Coming Events

Strategic Talent Management: Put Strategy First, Not People

A contrarian presentation by Michael Couch
Pittsburgh HR Association Annual Conference and Exhibition
September 21 - 22
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh PA

Registration and Additional Information


How to Keep Good Employees from Leaving

Here are some sobering talent facts:

  • In February 2010, the number of voluntary terminations in the US was larger than involuntarily terminations for the first time since October 2008. US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • 60% of workers say they intend to leave their jobs when the market gets better. Right Management Survey 2009
  • A talent executive for a large global manufacturer recent expressed the concern to me that their top people are being "plucked and the economy has not even turned around".

The facts point to a changing labor market where engaging and retaining top talent is a top priority. What can you do to make sure that you have the talent you need as the tide turns?

Talent management resources are always at a premium so a "one-size fits all" approach should be avoided. Differentiate your retention strategy by focusing on "A" Talent in "A" Positions.

The "A" Players are high potential employees that are flexible, adaptable learners. Make sure you know who they are. (Click here for more information on assessing talent.) Retain them by promoting and challenging them in roles that make a difference � the "A" positions. These mission critical positions are directly linked to wealth creation and value delivery. Place high potential people in these roles. Give them or allow them to choose the best team members. Pay them above market. Make sure they are backed-up by other A Players.

"Not everybody is created equal, and it's important for companies to identify those high potentials and treat them differently, accelerate their development and pay them more. That process is so incredibly important to developing first-class leadership in a company. I think sometimes companies get confused with egalitarian processes that they think are the fairest, and that is not what companies need. Companies need to be very selective about identifying talent and investing in those leaders of the future.

Ann Mulcahy,
CEO Xerox

The "A" Players are high potential employees that are flexible, adaptable learners. Make sure you know who they are. (Click here for more information on assessing talent.) Retain them by promoting and challenging them in roles that make a difference � the "A" positions. These mission critical positions are directly linked to wealth creation and value delivery. Place high potential people in these roles. Give them or allow them to choose the best team members. Pay them above market. Make sure they are backed-up by other A Players.

Research has shown that high engagement employees will most often leave a company due to stress and work-life balance issues. The most common sources of stress for this talent group come from not having the resources to get their job done. Make sure they have the tools they need and involve them in strategic communications to help them keep things in perspective. Develop policies and practices that emphasize the primacy of their families over work.

Companies can't survive without the "B" players that make up the core of their organization. They may not be the next CEO but they are solid contributors. Retain these high professional/seasoned pros by allowing them to stay on top of their game in their field. Companies often cut training and conference budgets during tight times. Don't do it for this group. Get them in front of customers and link their projects to key business results.

Do the right things to keep the right people and you'll be ready for whatever the new economy has in store.

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The Best Ways to Waste Money on Training

I had the opportunity recently to work with two organizations that made a significant annual investment in leadership training but were concerned that they are not seeing an impact - those attending the training were not taking any action or changing their behavior. As a result, the companies were concerned that they were not getting a return on the millions of dollars invested in the training.

As we discussed the details of each training intervention, it became clear why the training was not having the desired effect. A pattern of practices emerged that I've seen before, practices that described training that is done as an activity or task that has to be accomplished and not a process focused on achieving a targeted business result.

If you are interested in not wasting money on training, here's an outline of some of the low-impact training practices to avoid.

  1. Offer "one size fits all" training sessions that every employee in a leadership position must attend, no matter their need. This approach assumes that every incumbent lacks a key knowledge, skill or ability (KSA) that is preventing him or her from applying a key behavior on the job. However, it is more likely that the learners actually fall into one of five categories. They either:

    • Already have the KSA and are using the behavior,
    • Already have the KSA but are prevented from applying it because of environmental factors,
    • Lack the KSA and do not have the ability to acquire and use it,
    • Lack the KSA but don't see the need to learn, or,
    • Lack the KSA and are interested in learning.
    These different conditions are why training that everyone must attend, no matter their individual need, is seldom very successful. Effective leadership development should be more personalized and less "one size fits all."
  2. Offer only classroom instruction to develop leaders. Research has repeatedly shown that effective leadership development follows a 70, 20 10 rule.

