Talent Management

Here is a short but thought-provoking post on employee engagement.  It looks an awful lot like something I would have written, or have written, which is probably why I like it.  Plus its written by Beth Sunshine.  How could you not like something written by someone named Sunshine?  Below is a quick reaction.

When you place an individual in a well-defined role that matches their natural abilities, they will be better able to make a strong contribution to the company.

This takes work.  Employees are freqeuntly asked to conform to the work rather than assigning work according to their strengths.  You wouldn’t ask a car salesman to fix your car but we often ask employees to do work that they are not good at and the results suffer.

Reflect on your employees’ strengths.  Find out what they like to do at work.  Whenever possible, assign them responsibilities that match their strengths and interests.



[T]raditional efforts to create organizational learning may be thwarted if employees are not aware of the habits they have to unlearn.

In this article, John Boudreau explores the link between people’s shopping and work habits.  He cites work by a predictive analytics scientist that shows how difficult it is to break habits.  The scientist says the difficulty is caused because the habits have become unconscious.  The author goes on to cite research by MIT that “suggests the brain shuts down once the habit is formed to preserve conscious brain space.”

This is useful for anyone who is responsible for training others.  A common mistake trainers make is to assume the learner is prepared to receive the information in the intended manner.  If the proper groundwork is not in place the learner may not be in the right frame of mind to retain it, let alone change their behavior.

The quote above mentions the likely need to unlearn existing habits.  Unlearning may not be as hard as it sounds.  In fact, all that may be required is pointing out the need to the audience.  Below is a 3 minute video based on a classic instructional design strategy developed by Robert Gagné.  In it you will learn 9 steps that will help you organize and improve your training.  What I like about the video is that it attempts to demonstrate the instructional strategy while teaching you about it.

Trust is built when people exhibit competence in their areas of expertise and show integrity through their personal interactions with others.

The quote above is from an article in this month’s edition of Talent Management.  The focus of the article is mentoring in a networked workplace.  The author clearly thinks of a networked workplace as one where the company has offices in multiple states or countries, employees who work from home offices, and others who do most of their work on the road.  But these days, every office is networked in some way or another so the guidelines provided in the article apply to everyone.

The days of hoarding information are long gone.  Success in the modern workplace requires information sharing.  Don’t be shy.  You might have the perspective or information that will make a difference for another person.  How would you feel if someone else possessed information that you needed but was unwilling to share?

In that spirit here are the high-level guidelines from the article and my thoughts on each.

  1. Give willingly and generously – The table at the top of this post clearly shows that limited sharing is an indication of partial engagement and a competitive atmosphere.  By competitive they mean competitive within the workplace (not good).
  2. Act humbly and courageously – Get ready for resistance and/or criticism.  They way you react to this will either build trust or barriers.
  3. Engage others honestly and openly – As trust is built, be ready to receive from others.  Accept their input and respond.  You don’t need to sugar coat your reaction but a little sugar won’t hurt.

The January edition of Talent Management magazine has an article on retaining top talent.  In it the author lists the grim reality of lost talent.

direct replacement costs of a departing employee can reach as high as 60 percent of that employee’s salary, according to the 2008 Society for Human Resource Management Foundation report “Retaining Talent.”

Other costs stem from failure to achieve organizational goals, interrupted strategy execution, loss of successor and leadership backup, loss of organizational knowledge and customer relationships, turnover and recruiting expenses, expense of leader time filling open positions, slowdown during transition, overload of other leaders who provide backup and floundering or disengaged work teams.

Losing top talent doesn’t have to be inevitable.  How do you prevent it?

The Bailey Group, an executive coaching and consulting organization, measure employee engagement via nine drivers.  Missing some or all drivers in an organization can result in employee engagement decline and increased flight risk.  They are:

  • Trust in leadership
  • Manager/supervisor relationship
  • Co-worker relationships
  • Job satisfaction/enjoyment
  • Connection to vision or clarity of purpose
  • Pride in organization
  • Development opportunities
  • Utilization of strengths
  • Discretionary effort or self-directed contributions to the organization

Daniel Pink writes in his book Drive that people are motivated by self-direction, learning, creativity, and the desire to make the world a better place.  I posted an entry on the book here.

Creating a culture based on the factors listed above is easier said than done.  It requires openness.  It requires a person to sincerely seek input from all levels of the organization.  It requires deliberate and focused effort to use that input to make changes.

