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Ben Willis

Saba Software

Senior Director of Product Strategy

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Using crowdsourcing to identify and develop top performers


Crowdsourcing has been a hot topic as it relates to managing and developing the workforce, from its impact on employee engagement to recruiting and hiring. Rather than throwing caution to the wind and trying out new sourcing techniques, however, it’s important to use a method that is closely tied to business objectives and that can be clearly measured. It also must be fully integrated into both formal and informal learning practices.

Consider Netflix or Amazon; in the beginning these companies know nothing about you, but as they source formal (self-input) and informal (based on the end-user’s behaviour) information, these companies are able to learn and tailor the experience for greatest impact. Expanding on this example, learning professionals can rely on both formal and informal information, crowdsourced from employees, to create the most impactful and successful learning program. 

Smart companies need to explore how talent managers can crowdsource information for both high (and low) performers. This insight helps employers better develop their workers into leaders and mentors within the organization – or exit them. Using employee-gathered data – through formal processes like surveys and informal processes like gathering endorsements on skill sets – will transform traditional career development into a deeper and more personal experience, creating a more comprehensive and effective succession planning process.

Generally, not many HR managers will deny that identifying top talent is critical to a company’s success. Knowing who the rising stars are is instrumental in building bench strength for key positions. Getting a comprehensive view of your most talented employees, however, may be more difficult than HR managers realize. While traditional succession planning and talent calibration processes are critical to growing a leadership pipeline, they may not provide a complete picture of the value an employee adds to company success and culture, as well as productivity of their peers. Relying on a static, ruled-based architecture, formal succession planning practices can ignore knowledge gained informally, and may inadvertently overlook a diamond in the rough inside an organization.

This is one instance where the wisdom of crowds can help identify high-potential and high-performing employees through informal peer feedback and recognition. According to a report from research firm PwC, “… crowdsourcing is effective, in part, because it draws upon the diverse experience and knowledge of a large, heterogeneous audience to arrive at innovative solutions.” The report also points out how crowdsourcing reinforces the social-collaborative mind-set of young people who are accustomed to communicating and sharing knowledge. For a broader, more visual explanation of crowdsourcing, I recommend this infographic, which provides a glimpse into how the concept is being adapted outside of the talent management world.

Until now, end-users improved their skills based on outdated performance reviews and training resources. Effective planning was much harder to address, as HR professionals were unable to directly monitor the daily activities or talents of each employee. With innovative new ways of using social crowdsourcing for identifying top talent and successors, traditional succession management can be revitalized. Of course, managers and HR professionals have to closely analyse the information to uncover these new talents; however, often organizations will identify high achievers not previously on their radar. Who knows – Gina from the engineering team may be better suited for the company’s next executive or vice president of product sales?

Once identified, managers must help develop employees’ careers and advance their talents. Today, the industry is seeing that a huge part of this is game dynamics such as performance scores, peer ratings and endorsements. Industry analyst firm, Gartner, predicts that by 2014, more than 70% of global 2,000 organizations will have at least one “gamified” application, which can range from mastering a specific skill or improving one’s health.

People want to uplevel their professional personas to be like someone they respect and admire at work. Making the top performers very transparent throughout the organization allows his or her peers to follow them the same way they would on social media for an interactive game. It allows the performers to inspire others through their actions, spark healthy competition, and drive further individual and career growth. This recognition – in addition to the ability to make decisions and have autonomy – are two surefire ways to develop a top performing employee. Gamification tactics allow both parties (end-users and management) to leverage new technologies for their mutual benefit.

To fully support its workforce, a company needs to embed crowdsourcing capabilities into existing business processes. PwC notes that in order to do this, companies must make an investment in technology and a commitment to a new employee engagement process. Crowdsourcing is more than just peer recognition. Successful workplace crowdsourcing is about being able to analyse and collaborate among colleagues to achieve common goals.

For a further look at how organizations can best implement crowdsourcing into their businesses, feel free to check out these five factors for a successful integration from PwC.

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Ben Willis

Senior Director of Product Strategy

Read more from Ben Willis

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