    • 70% of what successful managers and supervisors learn about key leadership skills comes from jobs, assignments or projects.
    • 20% comes from coaching, mentoring and support provide by other people./li>
    • 10% comes from self-study, education and training.
    Therefore, classroom-based training should make up less than 10% of the tools used to develop managers and leaders.
  3. Exclude the leaner's manager. The #1 reason why training fails to transfer to the job is because the new knowledge, skill, or ability is not reinforced by the learner's manager. The learner's boss should be part of assessing the need, encouraging the learner to attend the training, modeling the new behavior him or herself, and reinforcing the new behavior after the training.
  4. Don't make the training just-in-time, action-based nor team-based. Just-in-time training occurs at a point in the learning process when the trainee needs the KSA. You could not learn to play golf if you took golf lessons 3 months before you ever planned to play a game. Training is action-based when the learners come into the training with a specific task or outcome in mind and then work on that task in the training. For example, a project manager that needs to learn project planning would bring his/her specific project to a Project Management class and come away not only knowing how to do project planning but would also have a fully completed project plan that is ready to be implemented. Training is more effective if naturally occurring teams attend the training together so that they can all "get on the same page", learn from each other, and reinforce the use of the new skill after they get back to the job. Take the Project Management example cited above - an even more effective scenario would be for the entire project team to attend the training together.

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Three Keys to Gain the Most from Downsizing
By Wayne Smith
Career Edge LLC

A leading HR consulting company survey of restructuring practices among 531 large companies revealed that over 50% of the companies achieved their goal of reducing cost and expense but less than half achieved goals of increased profitability and customer satisfaction.

No one enjoys the termination process. After all, who wants to break the news to a longtime employee or team member that they no longer have a job with the organization? The highly emotional nature of the process can turn any well-intended management effort from goals of improved profitability and strengthening the company for the future to "Let's just complete the terminations and hope the cost reduction will benefit the bottom line".

Here are some keys to helping your organization get the short-term gain in cost reduction and emerge from downsizing stronger and more competitive.


Start Thinking Early.   There may be other changes that can help you avoid a layoff. Look at what you are buying, what services you're offering. Look at your processes for consolidation or improvement. Look at attrition or reassignment. This will force better business decisions.

Document Processes and Cross-Train.   Maintain current documentation of processes, whether through a quality management system or your own in-house structure. This will help protect your knowledge base and avoid arousing suspicion of coming events. During transition, processes need to function with little interruption. Cross training will lessen the stress on your remaining employees as well.

Identify Essential Talent.   In the rush to cut staff, don't cut essential talent. Examine your key processes and be selective to avoid losing core competencies and harming your business. Make certain that you have the resources to recover and build for the future.

Leverage Expertise.   Bring outplacement consulting in as soon as possible to take full advantage of their expertise. A good outplacement firm can help with planning your layoff and help avoid missteps.


Studies show that senior leaders play a vital role in downsizing. Successful downsizing resulted when senior leadership became involved early, stayed active and visible and was perceived by employees to be a source of communications concerning downsizing. It is very difficult for employees to understand why their jobs are being eliminated or work processes changed when they are doing a good job. Leadership demonstrating a consistent commitment to change as a means of strengthening the organization is key to overcoming "this is just another management initiative" attitude.

Managers at all levels need to be committed to managing their employees during downsizing in a human and objective manner. Managers need to have compassion for the fear and disruption that people feel, yet they need to display a sense of optimism, a sense of direction and future vision and how the employees fit into the vision.

Respect for All Employees

Exiting Employees Can Do Damage.   Downsizing is a personal and emotional experience to those being let go. They have to cope with shock and fear of the future. When people feel lost or hopeless some want to strike back. They can do a lot of damage to current client relationships and retention and a company image that took time and money to build. Litigation is a possibility and disgruntled feedback to survivors can dramatically affect productivity and retention. A preventive investment in external outplacement help will have a much higher return than dealing with the negative options of an insensitive layoff. Choose outplacement that fits your budget, your corporate culture and your employee needs. Large outplacement firms may be better at serving large numbers of employees; small firms can deliver more personalized and compassionate service for a smaller investment.

"No News Is Good News" Doesn't Apply.   During downsizing, normal communication links have been disrupted. Some news is better than no news. People with no news imagine the worst and fill the void with rumor. Productivity slows and unproductive communication flourishes. Keep honest and current communications flowing.

Successful Downsizing Depends On the Survivors.   Business needs change. Product lines change, processes need improved, competitors gain ground and the economy fluctuates. Help your employees embrace change and recognize that successful downsizing secures more future jobs than are currently lost. A well planned and managed downsizing process, which your remaining employees perceive as having been fairly and humanly managed promotes trust and loyalty in management and in the future of the organization. The organization not only gains cost reduction from the downsizing process but the bigger future benefits of improved productivity and quality from a loyal and empowered workforce.

The bottom line is that downsizing can bring cost in control in the present but taking a broader perspective for downsizing can make your organization stronger and more competitive into the future.

Click here for the full text of this article

For more information contact:

Wayne M Smith
Career Edge, LLC
[email protected]

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