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Erik Finch

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How talent development drives a high-performance culture


A united, high-performance workforce is not just a pipe dream, says Erik Finch, who examines the recommended steps of unified talent development to help achieve this goal.

The pinnacle of any talent development initiative is, or at least should be, the creation of a high-performance culture. All businesses should aspire to this ‘utopia’.
In such an environment, organisations implement a set of workplace values and behaviours that engage employees and drive them to succeed. By so doing, they are able to reduce staff turnover, respond faster to opportunities and threats and significantly improve customer service. And by maximising the productivity – and consequent value – of individual employees, they realise a collective boost to overall performance. In other words, when the workforce excels, it is worth more to the business than the sum of its parts.
Developing this kind of environment is not easy.  It requires a sustained effort to get there and ongoing hard work to stay there. Still, a high-performance culture is not just a pipe dream. It is an attainable ideal for all.
Before embarking on this process, however, firms should first ask themselves what kind of culture they currently have. Employees often feel that their organisation does not have any definable identity yet in reality, every business has their own unique ethos and style. 

Making a change

An organisation’s workforce might be comfortable with the prevailing culture, but that in itself will not drive success. The bottom line for businesses is that if they don’t like the results they are currently seeing, the chances are that they need some culture shock. Shaking up a laissez-faire environment and driving it to new heights of productivity requires guidance, patience, and planning. It is not simply about dealing with strategies and products, it is also about managing people. And people are the greatest asset of any business.
The reality is that building a high-performance culture requires planning, diligence and effort. After all, no workforce is comprised of one single kind of employee. Businesses cannot motivate, manage, or develop everyone in the same manner. Instead, they need to identify the types of workers they are dealing with and implement talent development plans that engage those employee types accordingly.
This article shows how to classify employees by performance level and then apply a functional roadmap toward creating a culture of performance. Built effectively, this kind of culture can deliver serious returns on talent development investments.

Nurturing star performers

To be truly successful, an organisation needs to be able to identify its star performers. Generally, they are likely to be the top 15-20% of its employees, the ones who regularly go above and beyond their obligations to produce quantifiable results that exceed expectations.
It may be tempting to think that employees of this calibre need little management. However, an organisation’s future leaders are likely to come from this group. So, it is important that high-performing employees are retained, motivated and developed into leadership roles.  
Rather than burying these staff in mundane tasks, businesses need to give them interesting and challenging work. Over the long term, they should make certain that top employees understand their paths for career advancement. This means ensuring they consistently have the development tools and learning resources they need to achieve success.
Through mentoring or rotational assignments, HR or senior executives can give star employees visibility into other parts of the business. No single manager should hoard their valuable resources. Companies need to be aware that, despite their current successes, star performers may still have undiscovered potential in other areas.

Directing standard contributors

Generally considered to be the middle 70-75% of the employee population, standard contributors are vital to the business. Without their solid efforts, most companies would not survive long – so these employees must never be ignored. The primary objective with this group should be to identify skills gaps and develop competencies in order to increase performance and productivity.
Businesses should never settle for the bare minimum from this group. Instead, they should direct these workers to hone their skills and look for new areas where their effective contributions can help meet organisational demands. They need to start by systematically identifying practical ways to get the most out of them. Over the following three to four months, they need to consider how to expand their roles to fully engage them and grow their potential. They should then confirm career paths as the year progresses.
The long-term plan should be to continuously evaluate these employees to ensure they are in the right roles for their skill sets. While an employee may be underdeveloped for his current position, he may have the skills to be more productive elsewhere.

Managing poor performers

Nobody wants to be in the bottom 10% of an organisation’s workforce but these employees exist – and companies need to deal with them. Specifically, they need to work out why these staff are underperforming and then fix the problems.
The immediate priority will often be to implement performance improvement plans (PIPs) that help employees better define goals and focus their activities. Organisations should clearly communicate expectations so workers know precisely what they need to do to succeed in their current roles. Performance issues rarely disappear on their own. They need to be identified and addressed proactively.
In the medium term, poor-performing employees should be given the opportunity to develop the necessary skills to meet expectations in their current positions. This means providing training as required and ensuring appropriate resources are available to enable growth.
Progress checks should be carried out throughout the year. If the desired results with a particular employee are not being seen, the next step is to explore other options. Are there other roles in the company that may provide a better fit for the individual and the organisation? Ultimately, poor performers should not be allowed to stagnate. If they become a detriment to overall team morale or productivity, the business should cut its losses and part ways.

Engaging with the workforce through talent development

Talent development can be an intricate process when one considers the range of workers most businesses employ. Some individuals seem to shine naturally, while others require significant hands-on management. And some employees seem to perform only what is asked of them, without the drive to extend their skills or their contributions for the good of the company.
Transforming this amalgam into a cohesive team that is unified in its desire to succeed is always a challenging task. It might appear to be counter-intuitive, yet organisations that want to encourage a high-performance culture must work to pull their workforce together by segmenting employee groups and then managing them accordingly.
Overall, the objective should be to leverage a unified approach to talent development – one that includes learning, performance, and compensation management – to maximise the productivity and subsequent value of each individual. Not only will employees feel more loyal and engaged but the business will also achieve long-term benefits as a result.
Erik Finch is talent development specialist at SumTotal Systems

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