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Here's how smart leaders make the most of their people

They know strategic hiring and deployment are key


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Smart leaders know that strategic hiring and deployment of their top talent are essential to managing risk, achieving business outcomes and ensuring future sustainability. It's the strength of your people that drives the rise or fall of your business -- especially in hard times.

If your talent management philosophy consists of finding and hiring people when you need them, it's time to make a paradigm shift. Capabilities and leadership gaps need to be filled in order to grow and succeed; and these gaps usually reflect much bigger issues than simply meeting desired head counts. Smart leaders today consider talent management a core business practice that is fully integrated and aligned with other business strategies and processes critical to their success.

Three ways to ensure strategic alignment

Every business challenge has an underlying talent component that should be addressed with a specific strategy. For example, talent management processes for recruiting, staff development, compensation or performance management should be tied to specific business strategies for expansion, product innovation, acquisition or other challenges. These talent management basics increase overall effectiveness and efficiency when aligned across your organization with key business strategies. Following are three ways to achieve that alignment.

#1: Line managers should drive; HR should support

The best and the brightest talent have technical competence, marketing savvy, passion, energy and drive. They also have the "soft" people skills that help motivate others and ensure execution excellence. Line managers, from supervisors through the C-suite, understand best the particular skills and competencies they need to accomplish their specific business goals.

They should drive your talent practices, working closely with human resources, to recruit, manage performance, provide career guidance and coaching, and serve as role models to their employees. This builds core leadership capabilities around people development throughout your organization. Line managers are also ideally positioned to identify and develop current employees with leadership potential.

It's probably true that the culture of an organization is only as broad as the sphere of a particular manager. This means that the cultural fit between an employee and manager is critical to that employee's job satisfaction. In a world where up-and-coming generations consider three years with a company a serious commitment, line managers, supported by the expertise of HR professionals, can greatly enhance employee retention by ensuring cultural matches at both organizational and workgroup levels.

#2: Continuous learning is a pervasive cultural norm and expectation

When you think about the pace of change around us today, you realize that many traditional talent management processes are less relevant than they used to be. Some knowledge areas are doubling in a year, leaving many skilled employees struggling to stay relevant. And while competency management systems, career path planning, and multi-year development cycles made sense in yesterday's work environment, they are no longer enough.

Employee development begins with an effective onboarding program. Competent, competitive organizations take time to educate every employee about their products, customers, industry, market and competition.

Annual talent reviews should be a core business process, as important as annual strategic business and operations reviews. Accelerated leadership development is now a business imperative; and the role of succession planning is essential in ensuring a sustainable, competitive organization.

Today's employees expect more from their organizations and leaders. They look to them more as partners in their personal success and job satisfaction. Although salary and benefits are still top priorities, companies are now expected to pay more attention to providing opportunities for advancement, more interesting work and better work-life balance.

Succeeding in the future will mean creating an environment where everyone is engaged in learning from day one. And if recognition and reward were appreciated in the past, they are demanded today.

#3. An agile talent management strategy ensures organizational flexibility

It used to be that entrepreneurial businesses had to be nimble, and if they lost that agility as they grew into processes and bureaucracy, well, that was the norm. These days, competitive organizations of every size need strategic flexibility to react rapidly to change. That means creating an agile talent management strategy that makes a multitude of solutions available in short timeframes.

As HR expert John Sullivan states in an article last month, the majority of human resource organizations are not designed to enable or support agility. Sullivan lists a number of ways an agile talent management strategy differs from a traditional one, among them:

• Thinking in ranges, predicting possible paths and offering relevant solutions as opposed to a single reaction
• Ensuring that talent management planning is a component of core business strategy development versus cascading from it
• Fast data-based decision making, not dictated by tradition
• Focusing resources on the highest impact business units, jobs, regions, individuals and critical skills in direct contrast to advocating equal treatment or one-size-fits-all solutions as done in the past
• Taking a holistic focus, which may include alternative labor types, seasonal workers and other options rather than focusing solely on permanent employees
• Increased focus on using non-HR tools and approaches, borrowing concepts often related to things like inventory management, quality control, CRM, and supply chain management

There's no doubt that change is hard, both on individual and organizational levels. And yet change has come to define us and our businesses. If you have not updated your talent management strategies and integrated them with core business strategies, you must. In the end your talent is all you have. 

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle; How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuted in February 2016. Her firm has achieved several awards, including recognition from Inc.5000 in 2015 and 2016. She speaks frequently and advises CEOs on trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen has served on several nonprofit boards including Colorado Companies to Watch and ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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