of people. The issue is less of a burning platform today as firms rush headlong to cut costs and weather the economic storm.

The ups and downs of talent management are complicated and somewhat puzzling. After all, talent is as fundamental to meeting business objectives as financing, technology and marketing. However, many business leaders seem to have a blind spot about this and miss the obvious. As a result, HR ends up having to make the business case for managing talent. This is where another complication arises.

Talent management models such as the one presented by Sanjiv Kumar have gaps in every phase of the process. With regard to planning, the pace and volatility of change in today’s environment render economic forecasts unreliable. Deployment in areas such as onboarding and knowledge transfer are sporadic at best. Finally, with only 30 per cent to 50 per cent of employees receiving annual performance reviews, engagement is a major concern.

Organizations are at an impasse. Consultants and HR attempt to build the business case for managing talent in an effort to overcome management’s neglect. Business leaders, understandably, question recommendations because of the unreliability of forecasting and inconsistency in deploying and engaging staff. Although it’s true “doing nothing and hunkering down” is not an option, something more fundamental than refining the current approach is needed if companies are to take effective action.

A frank appraisal of the current situation is the first step in moving forward. It is essential for consultants to question their assumptions about the speed and flexibility of their processes in a highly volatile economy. There needs to be less emphasis on prediction and more on deployment and engagement. These areas, unlike the external environment, are under the control of the organization and can be managed much more effectively. For example, even in well-managed companies, about 40 per cent of staff are disengaged from their work.

It is not the responsibility of HR to make the case for managing talent. It is time for leaders to take off the blinders and begin managing the less tangible dimensions, and it’s essential for consultants to recognize the realities of organizational life in a contracting economy.

Tom Tavares is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on organizational effectiveness and a senior organizational psychologist. In addition to managing in large corporations, consulting in varied industries and coaching executives, he has written extensively about the relationship between business performance, behaviour and change. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Talent strategy flaws exposed during tough times

By Karen Gorsline

Many companies in trouble during these tough economic times probably have a talent strategy in place and have made a significant investment in it over several years. Yet, they still teeter on the brink of collapse. Why? Wouldn’t you expect these companies to weather the storm?

Perhaps they would not be unscathed, but it’s surprising to see them on the brink or in bankruptcy. Either tough economic times or prolonged growth can highlight flaws in talent strategy design. Robust talent strategies that support changing business climates and business models require a longer view and anticipation of a range of business scenarios. Some flaws becoming apparent in talent strategies are:

Leveraging the status quo: Talent strategy, like financial strategy, has focused on the income statement rather than the balance sheet and cash flow. It has not taken a holistic and long-term view of a company’s assets. The focus has been on high performers rather than building bench strength in core areas of expertise or competitive advantage. When conditions change and old ways of doing business are not going to be successful, these companies are short on bench strength to sustain a reduction in force or to create new ways of conducting business.

Focusing on skills before business capabilities: Identifying skills needed for the future is often mired in what’s needed to deal with present challenges. What’s needed today may or may not be required to a significant degree after an economic downturn. There is pressure on HR to justify the investment in talent strategy and management by adding skills or creating initiatives to build new skills. Responding to immediate challenges can’t be done to the exclusion of looking at the long-term business capabilities required and the skills and experience needed to support the company beyond the current crisis.

Talent strategy tries to make up for a business strategy deficit: A talent strategy can only be as good as the business strategy. Organizations need to consider a wider range of potential scenarios in devising business strategies and then talent strategies can encompass a broader range of capabilities. If this is not being done and those designing talent strategies see gaps or issues, they need to escalate concerns to the business strategy level rather than putting in a stop-gap proxy skill and hoping for the best.

Organizations may want to minimize investment in talent strategy and management or may feel disillusioned in these tough economic times. However, it is important to understand the link between business strategy and talent strategy and turn both around, if needed.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. She has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at [email protected].

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Join the conversation

Discussion board on strategic HR

The Strategic Capabilities Network and Canadian HR Reporter have teamed up to launch a blog/discussion board focusing on strategic HR and other issues of importance to senior executives and HR professionals looking to climb the corporate ladder.

Every two weeks, there will be a new posting discussing a pressing issue in the HR world. The current entry deals with the topic presented above. Do you have some thoughts about talent management in the current economic climate? Want to know what others are thinking and doing? Simply go to www.hrreporter.com, click on the link and join the conversation — you can even participate anonymously. We’re hoping to start a fascinating dialogue on some important HR issues.

Next executive series

Would you like to attend one of the upcoming Breakfast Series in Toronto?

June: Business relationships — why good strategies go bad and what you can do about it, with Diana McLain Smith, June 18.

July: Beyond the deal — how to really make it work, with Hubert Saint-Onge, July 15.

August: Five unusual ideas about change, with John Oesch, Aug. 18.

Visit www.scnetwork.ca for more information.

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