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Optimising your talent management strategy in a recession

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Talent management in a recessionIn today’s turbulent times, talent management strategies should be scrutinised more carefully to ensure they are effective and deliver return on investment. Francis Marshall argues the need for a more pragmatic and diagnostics-based approach to talent management.


As HR navigates its way through the recession, I believe the effective and strategic management of talent will become more important than ever. Retaining talented and engaged people with the right skills in critical roles, where they can have a positive impact on the performance of the business and its long-term success is paramount.

Today’s tough economic climate means that talent management strategies are going to be put under the microscope. Clearly, this will lead to a greater focus on effectiveness and return on investment. So now is a good time to look at whether there is scope to improve talent management within your organisation and to ensure your strategy is optimised. This can be achieved by developing a skills-based diagnostic approach to talent management.

Identifying your talent pool

In my opinion, the biggest problem today with talent management is that too many organisations are concentrating on what they perceive to be the top 10% of high potential within their organisation without a clear and consistent basis for coming to that conclusion. All too often I see companies relying on a mix of subjective management input, perception-based 360 degree appraisals, psychometrics tests or a day out at an assessment centre. This generalist approach tends to lead to a number of inaccuracies.

If talent management is to drive performance, competitive advantage, and both individual and corporate success, ensuring the right people have been placed in the ‘talent pool’ is of upmost importance.

Mapping out talent against organisational goals

So let’s take a look at how it is possible to optimise your talent management strategy by mapping out talent and skills against organisational goals. Have you got the right people in the business to deliver on key goals for the next five years? Are you working towards a future-proofed framework for recruitment, personal development, talent management and succession planning? These are the types of questions to think about.

“Ensuring the right people have been placed in the ‘talent pool’ is of upmost importance.”

Once the organisational strategy and business goals have been set out, the next step is to make sure that key performance indicators (KPIs), employee roles and responsibilities and competencies are all aligned with the organisational strategy and business goals.

At this stage the talent management strategy can be linked to both the organisation’s competency framework and its performance management systems.

Developing a staff profile and skills ladder

The next stage of the diagnostics process is to develop a profile of the individual. This is achieved through a role-specific questionnaire which is completed by both the employee and manager. The two will then meet to assess how each has scored the employee and how he or she measures up against role-based competency benchmarks. This process helps the individual to understand key strengths and development areas.

The questionnaire takes a granular approach which looks at job families – groupings of jobs that handle similar types of work and require similar types of training, skills, knowledge, behaviour and expertise – and breaks them down into the eight to 10 areas of that job family’s responsibilities. Each questionnaire consists of levelled proficiency statements – yes/no statements – which are weighted. The questionnaire enables a diagnosis to be made of current and future skills required of the individual.

Employee performance levels

This in-depth level of profiling enables managers to identify three levels of employee performance – underperforming, well placed and high performing. Plans can then be made to identify the key talent pool and the well placed employees who will hopefully have the opportunity to move into the high performing and high potential categories.

Based on the staff profile, the organisation can develop a skills ladder which outlines when to promote, whether to promote and how to promote. This ladder is an output of the whole process and will help define performance and align individuals with specific goals. A skills ladder can be developed for each job family and ideally should form the backbone of all learning and development programmes, helping individuals to progress further up their skills ladder and organisations to focus their budgets more effectively.

Key benefits

The use of diagnostics in talent management results in a number of benefits:

  • The process gives managers a better and less subjective knowledge of the skills and strengths of individual team members. This means people can be more accurately aligned with organisational goals in order to drive long-term business success. In addition the process removes manager bias.

  • Future recruitment, personal development and talent management programmes can be planned more effectively. Improvements are also likely to be seen in staff retention and succession planning.

  • Diagnostics helps create a strengths-based culture, allowing people to do more of what they do best. Research shows that focusing on strengths helps build employee engagement and drives competitive advantage.

  • Participating employees will gain a much clearer understanding of how they are performing and what skills, knowledge and behaviours they need to develop for current and future roles. When an individual has a clear understanding of how they fit into an organisation, job satisfaction and employee engagement will improve.

  • And finally, diagnostics deliver a greater return on investment for the organisation – it reduces the number of people going through standard development centres (costing as much as £5,000 per day) by as much as 50% to 60% resulting in significant cost savings and much more tangible results.

It is encouraging to see that as the recession deepens, the assessment and long-term planning of workforce needs remains a key priority for HR and the business as a whole. Companies that optimise their talent management strategies will be in the best position to win through when the economy recovers.


Francis Marshall is managing director of Cegos UK, part of Cegos Group, Europe’s largest learning and development provider. Contact him on +44 (0)845 521 1560, or training.solutions@cegos.co.uk

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