Talent Management Derailers

Keys to keeping your talent train on track

Michael Couch
President
Michael Couch and Associates Inc.
Pittsburgh, PA

Strategic Talent Management (getting the right people, in the right roles, doing the right things) is a core business process. As with any mission-critical process, it should be measured and improved over time to assure that has the desired business impact. Throughout my career, I’ve seen threats that can derail the process and compromise its contribution to business results. This is a summary of some of the more common threats and their potential impact. I also offer some preventive actions that can keep your process on track.

Top 12 Talent Management Derailers

  1. Not in My House: Functional managers protect talent that reports to them, see them as “their employees” and do not offer them as candidates for advancement or development opportunities. They may even get upset if other managers talk to “their people” about opportunities.

    The Impact
    Talent pools are limited and do not reflect the real bench strength of the organization. Agile, high potential and high professional talent becomes frustrated and leaves the company. Alternatively, their careers may derail due to over-reliance on a single benefactor.

    Preventive Actions

    • Build a strong business case for talent from the beginning, driven by strategy. Develop a Marketing Plan for the business case that targets key stakeholders in all functions/businesses.
    • Do not base talent discussions on the input of a single functional manager. The focus should be on having rich talent discussions with input from all available sources. Be cautious of using performance reviews as input to your talent process.
    • Include “Skip-level” meetings in the career development plans for key talent so that executives outside of the function are aware of the talent and can be sponsors.
    • Include company-wide talent development targets in executive performance and incentive plans. This should be the same measure or objective for all leaders so that “we’re all in this together” is reinforced.
    • Measure and Challenge a low ratio of High Potential-to-Others in a function’s bench strength.
  2. Lists for Lists Sake: Completing talent discussions just to have a succession plan or back-up list.

    The Impact
    The actual hit rate on back-up lists is typically only about 15%, contributing little to improving organization capability and providing a low return for this effort. The true capability of the total organization to achieve strategic targets is not assessed or improved. In addition, High Professional (as opposed to High Potential) talent, critical to maintaining a company’s core competencies, is overlooked and may become disengaged.

    Preventive Actions

    • Drive talent discussions from broad organization needs, not just management succession.
    • Plan for talent based on broad talent or acceleration pools.
    • Review and update talent on a regular basis in conjunction with monthly, quarterly, and annual business reviews.
  3. Take a Pill: Development of high potential talent is limited to “take a training class” rather then meaningful assignments or broader-based development.


    Impact
    Talent is slowly developed or not developed at all. High Po and High Pro employees get frustrated by a lack of challenging work and growth opportunities. Training budgets are usually “fickle” so development can be erratic if training is over-emphasized. The return on training investment is not realized. The same people get tapped over-and-over for key projects.

    Preventive Actions

    • Develop an Assignment Management process that considers talent for all critical assignments – project, process, and business – not just leadership positions.
    • Build career development and coaching processes based on the best development experiences.
    • Strive to make all training just-in-time and action-based done with intact project or work teams.
    • Measure all training at the impact and behavior level, not just at the reaction and learning level.
  4. HR Disconnect: The talent management process is disconnected from other HR systems such selection, performance management, and compensation, and career development.


    Impact
    Employees are confused by differing feedback. Users of the HR processes – managers and employees – do not see the benefit in following them. The utility (cost/benefit) of the other processes is not realized. The link between the HR processes and business needs is lost, causing them to be seen as “administrivia”.

    Preventive Actions

    • Build HR processes upon competency-driven technology so there is a common language for talent, no matter the application. Create competency models based on behaviors of high performing employees, not the average or typical performer.
    • Assign responsibility for all the talent-related processes to one function. Remove transactional processes (benefits, payroll, FMLA, pension) from the talent management function.
    • Implement software systems that integrate performance management, compensation, career planning, and talent management.
  5. Strategy Disconnect: Talent Management is not driven from strategy and business planning


    Impact
    Talent is seen as the responsibility of HR. The true capability of the company to achieve strategic targets is not improved. Critical budgeting and resourcing for talent is missed. Time devoted to talent reviews and talent development is viewed as a waste of time.

    Preventive Actions

    • Build clear links in the business planning process to the talent management process. Match the talent management cycle to the business planning and budgeting cycle.
    • Add talent management measures to overall company scorecards. Analyze sensitivities in the measures regularly
    • Ask talent-related questions at key junctures in the planning process – “Do we have the organization capability to achieve these goals?
    • Implement Employee Performance Management software that links goal alignment to talent management.
  6. Nothing Gained: A lack of or inconsistent follow-up on organization development action items from talent discussions.


