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Posted: January 11, 2010

Top three ways to make the most of your people

Smart leaders know talent management is a core business practice

Kathleen Quinn Votaw

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 is founder and CEO of Golden-based TalenTrust, a Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) firm that helps companies accelerate their growth by hiring exceptional talent. Kathleen is president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at or 303-838-3334 x5.


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Readers Respond

Great insights here! The only piece that wasn't clear to me was this: "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." How do these tools help with talent management? Personally I believe the best methodology is ensuring the right people are on the bus and the right... well, you know... are in the right seats. There are many "HR" tools that can help ensure your organization hires right the first time, saving time and money in rehiring after a bad fit leaves (or is asked to). The best of these tools can also help ensure *real* team synergy so that work is more productive, more efficient and produces more effective restults. To that end, I might also add these thoughts to your Top 3 list above: #4: Success of Your People = Skills + Innate Strengths + Natural Instincts. The best leaders and managers put employees in roles that allow them to do what they do best -- naturally -- combined with leveraging their learned skills. Those same leaders also understand that collaboration is the ultimate key to the organization's success because they know that no one employee can do it all. They inspire collaborative efforts among employees who complement one another's strengths. Then those same leaders get out of the way, and give employees the freedom to "just do it." "HR" tools are essential in diagnosing, if you will, the unique talents and there for the value of each employee, aligning the best employees in the best roles and gathering a diversified pool of talent in teams that will produce. The best talent management program will indeed be flexible enough to allow those who excel at "doing what they do best" to grow and lead as the company's success continues. #5 Develop a Culture of Innovation. And, that's right, that also means a culture in which it's OK to make mistakes. From our earliest days in school to our current place in the workforce we've been taught that mistakes are big no-nos. What if the greatest inventors had given up after their first "failure"? No electricity. No phones. No airplanes. The best leaders encourage innovation by setting the tone of learning from mishaps to make the entire company better. Reward for innovation and collaboration, not perfection. By Meredith Masse @mpower_success on 2010 02 23

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