Archive for the ‘Talent Management’ Category

Talent Management is not Recruiting

During a recent conversation with a finance executive, the topic of Talent Management surfaced in relation to the role of human resources. His instant reaction to the term Talent Management  was that it was analogous with Recruiting. This got me thinking about some of the various terms used in the HR field and how their lack of distinction only helps in making parts of the HR work seem vague for many.

Like most functions, HR has specialties and sub-specialties that make up the field. The same way that one would not expect any finance professional to be able to effectively operate simultaneously in a tax, accounting, or treasury role, HR professionals are not necessarily interchangeable.

Organizational Health Check and Triage

Whereas Recruiting is a long-standing and well-known area in its own right, Talent Management has emerged more recently as the combination of activities that encompass: talent reviews, high potential identification, talent development, succession planning, and employee retention. It assesses the organizational health from a talent perspective and it determines future actions to take when certain areas of the organization are deemed to have talent gaps.  For instance, employees can be moved around to positions for which they are better suited, or as a strategy to help them develop a particular skill, or to gain experience in a specific area. Additionally, the area manages the development plan process, and partners with managers on ways to support the career growth of high potential employees.

How Recruiting Supports Talent Management

Certainly, talent is more successfully managed when people with the right skills and fit are hired.  When the wrong talent is brought into the organization, it is often up to the Talent Management folks to identify the problem and come up with a solution. In this way, making recruiting, which is also known as Talent Acquisition, part of Talent Management may be fitting, but not necessary. Other areas of HR such as Compensation and Training also support the objectives of Talent Management. Similarly, Talent Acquisition and Talent Management work in partnership, but their metrics are different. Thus, many companies keep the two functions apart.

Yet, perhaps due the need to leverage resources, a new trend has emerged in some companies to combine Talent Acquisition, and at times Training, with Talent Management. Once again, while these areas are complimentary, the skills and experience needed in each are different. Additionally, if there’s a true commitment to talent in general, caution must be heeded to avoid spreading the focus too thin.

HR leaders must pay close attention to this trend to ensure that while appropriate economies of scale are targeted, there’s no adverse impact to the quality of people strategies.

Posted in Talent Management on Sunday, April 4th, 2010 | No Comments »

It’s first quarter; do you know where your “HiPos” are?

In the strategic aspect of its role, HR has many opportunities to impact the future of the organization. Dr. Larry Phillips of Indiana University South Bend, posits that HR’s strategic role is “a proactive planning approach to assist the organization in designing its future.”  Certainly, during the recent economic downturn and resulting business downsizing, restructuring activities became the domain of HR professionals and their expertise was highly valued. Even during turmoil and resulting cost-cutting undertakings however, HR should assist business leaders in maintaining their focus on talent, especially high potential talent who will need reassurance and hear key messages in order to reinforce their commitment to the organization.

High Potentials, also known as “HiPos,” are those exceptional employees who seem to rise above most others in the organization. In so doing, they represent a potential pool of future leaders and are typically considered for future growth during succession planning exercises.

Spotting High Potentials

Among the traits to look for when identifying HiPos in the organization, the following three will provide a basic blueprint:

Performance – Going above and beyond on a consistent basis. The key here is consistency. One pitfall to avoid when declaring someone a HiPo is to judge their performance as “high” within a short period of time. After all, high performance is much easier to maintain at the beginning. As stated in my previous post, Rating vs. Ranking, performance is not enough to label someone as HiPo.

Potential – While some exhibit this trait more naturally than others, probably the most difficult aspect to gauge in someone is his or her potential. Some guidelines include the presence of Drive and Ambition as demonstrated by their frequent raising of hands for projects or additional work; and Engagement and Commitment as witnessed in their voluntary involvement in work teams or company-sponsored organizations, combined with their overall interest and involvement with the organization.

Vision – While having a demonstrated capacity to work effectively as part of a team, HiPos progressively seek positions of leadership within their own work, extra projects, or voluntary activities. They exhibit thoughtfulness in the task at hand and propose options while involved in problem-solving activities. They voice their opinions and make bold statements for preferring one option to another. In this way, they also demonstrate their decision-making ability. These are folks who rise to the occasion with thought leadership when there’s a gap or opportunity. Vision is a trait that is especially significant at certain levels, but must be cultivated early on.