If you are worried about retaining or attracting talent consider how you can integrate the items above into your daily interactions.  Ask your employees how they feel about each of these items.  Show you are really interested in their feelings.  Just raising the topic alone will show them your commitment.  If you are genuine, the employee will tell in the way you approach the topic.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner write the books on leadership and I read them.  Since they have the credentials and credibility I will simply quote these reminders from their article in the December issue of Talent Management magazine.

“Getting extraordinary things done means engaging in the following five leadership practices:

  • Model the way
  • Inspire a shared vision
  • Challenge the process
  • Enable others to act
  • Encourage the heart

Leadership is an identifiable set of skills and abilities available to anyone.  It can be learned, and the best leaders are the best learners.” (emphasis mine)

Model the way
“Exemplary leaders set the example through their daily actions, demonstrating deep commitment to their beliefs, and ideally this should be done every day in plain view of those expected to follow those values.”

Inspire a shared vision
“…exemplary leaders know they can’t command commitment; they have to inspire it by enlisting others in a common vision.”

Challenge the process
“Innovation comes more from listening than from telling, so leaders should constantly look outside of themselves and their organizations for clues about what’s new or different, and what possibilities others are not seeing.”

Enable others to act
“Leaders foster collaboration and build trust by engaging all those who must make a project work, and in some way, all who must live with the results.”

Encourage the heart
“Celebrations and rituals, when done with authenticity and from the heart, can build a strong sense of collective identify and community spirit that can carry a group through tough times.”

The November issue of Talent Management magazine has a feature article on performance reviews.  It contains many valuable insights into performance management and a plan for integrating performance discussions into your daily or weekly routines.

The author asserts that annual performance reviews “inspire defensiveness, incredulity, and even disgust.”  I think most people can relate to some degree with this view.  Its my view that annual performance reviews become missed opportunities because they aren’t tied to clear and documented expectations and the time gap between performance and evaluation is often so wide that the opportunity to act is lost.  Here are some reasons provided in the article.

  • Performance-related items – good and bad – are often forgotten by the time formal reviews are conducted
  • Observations and input from stakeholders seem arbitrary and unfair because they aren’t adequately documented
  • Performance measures appear subjective and/or reactive

The article advocates a program that “invests time and resources to proactively and regularly engage with employees to make targeted observations, listen to concerns and offer customized feedback.”

Sounds great doesn’t it?  Who doesn’t want to be proactive?  What employee doesn’t want to receive targeted observations and receive timely customized feedback?  Is that how your performance is evaluated?  If you are a manager, is this how you view performance?

According to the author, “the catalyst [for change in performance management] is going to be two things: People at work are focused primarily on helping themselves and advancing their own careers; they’re going to start bringing tools to work that make a difference in the workplace.  Also, performance systems will begin integrating into work systems.”  I don’t put much stock in the first premise.  In a previous post I referenced a book by Daniel Pink that indicates people are motivated by more than self-interest.

What would this “new” form of performance management look like?  Here are some high-level recommendations from the author.  Managers should

  • Consistently build one-on-one dialogues with employees
  • Spell out performance expectations
  • Review previously set performance expectations

Here are 8 steps managers can follow to implement this strategy.  According to the author, “15-20 minutes per conversation is all a manager needs.”

Step 1: Get in the habit of holding regular daily or weekly one-on-one meeting with each direct report.

Step 2: In these one-on-ones, practice talking like a coach or teacher.

Step 3: Build each unique dialogue with each person based on what’s needed to be successful in the role, and what that person needs to improve his or her performance.

Step 4: Make accountability a process by getting people in the habit of giving regular ongoing accounts of their performance in these one-on-ones.

Step 5: Spell out expectations in detail every step of the way.

Step 6: Track performance in writing every step of the way.

Step 7: Solve small pr0blems before they turn into big problems.  I would add that it is important to know what is truly a big problem.  I have more thoughts on that below.

Step 8: Do more for some people and less for others based on what they need.

What does it take to implement a program?

  • Tie performance to specific business goals.
  • Don’t confuse activity with performance.
  • Document performance expectations (step 5) briefly.  Too much documentation will undermine your efforts.
  • Exercise restraint.  Everyone is under pressure.  The tendency is to overemphasize problems.  The point of this approach is to improve performance.  It only takes one overreaction to undermine trust.