Talent Management – The Meta Process
By Jen Taylor –
We’re currently partnering with two multinational clients to design, develop and implement Talent Management across their businesses.
These are giants in their respective industries, contributing significantly to our national economy, obvious success stories for many decades. Why the focus on Talent Management? Surely, to be as successful as they continue to be, their leaders just need to keep doing what they’ve always done. Their recipe works, doesn’t it? The answer is yes, and no.
Yes, their recipe works. Leaders understand their businesses from top to bottom. They’ve grown up in, and with, their businesses. They’ve cut their teeth, they’ve taken their fair share of punches, and they’re to a man (often quite literally) entrepreneurs by nature. Which means they trust their instincts, they chase the numbers, and the numbers have been good. Until now. You only have to take a quick look around to know that the numbers are not what they used to be, no matter the industry.
And no, their recipe is no longer working. For many reasons. One of which I’ll explore briefly from my perspective of working with these clients for the past months.
The Rise of the Mini-Me
Leaders tend to hire people most like themselves: I believe I am successful; I want more of the same results; I hire people like me to deliver them. This creates environments where groupthink prevails. Where diversity of thinking and approach are not valued. Nancy Kline’s research shows that “Reality is diverse. Therefore, to think well we need to be in as real, as diverse, a setting as possible. We need to be surrounded by people from many identity groups, and we need to know that there will be no reprisal for thinking differently from the rest of the group.”
When leaders hire Mini-Me’s they’re ensuring they’re not challenged. They’re surrounded by confirmation bias on a daily basis. Great for the ego; what about for the business? An unintended consequence is that work subtly becomes designed around the people doing it, around the incumbent and their strengths, rather than on what the business needs done. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: to get the work done, I need to hire someone like the person who has been doing it, who was originally modelled on myself. This is the death of innovation, fresh thinking, growth, and possibilities.
This was probably okay when the world was more stable. More predictable. When what worked last year will certainly work this year, and the next. Not so much nowadays, with VUCA being a reality. The world has become Volatile, Uncertain, Complex (or Chaotic, depending on your view), and Ambiguous. The reality is that what worked last year is very unlikely to work this year, never mind the next. It really is the end of the world as we know it. The ground is shifting beneath our feet. Which means it’s time for some new moves.
How leaders look at people, at who they believe will lead the business to success in the future, needs to change. As Henry Ford said: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”. If leaders want to build success for the next generation of their businesses, they need to do something different. In this case, reconsider the way they view people.
Talent Management as a Meta Process
Talent Management is about ensuring the right people are in the right roles, with the right capabilities, at the right time, for the right price. To know who the “right people” are, we look at people through a different set of lenses, focusing on current performance as well as future potential. What might they become in the future, with the right conditions and focus? To know what the “right roles” and “right capabilities” are, we look at work differently too. The leaders’ collective role is to create the strategy for the future, design their organisations and the work that needs to be done, understand and employ the skillsets required across all functions and through all levels, to deliver on the strategy.
The reason Talent Management is a meta process is that it exists over and above, through and alongside all elements related to people and the world of work. A visual is useful:
This doesn’t mean Talent Management can only be done when all of these are in place. Embarking on a Talent Management journey will highlight where some or all of these elements are either inadequate, or missing altogether, becoming a catalyst for their development, potentially in parallel with the Talent process.
Three Key Success Factors
To ensure Talent Management is successfully embedded in the business, there are three key factors to consider:
- How well do the leaders understand the need for change?
It goes without saying that if the leaders of the organisation don’t see a compelling case for change, nothing will change. Not sustainably, at least. Paint clear pictures of the burning platform they’re moving away from, and the successful future they’re aspiring to. Do this together with them, not to them, using “early adopter” leaders to pull their peers along. Build this journey map for everyone in the business to use as a guide to their collective future. Use it as a reference for marking progress along the way.
- What is the current level of capability in the leaders to drive this as a strategic change initiative?
It’s critical that the leaders themselves are equipped, empowered and enabled to lead this change. Their personal capacity for change needs to be developed. Don’t assume they know how to successfully lead change. Up until now, they’ve had what it takes to succeed, and they will likely be faced with feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy, perhaps for the first time. The fact that they’ve survived rough times in the past will stand them in good stead; they may need to be reminded of this as an inner resource when the going gets tough.
- What is the current level of capability and maturity in the Human Resources community to support the leaders along this journey?
As the custodians of all people-related aspects in the business, HR practitioners have a key role to play in supporting leaders to drive this change. They may be faced with their own sense of inadequacy and failure, though. When businesses grow organically, so does everything else, including their people practices. Things obvious to put in place when starting a huge business, were not obvious decades ago working with a handful of entrepreneurs. HR needs to be supported and empowered as they transition from a transactional to a transformational role, a cornerstone of which is Talent Management.
Talent Management neither exists in isolation, nor is a magic bullet. In the two multinationals we’re partnering with, it is a useful lens through which leaders can view their organisation and their people. It’s people who deliver on the strategy, and with the right people in the right place at the right time with the right skills, Talent Management becomes an annual drumbeat echoing through the business, ensuring it will continue being relevant and successful long into the future.
Nancy Kline: “Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind”, 1999