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Nov 28, 2022

In the world of HR, we’ve all become familiar with (and perhaps increasingly oblivious), to easy-to-grasp, catch-all terms. Take ‘talent management’ – a phrase that has long been used to describe how people are managed and developed at work.

But while that might have been appropriate until recently, the simply fact is that today’s workplace looks very different to the traditional 9 to 5 that was characterized by daily commutes to the office.

We all know the world of work is forever changed, and largely for the better. But while this change creates significant opportunities for both employee and employer, it also presents new challenges. HR teams now have a myriad of different dynamics to consider as they strive to attract and retain talent – and not just because hybrid work is still a relatively new phenomenon, but because we’re also living in an employee-led market.

All the which means the biggest mistake managers can make is failing to evolve with the changing environment.

This is why HR teams must play a key role in helping managers recognize why traditional talent management is no longer valid.

It’s time to rip up the rule book and create a strategy that aligns with the modern working world. 

Talent management needs to move on

First off, we need to stop talking about talent management and start discussing how we can enable every individual to perform.

This is a subtle – but important – change in vocabulary, and to achieve this, managers need a much more fundamental understanding of each of their direct reports.

They need to know what motivates them; they need to understand what employees value in their manager; they need to determine what an employees’ ideal work arrangement looks like; and after tall of this, they need to work out what staff need in order to achieve and sustain high performance.

None of this is easy. The only way to do this is to empower employees to voice their unique wants and needs without fear of prejudice or penalty.

By default managers need to rid themselves of their autocratic typecast and empower employees to take an active role in mapping out their own goals and development. In essence, they need to create a level of autonomy that, in itself, will support improved motivation and retention.

So where should HRDs/managers start?

Here’s three ways HRDs can enable their people to perform in the new world of work?

Help managers to have human conversations

Conversation is critical if HRDs are to support people in reaching their full potential at work. But let’s be clear: we’re not referring to the traditional, performance-centric one-to-ones that happen once or twice a year, and which both managers and employees tend to dread. Instead, we need to create a culture of continuous conversation that covers a breadth of content beyond just performance so that managers can be made aware of the issues that any one individual is struggling with – and provide the right support.

While it’s encouraging to see that, at least in the retail industry, manager-employee conversations are now happening more regularly, there’s still work to be done, especially when it comes to the content of those conversations.

For example, our own research recently revealed that just 10% of HR leaders have high confidence in their managers’ ability to talk informally with employees about matters such as wellbeing and flexible working.

Assuming those perceptions are correct, it would seem that managers are struggling to discuss some of the most basic needs that employees have in today’s working environment – and there’s no prizes for guessing how that’s impacting performance.

So how can organizations help managers to have more effective conversations around these informal but vital issues?

First and foremost, there needs to be an ingrained understanding that a manager’s job, by definition, is to support every individual to thrive. It’s certainly true that employees’ expectations of their managers have evolved significantly over the last two years, and yes, in many cases, managers have found themselves outside of their comfort zones.

But if we fail to build in the human element, we fail to support the effective and inclusive conversations that enable performance. The two go hand-in-hand (something else that our research confirmed).

Ultimately, managers need more support and training in how to have informal conversations with their employees and in fact, HR needs to look at this through the lens of learning and upskilling.

This obligation doesn’t just sit with HR, however. It goes right to the top of the organization and the tone, ethos, and role modelling that senior leaders display is critical. Living and breathing the mindset that there is no one-size-fits-all is key to humanizing conversations and improving outcomes for people and the organization.

Build inclusivity into performance

We’ve established that human conversations sit at the heart of performance enablement. What we haven’t yet touched on, is the importance of these conversations in inclusivity terms.

Here’s how it works: informal, no holds barred conversations enable managers to really understand and cater to the unique needs and circumstances of their direct reports.

Armed with this knowledge, managers can provide employees with the specific tools and allowances they need to stay well and perform at their best. The benefits don’t stop there, though. Taking the time to listen to employees in this way means those individuals are also more likely to feel cared for and included, which supports the vital sense of belonging that drives engagement and retention.

It’s a virtuous circle.

But what does ‘inclusive performance’ actually mean?

It starts with a fundamental understanding that performance is a relative concept. No two employees bring the same experience, abilities, or skills. As such, no two employees should ever be compared with one another from a performance point of view. Everyone needs their own benchmark. You wouldn’t expect a recent university graduate to complete a project to the same standard and timeline as the senior colleague who has ten years’ experience under their belt.

The overriding point here is that we must provide every employee with the things they need in order to reach their full potential. Why? Because this is the very essence of inclusive performance.

The technology factor

So here we get to the key takeaway: how can organizations make the transition from traditional talent strategies to human conversations that enable inclusive performance?

The solution lies in ensuring all employees, at all levels of the business, are able to speak with their managers about both formal and informal issues, and crucially, in a way that works for them. Of course, in today’s remote and hybrid working world, more and more organizations are looking to HR technology as a key facilitator in this regard.

But not just any technology. HR teams need to equip their managers and employees with the right tools that will drive awareness and understanding of people’s diverse needs, wants, and drivers.

These tools must help managers and employees have effective discussions by providing bespoke conversation frameworks that support process-driven conversations around objective-setting. But let us not forget, it’s more informal conversations too that sit at the heart of inclusivity and performance enablement.