    Impact
    The long-term capability of the organization is not improved. Initial momentum for the process is eventually lost. Employees see a varying level of support for the process and wonder what’s happening. Key talent may be come frustrated because the only hear words and see no action.

    Preventive Actions

    • Add talent management objectives to leadership performance plans and link manager’s compensation to the performance on the objectives.
    • Add progress on Talent Review Action Items to regular business reviews.
    • Provide consulting or coaching support to managers with significant talent issues.
  7. Its Not My Job: Managers depend solely on HR or outside coaches for development


    Impact
    Talent management that is not owned and implemented by management goes nowhere. Progress lags. Coaching is focused on the wrong players providing little return on the investment. The talent dialogue and process is not continuously improved. Talent issues, both positive and negative, are not addressed quickly or effectively;

    Preventive Actions

    • Build coaching, feedback, and development training for leaders/managers/supervisors. Make it a competency requirement in their performance plan. Select managers for their ability to develop others.
    • Remove non-developing managers from pivotal positions where talent development is key
    • Starting with the business case, build management responsibility for talent into the process. Don’t proceed unless there is a clear case and commitment.
    • Plan for and provide just-in-time development for managers in the talent process (usually immediately following a talent review).
  8. Information Black Hole: Not having a robust database to track talent information and progress


    Impact
    Talent data stays as data and does not become “talent intelligence”. There is little understanding of whether the talent process is under control or not so its not clear when corrective action is needed. Problems (turnover, productivity, no backup) are only recognized when it’s too late to address them. The process is paper-intensive and is seen as a burden by managers and employees. The clear benefit of talent management is not tracked and is therefore questioned.

    Preventive Actions

    • Define the process first but back it up with a robust database and measurements. Build the process from business requirements not HR requirements alone.
    • Define the data needs in advance and work with IT to understand requirements. Do a pilot in a smaller area to confirm the system needs.
    • Measure the productivity of the process with and without effective data (time spent by key executives) to build a case.
  9. Just The Facts: A clearly defined and accepted business case for Talent Management does not exist


    Impact
    The true capability of the organization’s talent to achieve business goals is not identified. Resources are not allocated effectively. The process does not move beyond a very low level of maturity and looses support over time.

    Preventive Actions

    • Build the business case before you do anything else. Use a cross-functional team to define the effort, ideally not lead by HR. Talk to key stakeholders and identify talent issues linked to business needs and drivers. Benchmark other influential firms.
    • Define and measure “Talent Management” early in the process; Review the measures with key stakeholders and report them during business reviews.
  10. Only at the Top: Having rich talent discussions only for top level positions


    Impact
    The true capability of the organization’s talent to achieve business goals is not identified. Resources are not allocated effectively. The process does not move beyond a very low level of maturity and looses support over time.

    Preventive Actions

    • Build the business case before you do anything else. Use a cross-functional team to define the effort, ideally not lead by HR. Talk to key stakeholders and identify talent issues linked to business needs and drivers. Benchmark other influential firms.
    • Define and measure “Talent Management” early in the process; Review the measures with key stakeholders and report them during business reviews.
  11. Resurrection is Much Harder Than Birth: Spending too much time and resources on blocked, low learning agile, low potential employees, trying to fix them


    Impact
    Talent improvement is slowed. A return on investment in Human Capital is not realized because the investment is going to those with a very low chance of improvement. High potential talent becomes frustrated and leaves.

    Preventive Actions

    • Build the business case before you do anything else. Use a cross-functional team to define the effort, ideally not lead by HR. Talk to key stakeholders and identify talent issues linked to business needs and drivers. Benchmark other influential firms.
    • Define and measure “Talent Management” early in the process; Review the measures with key stakeholders and report them during business reviews.
    • Build consequences for managers that don’t address performance issues quickly.
  12. Living in the Past: Not advancing from a focus on the past to a focus on the future as the talent process matures


    Impact
    Talent gaps are missed and hinder growth. Too much time is spent on reacting to talent problems rather than creating opportunities and continuously improving organization capability. The business case for talent management is not validated.

    Preventive Actions

    • Implement an information system that allows you to model talent over time – “what-if”
    • Gather operations, sales, and business planning data as input to the talent process
    • Include a discussion of talent implications to business plans
    • Measure the impact of talent progress on business results; Look for talent sensitivities