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Talent Management Tactics Without Strategy = Talent Loss

April 3, 2018

All too often human resources professionals are overworked and fail to get the traction they desire.  Always pushing higher to get boardroom access and develop that true partnership with the C-suite, but in too many cases falling short.  Activity is not enough.  We must, as human resource professionals, engage in the right activity, at the right time, in the right way, for the right purpose.  That means more activity is in most cases not better.  Less is more.  Why?  Because it creates an opportunity for human resource professionals to be more strategic and focus on real results.  And the timing could not be better.  Here are three reasons why… 

1.       CEOs have become more connected to how they lead and manage people.  Aligning performance, cultural fit and ensuring an inclusive environment has taken on new meaning.   Culture has made the headlines in ways that few expected.  Cultures that allow for or even encourage bad behavior and poor ethics have proven to affect shareholder value.  Culture used to be something progressive companies focused on and others talked about.  Now companies cannot afford to leave culture to chance. 

2.       Data is prevalent.  Measuring success of people initiatives, human resources achievements and the state of your culture and employee engagement have never been easier.  It also means HR must be accountable and transparent to succeed in today’s economy.

3.       Competition and change are at an all-time high.   The difference between success and failure can no longer be covered by labor costs, automation and other factors.  Having a nimble and productive workforce is paramount and will help organizations survive during innovative disruptions and economic slowdowns.   

So how can HR prepare?  Focus a little less on tactics and a little more on strategy.  A strong talent management strategy is a direct extension of the business strategy.   All too often that connection is broken and there are a number of reasons why.  Here are 10 reasons tactics take over for strategy and how to avoid them… 

1.       Recycling may be good for the environment, but not your plan.  Last year was last year.  It does not matter if it was a good year.  It does not matter if you hit the ball out of the park.  It is in the past.  It no longer counts.  Too many rely on and try to preserve what has worked.  Even if the talent strategy’s goals and objectives are for the most part staying the same, the world around them has not.  Competition, costs, your talent etc. are all moving targets.  When it is a new year it should be a new plan. 

2.       Assuming people know the strategy.  Most employees do not know or understand the business strategy let alone the talent strategy and it is not their fault.  A company’s talent strategy is rarely communicated to the masses.  A strategy only comes to life when people understand, buy into and help execute it.  Yes your employees help make the talent strategy successful when invited too. 

3.       KISS is more than a band.  Keep it short and simple.  Visuals work well.  A talent strategy should be easy to digest and one to three pages.  Too many HR departments create lengthy, cumbersome plans that resemble research and books.  Does not mean you won’t put work into the planning process?  No.  Of course you will.  It just means the simplest answer/plan is most likely the best one.  Think of it as the Occam’s razor of talent strategy.

4.       Expertise is not all that it’s cracked up to be.  Some HR professionals get caught up in degrees, certifications and more.  But here is a little secret – while experience and expertise are important, the customer, market, your competition and business strategy drive your talent strategy.  Who is your target customer?  What do you do better than your competition from your customer’s eyes?  How will you operationally compete in the market place?  What are your growth plans?  What does that mean for recruiting, hiring, developing and promoting your people?  How will you know how to adjust to changing expectations?  One company I worked with focused on a service strategy.  However, in order to take advantage of a growth opportunity they needed to hire, develop and grow a sales culture.  They struggled with organic growth until they recognized the disconnect, and made adjustments. 

5.       Lack of bandwidth.  A plan can only succeed if you have the capability, resources and money to deliver.   Make sure your plan fits your budget and resources.  And if you have to execute a talent strategy on a dime, don’t do it on the backs of your people.  It only leads to poor execution and burn out.  Adjust your plan accordingly.  Focus on what will have the most impact.   Too many try to build a Ferrari when a Toyota will do the trick. 

6.       Who’s on first?  If you have never done a succession plan or have not completed one in a while then it is hard to know where to start.  After all, a talent strategy is usually based to a great extent on what you have in terms of talent already and then what gaps exist.  Without having a formal process in place most organizations make a great deal of assumptions or guesses that don’t exactly hit the mark.  The other problem with lacking in this area are the mixed message that go out to people in the company.  Companies lose good people because they do not know where to stand when it comes to company succession.  We need to know who we have in our ranks and how ready they are for their next role. 

7.       Not knowing where you are going.  Most talent strategies identify where they are starting and may know the direction or the route towards success.  But rarely do these strategies lay out what success looks like.   Sometimes it is about wanting wiggle room.  Being ambiguous helps reduce accountability.  But without a true stake in the ground, progress is usually left out of reach.  And other times it is because no one knows what success looks like.  However, if you don’t know your destination you probably won’t arrive. 

8.       Falling for the misdirection.  In magic a misdirection is a form of deception, a distraction, making you focus on one thing rather than the other; in essence you miss what is actually happening.  The same thing happens in business.  We spend our time juggling tasks just trying not to drop the ball.  We are always going to get new information, requests, etc. throughout the year and of course we will have to adjust.  The problem is we rarely complete a triage analysis of all the requests and changes that appear throughout the year.  That usually leads to one of two problems: 

  • Altering your efforts when you when you should not and therefore giving up on your strategy and hurting the business;  or
  • Remaining obstinate in the face of new information and sticking with a plan that is no longer relevant and frustrating the business and your customers.  

The trick is knowing when to adjust and when not too.  Have an evaluation and feedback loop in place to appropriately amend your efforts.

9.       Big data is not the answer.  Sure data is helpful.  HR departments can  use it to measure the effectiveness of learning, strengthen teams, identify skill gaps, determine whether automations or robotics can do certain work and predict job changes through artificial intelligence.  But in the end data and numbers are only so helpful.  We still work with other human beings.  Relationships are still the underpinning of how we do business.  Technology can be a tool to strengthen relationships, but more often we utilize data and technology to increase efficiency at the cost of trust and relationships. 

10.   Risks don’t rule.  HR tends to worry about the risks of doing something new.  They have the reputation in many companies for saying “No” or “we can’t do that.” Maybe it has to do with our origins.  We were an outgrowth of legal.  But companies need HR to center on opportunities first.  HR should be focusing on growth and on helping the organization explore what is possible.  After there is buy-in on an idea HR can work through the issues, risks and barriers. HR should be known for a “can do” attitude rather than the opposite. 

A good talent management strategy is a roadmap for how we make decisions and where we focus our time and energy.  If handled the right way, everyone gets behind it and understands how it ties directly to and supports the business strategy.  Most importantly it is becomes a living, breathing proactive effort that makes a difference.  Otherwise, HR is transactional and has as much value as an outdated and inaccurate job description.