After the Talent Review Exercise

Many organizations have some sort of process to identify HiPos, but fail to systematically follow through on next steps. Once identified, HiPos should also be tracked, but tracking alone is not enough. A plan must be put in place that lays out their potential medium to long-term path in the organization, development steps for readiness, follow up, measurement, and finally, activation of projected action or course-correction when necessary. Additionally, their professional profile, along with their own self-development plan, must be required to be up-to-date at all times.

Once the strategy is set, one common blunder in HiPo talent management from the HR perspective is to leave the execution solely to the managers. It’s true that it is the manager’s responsibility to follow through on the set strategy, but HR leaders must realize two important things: a) their roles as business partners don’t end with the strategy and their support and follow through will continue to be needed as managers execute; and b) while part of a HiPo’s development is to have a highly capable manager, not all managers fit in that category, and HR must be able to partner even closer with those who dont’t and eventually influence other changes.

It is also important for HR leaders to understand one additional role, which they can play in the careers of HiPos. While part of the development strategy should include work mentors, HR leaders can function as coaches. After all, HR typically supports coaches for executives. But while this option may not readily be available for lower ranking HiPos in the organization, HR can and should be capable of fulfilling this role then. This high-touch approach must not be seen as “handholding” by any measure, but as a true demonstration of the organization’s commitment to the career growth of its future leaders.

As they continue to grow in their careers, they will hopefully recognize the importance of knowing how to spot and develop others and they will effortlessly provide the same level of support they themselves benefitted from early on.

To Tell or Not to tell

Once HiPos have been identified and a plan has been laid out, one question that remains is whether or not to disclose their status to HiPos. Even when their manager is working the development plan with them, their HiPo status may not always be apparent to this selected group. In addition, there are other high performers who should receive due attention and may participate in some of the activities reserved for High Potentials. Either group might suspect their high potential status. But, should they be told?

There are two schools of thought on this dilemma with pros and cons with each.

To Tell – With this option, HiPos are openly informed of their status along with their formal plan for development, and checkpoints are put in place along the way for successful progression.

PRO: It sends HiPos a clear message that their contributions and potential have been noticed and that the organization is committed to further investments in their career growth.

CON: Other employees may feel alienated, and there’s also risk in the HiPo becoming either arrogant or complacent.

What to do when choosing this option: ask for discretion on the part of the HiPos; set the tone that their status is conditional upon continued high levels of performance, development activities, and other contingencies; inform HiPos if they come off the HiPo list and the reason why

Not to Tell - Here, HiPos may be asked to get involved in certain activities as part of their development, but their status in not completely disclosed. Based on their high ratings, they’re obviously aware of their high performance, but they don’t have clear confirmation on how the organization gauges their potential.

PRO: There’s little risk in other employees feeling neglected.

CON: HiPos may feel slightly overlooked or may lack clear guidance over their career path, thus making them susceptible to the approach of competitors.

What to do when choosing this option: Since part of the goal here is to deal with the HiPos’ perception that their work may not be fully acknowledged or appreciated, business and HR leaders must work together to send clear signals without formalizing the message.

The final decision may depend on the type of company culture in place or the future direction the organization wants to move towards. Regardless of the decision, it should be unanimously implemented to avoid disparity across the organization.

Rating vs. Ranking

In the language of performance management, the terms rating and ranking are many times used interchangeably to indicate someone’s standing in the overall performance management process.

While rating can mainly be applied in the performance context, the term ranking has more ample, yet focused usage, in the overall talent management spectrum.  In fact, at any given time, someone’s rating may be higher than his or her ranking.

Performance Rating

A rating is supposed to be assessed for the actual performance of a given year.  As commonly known, someone’s performance carries the execution of specific goals along with the skills they exhibited to carry out those objectives.  The combined assessment of what they accomplished and how they accomplished it makes up the final rating for that year. In theory, someone ranked highly in the talent review process should demonstrate high performance year over year. In practice however, even highly talented individuals may have “off years” where they did not achieve all the expected objectives. This does not necessarily mean that their talent has diminished or that they should be viewed as such.  Doing so would not only indicate that the organization is throwing away investments made in talent, but it would also demoralize someone who has demonstrated both high performance and high potential. The natural next step in this case, is to work with the individual and lend support to get their performance back on track.  What ends up happening at times however, is that we find ways not to rate a previously high performer any lower than their prior year, or just as negligently, once their performance deteriorates in one year, they are written off as “have been.”  On the other hand, people with a lower rank in the talent review, may have a year where they exceeded all goals and operated at a higher level than in previous years. Then too, should their work and effort be recognized and rewarded with a high rating in their performance review.  Conducting performance management this way lends credibility to the process.

