Top 10 Signs That You Are NOT Taking a Strategic Approach to Talent

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

Google “Strategic Talent Management” and you will come up with about 2 million hits. The discussion about STM is reaching a fevered pitch online, in blogs, and at conferences. Approaching talent from a strategic perspective is more than just a hot topic. It is a significant evolutionary step up from “Employees First” or “People Are Your Most Important Asset” perspectives. STM puts the emphasis back where it should be – on strategy – and driving the business strategy with a focused workforce strategy.

My new mantra is, “People are NOT your most important asset. The right people in the right roles doing the right things are”. “Right” can only be determined from the context of the business strategy.

So, is your company evolving, taking a strategic approach to talent and adding to the STM discussion? I thought it might be enlightening to answer this question by describing what STM is not so here is my top ten list of Signs That You Are NOT Taking A Strategic Approach To Talent.

10. Competency models are not high-performance +/or future-focused.
Many times, I find companies have created competency models (descriptions of the critical behaviors needed for success) by having HR review job descriptions and come up with behavior descriptions. These models of average behavior don’t create any stretch, are focused on the past, and don’t help you differentiate between top and bottom performance.

9. Training and Development is all “T and no “D”.
Training is great for developing skills and assuring that everyone gets the same message. However, the critical behaviors needed for success as a leader don’t come from the classroom. They come from the lessons of experience – jobs, developmental assignments and other people. Strategic Talent Management involves promotion from within and managing assignments, deployment, and coaching/mentoring to create the leaders of the future. Training is critical to maintain and transfer knowledge. Experienced-based develop creates leaders.

8. Everyone gets the same annual base increase, no matter if they are low and high performers.
I call this the peanut butter approach to compensation – a think layer of a limited budget is spread evenly over the organization. This is a waste of one of the most expensive “talent levers” that companies have at their disposal resulting in a negligible ROI for the millions of dollars delivered in bonuses and merit systems. Why not differentiate the investment you are making in talent and assure that the high-performing, high potential employees in mission-critical roles are rewarded at a higher level for their contribution.

7. Poor performance is tolerated
Marginal leaders have a significantly under-estimated negative impact on an organization’s performance, especially if they are in pivotal roles. Their teams are less productive. They create turnover. They don’t develop talent. They require too much attention from support groups like HR. They don’t even know what high-performing talent looks like and therefore can’t recruit effectively. Don’t waste your precious talent resources here. Move them out of the way quickly and compassionately.

6. Differentiated investment in high-value employees doesn’t occur because of the concern that some employees might feel left out
Research has shown a clear benefit from differentiating the attention and resources that you apply to different levels of talent. You leave money on the table if you don’t wisely apply talent levers to the people that will make the most difference. Engagement is critical with all levels and kinds of employees but it does not require that everyone be rewarded or recognized exactly the same.

5. The measurement of talent focuses on the HR budget or recruiting efficiency.
For example, I don’t care about “time to fill” as a measure of HR performance if the vacancy is a mission critical, high impact role. First of all, you shouldn’t be going outside to fill these “A” positions but should have a pipeline of talent at all levels being developed internally. Second, if you have to go outside, you should take as much time as needed to find top-notch talent for these positions.

Research has shown that high-performing organizations have specific talent measurement strategies or scorecards in place. High-performing companies use measures like internal placement rates, employee engagement, leadership success, management satisfaction, scorecard improvement and financial success.

4. Employee performance goals are not clearly linked to company goals
You can’t strategically manage talent if no one knows the strategy and the role they can play in achieving it. Forget job descriptions. Make sure that your performance management system clearly links everyone’s objectives and that objectives are aligned across functions.

3. Executives are not held accountable for managing talent
Research by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (Talent Management Measurement Pulse Survey, April 2010) found that leaders in high performing organizations are more likely to have workforce/talent specific goals and objectives and are more likely to receive regular reports about talent. Talent is not the responsibility of HR. It is a critical accountability for the top of the house.

2. Regular, robust discussions about talent are not built into the business planning process
A company’s leaders have to be on the same page when it comes to talent. They need to know if the organization is capable of implementing the company’s strategy and they need a common language to describe talent. This can only happen with regular and candid talent reviews linked to business reviews.

1. No one can adequately describe the link between talent and the business strategy.
Effective talent management can only occur in the context of strategy. As Brian Becker, Mark Huselid and Richard Beatty describe in The Differentiated Workforce, talent has value only if it makes a difference in executing the strategy. The real payoff occurs not by putting employees first but by putting strategy first.

If I had to expand the list beyond ten (because all lists have to have only 10 items, right?), I would include things like:

  • Managers hoarding high-potential talent within their functions rather than allowing movement across functions for development opportunities.
  • Once a year performance reviews rather than regular feedback and updates on objectives that keep people linked to the strategy and engaged.
  • Talent processes like recruiting, training & development, compensation, and succession planning managed for different outcomes rather than the same organization targets.
  • Talent reviews done solely for the purpose of creating back-up lists rather than developing a picture of overall organization capability. Or talent reviews that don’t result in assigned objectives with time frames and resources. Or talent reviews that are kept secret rather than resulting in robust feedback.
  • Not having a robust database to track talent information and progress

The list could go on. The point: Strategic Talent Management requires a change in perspective and an evolution away from talent practices that do not drive the strategy.