Talent Ranking

Most medium and large organizations want a snapshot of who their top 10-20% players are. Having this important information is a first step, but more is needed to have a clear understanding of who among the top 10% may be more critical to the operation. Ranking them in such a way forces talent differentiation and at times, role differentiation, not just performance differentiation. In addition, it offers other advantages, including realizing succession gaps and knowing whom to invest further in and attempt to retain. Ranking should be done at the organizational level as well as the departmental or functional level.  Following the above advice on performance rating, it is entirely possible to rate someone at the top tier of performance management one year, while ranking them lower in the talent reviews and vice-versa. The use of rankings will be discussed more in detail in future posts dealing with talent reviews and succession planning.

HR leaders are wise to advise their business partners to maintain awareness of these differentiations to avoid “halo effects” as well as “false negatives.” These types of subtleties are important if we are to keep both the performance management and the talent review process with the expected level of integrity. Undoubtedly, the time will come when knowing the difference will aid decision makers in dealing with a talent conundrum.

Talent Management: Watching Your Investments

Whether they are called resources, assets, or human capital, people in organizations are an investment a company makes in order to meet business goals as well as growth projections. Like any investment, talent must be managed with care and adjustments must be made accordingly.

One of the main challenges that HR leaders face in managing talent is getting business leaders to follow through on each of the three critical stages in the talent management process.

Performance Management

Performance management is perhaps the most dreaded aspect of the talent management process. It is time-consuming and it involves attention to detail. It is primarily dreaded however, due to its emotional component. Not only are managers assessing the employee’s performance, which is essentially a process of critique, but also the employee’s future compensation is intrinsically tied to that assessment.  Expectations on the part of the employee on both the performance evaluation and the compensation piece may vary wildly from that of the manager’s views. Performance management is however, the building block on which we base how talent is managed and must therefore, be treated with rigorous discipline.

Common challenges that HR leaders must be vigilant to, include:

Poor Manager-Employee relationship – At times, during the performance management process, managers may surface a situation, performance issue, or perceived lack of skill in relation to an employee which they had not brought up to the employee before. This poses a difficult situation at several levels:  * the employee won’t have an opportunity to address the problem and course-correct in time; * the element of surprise for the employee signals a communication problem between manager and employee ; * it sends the message – whether on purpose or  not – that the manager waited for the annual evaluation to disclose all of the employee’s opportunities.   Just as bad, HR is also caught by surprised and forced to determine whether they have a poor performer in either the employee, or the manager. Managers who don’t invest time and effort in knowing their employees and in building a relationship, may find it more difficult to approach them with timely and constructive feedback.  Sadly, engaging in this wait-and-surprise game eventually catches up with the manager and his or her career. Just as sad, employee reputations may be ruined on the occasions that the problem may actually be with the manager, not with the employee. This is more difficult to gauge when the manager may be good at meeting business goals, but less than effective at managing others. They may have been promoted to management based on the former, but never fully assessed based on the latter. In such a case, the employee’s reputation is compromised making it difficult for them to recover from the incident. If the relationship is not repaired, the odds of employee and manager being fully effective in the future drastically diminishes. In the best-case scenario, the employee transfers to a new manager and a better relationship is formed. In the worst case, the employee is not able to recover from the damage to their reputation and ends up leaving the company, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.

Employees Managing Up – On the opposite side of the previous scenario is the “halo effect” that managers bestow on certain employees and that directly impacts how they evaluate them.  Everyone knows the importance of good relations at work and everyone should aim to have a good relation with their manager and help him or her be successful. Taking this aim to an extreme however, may cloud how the manager sees an employee. An astute employee and a less-than-aware manager may end up shifting the relationship from manager-employee to manager-ally with all the emotions that the shift may entail. In the current social media age, “friending” one’s boss through some of the common online outlets is still something that many organizations are not certain on how to handle. Again, we’re not talking about a healthy strong relationship, but one where the efforts of the employee of endearing him or herself to the manager results in their raising to the top of the pack forsaken better performers in the team.  One way the “halo effect” manifests itself in the performance management process is when the same employee year after year is rated “exceptional” by their manager while other stakeholders may disagree with the employee’s contribution. This may be perceived as style trumping substance.

Timing – As unbelievable as it may seem, many of us in HR have seen it sometime or another in our careers…No, not Big Foot, but another elusive being. That of the manager who cannot seem to get around to completing their employee’s evaluations in time. If you speak with enough people, you’ll find examples of employees whose evaluations were due in January, but they received them in June. To me, that spells disdain. This is a major flaw in the organization’s culture and a huge hit to employee engagement. Some organizations have solved this problem by instituting performance management systems that limit the amount of time a manager has to work on and deliver employee evaluations before the employee is given direct online access to their own evaluation. If the evaluation is deemed as incomplete, the manager’s manager is notified of the lapse.

For the above scenarios, HR must get involved and partner with the manager to bridge any gap in the manager’s skill-set or provide appropriate coaching with the involvement of the manager’s manager. For more serious cases, a remedial step is to penalize the manager’s compensation directly for their lack of effective execution. This of course, in addition to receiving a low rating for their managerial competencies.

A good manager complies with the set deadlines; a great manager manages performance every single day.

Talent Reviews

While performance management is the building block of talent management, talent reviews are the backbone of the entire process. This is where performance and potential are assessed. As another time-consuming endeavor, talent reviews require a close partnership between line managers and HR leaders. The goal here is to assess the health of the organization as it relates to its people, in particular, its senior and high caliber talent. Do we have the right people? Are they in the right roles? What do they know (skills, organizational knowledge, etc.)? How do they use their skill-sets (competencies)? Who do they know (political capital)? Who knows of them (political savvy)? Who should they know (mentoring)?  Who should know of them (next potential role)?

Common challenges that HR leaders must be vigilant to, include:

Managers not fully engaged in the process – Despite being a process designed to help the manager in managing their employees, there are those who invariably fail to commit to the process and neglect to comply with the required steps. Such steps usually include obtaining feedback from important stakeholders with whom their employees work, and completing pre-assigned talent review forms to be sent to HR in time for the live discussion. Managers who don’t engage effectively may lack a vision for what the talent review process is or how it is used.

Lack of candor – The basis of the talent review is the live discussion that takes place around the table as employees are assessed one by one. At times, managers may feel discomfort with this practice and a desire to “protect” their business or unit takes over during the discussion. In practice, it can take the form of not sharing important information, downplaying someone’s talent for fear of “losing” the employee to another team, or overstating their team’s talent and capacity in order to appear to be in top shape.

Both of the above practices border on distrust and the HR leader must be quick to intervene and dissipate the gridlock.

Talent Development

Alas, the third stage in the talent management process signals anything but closure. This is where the agreements on future steps as it relates to the employee’s development are put in place. On the light side, managers are expected to give feedback to employees based on information surfaced during the talent review. Beyond this however, are all the important follow-up conversations that managers should hold with their employees on their development, particularly with those deemed as high potentials or people-to-watch.

Common challenges that HR leaders must be vigilant to, include:

Not giving feedback – Despite the focus given to this important step, time and time again, employees report not receiving enough feedback and recommendations for their development. When the employees are ones that have been deemed as high potential or even high performers, lack of feedback on their opportunities can not only delay their growth, but they can also become frustrated by the lack of managerial focus on their career development.

Not formally partnering in the employees’ success – A demonstrated commitment on the part of the manager is necessary for key talent to thrive. Creating stretch assignments, finding mentors, locating opportunities for involvement in higher-level activities and exposure, are all actions the manager can take to advance someone’s development.

Commitments made during the talent review process towards the development phase must be adhered to if the organization is serious about retaining and growing its talent. The organization cannot advance if its talent is not as agile as needed. As HR leaders seek to continually align people strategies to business objectives, development of the organization’s talent is a key priority that must be tackled with urgency.

Talent Management: fad, buzzwords, or truly achievable?

Despite being a much talked-about strategy and one routinely listed in business publications as one of the top business priorities, effective talent management remains an elusive aim for many organizations.

Often seen as a set of initiatives that distract from revenue-generating activities, “senior managers’ lack of high-quality time spent on talent management” has been cited as the number one obstacle preventing talent management programs from delivering business value (McKinsey Quarterly, 2006). Lack of attention to this aspect of operational management unintentionally sends the message that people strategies are of lesser importance for the leadership.

Is 2010 the year to make these initiatives stick?

With the lean mentality of organizations today and the dire need to engage and retain the best, coupled with the necessity to attract fresh talent for future growth, talent management may be poised to play a center role across most industries this year. For some, talent management is simply a spin on performance management. Yet others, realize its connection to such important practices as succession planning, but fail to crystallize how investing dedicated attention to it today, can impact the organization tomorrow. Certain aspects of talent management can be viewed the same way we look at a business. For instance, take a business with multiple business units. Expecting certain return from each unit, attention is paid to which ones are: underperforming, remaining flat, delivering modest return, or consistently exceeding expectations. Adjustments are then made to course-correct or further invest where necessary. The same set of expectations is applied to internal talent. To ensure business growth is not compromised by focusing all efforts on a single revenue stream, diversification is secured with different product lines, complimentary services, etc. With talent, diversification is achieved by bringing in people with different skill sets, temperaments, and points of view, among others. This way, a mix of analytical, creative, and general management tracks among the employee population is available to be placed in appropriate roles. The HR leader must be vigilant to the right mix necessary based on business objectives and expected growth, and ready to counsel business leaders accordingly. A proactive approach sends the message that HR is in control of its area of purview and has the ownership to initiate change when necessary.

Where to begin

Certainly, performance management is a necessary step in the process. However, the essence of talent management is the talent review process. This is where performance information is gathered about those being reviewed and where both skills and potential are candidly discussed and assessed. Once the information is collected, different classifications are assigned to the reviewed individuals and a plan of action is devised to position the person for success and continued growth. This last step is crucial, because if no one is paying attention or following through, career derailment or loss of talent may occur. In addition to losing all the investment made in someone’s career up to that point, morale issues among the employee population could seep in when they see talented individuals departing from the organization.

More in-depth talent review processes will be discussed in future posts. The malaise plaguing talent management however, has more to do with leadership than with the talent process itself.

Why do talent initiatives fail to gain traction?

Unlike monetary capital management, human capital management often falls by the wayside, easily becoming a back-burner initiative. Although frequently mentioned as a burning platform among business priorities, focused attention may fall short. Certainly, this is not news to HR leaders. In fact, the inability of the business leadership to focus on talent initiatives also reflects on the HR department and its credibility, becoming a major source of headache for the function. HR leaders, in recognizing this ubiquitous lack of follow through on talent commitments, will find it imperative to reassess how they manage the relationship with their clients.

Leaders who do commit to the talent management process are known for their consistency, the value they place on people, and the vision they have for their teams and organizations. Not surprisingly, they quickly gain reputations for attracting exceptional talent and for the loyalty they inspire in others. They have high expectations for those around them, and people work hard to meet or exceed those expectations. Such leaders unfortunately, typically come in low numbers, and despite their presence within organizations, countless others fail to realize the need to follow suit.

There is no ill intent behind the neglect. It’s easy to fall into a mode where fires are being put out every day in an effort to “fix” emergent business problems. People strategies can be easily overshadowed by revenue strategies. Not realizing how the former directly impacts the latter is one of the most common mistakes leaders make in managing their business. At times, managers may feel they have a grasp on their teams and may not need “outside intervention” to handle how they develop and grow their people. HR, in its overarching organizational capacity, must dislodge this position.  Talent is owned by the larger organization, not by the separate business units. HR’s role in this respect is to break down the silos that are obstructing sound talent practices.

HR in the game, not on the bench

Certain organizations where the HR function reports to the CEO, routinely add the input of the HR partner to the performance review of the business leader. Obviously in such cases, HR is poised to make a strong statement, and yet, lack of attention to talent also plagues pockets of areas within these organizations. For all other types of organizations, the HR executive, leader, or professional tasked with executing on talent initiatives, must take on stronger relationship building with their clients as the best chance of influencing them in the right direction. Credibility in the knowledge of the talent management process, talent assessment, analytical skills, and understanding of the business, all help in making the case for HR. When everything else fails however, HR leaders must internalize their duty to recommend consequences for those who fail to execute on agreed-upon priorities and rewards for those who exceed at them. Not following through on this recommendation, makes HR part of the problem rather than the solution.

Finally, HR must also feel the pain when talent initiatives fail to take off. While the business leaders own the execution, HR must carry some of the weight for assisting them in getting to the finish line. If HR is responsible for part of the strategy and is the expert resource around the solution, it must have skin in the game and be held accountable accordingly – when talent strategies succeed as well as when they fail.

Talent management is achievable when quantitative and qualitative action is put behind the intentions to focus on talent initiatives. And when both HR and business leaders partner in a concerted effort to leverage people strategies as a competitive advantage.

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Posted in Talent Management on Thursday, February 4th, 2010 | No Comments »

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