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Jul 27, 2018

The war for talent is heating up this summer with the recent news that there are more job openings than unemployed job seekers. In many ways, it’s a job seeker’s market. This is not only putting more pressure on employers to engage, develop and retain their top talent, but also to link their development to fill those critical, vacant roles.

With so many vacancies, it’s more important than ever that employers do what they can to retain their high-potential employees. These employees looking  to advance their careers are well-positioned to move into their next role or expand into new areas and responsibilities — whether with you or another company. But employers can encourage them to stay if they develop their people and hire from within. And in this market, it’s the ultimate strategy. Succession planning not only ensures cultural fit, it also saves companies thousands of dollars on external hiring costs, ramps up employees in less time and accelerates productivity.

Employers looking to futureproof their organizations know that their people are their greatest asset. The ability to retain and engage top performers means organizations will be able to keep valuable, core knowledge and skills in-house and fill mission-critical roles quickly. Supporting employee career progression is a key element of a strategic talent management program.

High potentials and your skills gaps

Effective succession planning and leadership development strengthens your workforce from its core. Succession planning requires a strong understanding of the skills your organization needs, plus the ability to identify those individuals who have the necessary skills – or the potential to develop new ones – to be able to step into a new role and be successful.

In short, it all comes down to how well a company’s talent development strategies align with its succession planning and business goals. With a clear organizational vision in place and an understanding of both current and future business needs, company leaders need to start by asking two fundamental questions:

  1. Who are the high-potential employees best suited to start developing into these critical roles; and
  2. What are the skill gaps that need to be filled

Management and HR leaders who support their employees’ development in alignment with their business needs and goals are able to identify high-potential employees who want to move up, or across, to fill those critical roles as they become available. Once your people start to show an interest in developing themselves for their next career step, that’s the perfect time to start creating and curating talent pools.

Build and leverage talent pools

Talent pools are groups of high-performing, high-potential employees actively being developed to assume greater responsibility in a particular area. Maintaining talent pools ensures your organization always has several potential employees at various levels of readiness prepared to take on more responsibility. This also helps current leaders impart knowledge to up-and-coming talent.

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Using your talent management system, you can identify and group diverse skills and competencies into skill profiles and talent pools, which will give you the ability to identify potential successors and compare profiles. These employee capabilities are linked to both current and future business outcomes to maintain strategy and goal alignment throughout the organization. Talent pools will also help managers keep track of employees’ progress as they close skill gaps outlined in their development plans.

Once you’ve identified your organization’s vision, goals, high-potential employees and skill gaps, the next key step is to engage your employees by focusing your programs on self-development and personal accountability.

Create a culture of development

Encouraging employees to explore relevant training and learning opportunities that will help them on their development journey helps them to feel more engaged throughout the process. Saba customer West Marine, a national boating and fishing supply company, created a culture of personal development, empowering their employees to feel part of the succession process. HR and management leaders helped to manage and direct their growth to fill existing and anticipated skills gaps, improving their performance along the way.

Helen Rossiter, West Marine’s senior talent development specialist, says that focusing on employees’ self-directed personal growth helped them to engage in their own development because they could see how their learning and performance results related to opportunities for advancement within the company.

Employee growth must directly relate to a company need, and management needs to be trained to host these personal development discussions. Managers are key to the success of a talent development and succession program – they not only help identify high-potential employees, but also will actively coach them and guide their growth to fill those critical roles.

Actively involve your managers

Smart succession plans involve regular coaching between a manager and an employee. A collaborative approach to goal setting gives managers greater insight into how to leverage an employee’s strengths to help them achieve their goals. Collaborative goal setting ensures that employees have a voice in setting performance expectations that are fair, relevant and challenging.

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Only 30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in setting their goals at work, according to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report. But that third of the workforce is 3.6 times more likely than other employees to be engaged, leading to better overall performance.

Coaching conversations are an opportunity for employees to talk about their development and career growth, while managers can help their employees reach their full potential. It helps employees stay focused and aligned in their career and development goals while giving managers insight into progress and challenges.

Realize results and repeat

Developing existing talent to hire strategically from within is never a one-and-done undertaking. It’s an ongoing process. And how well a company engages and develops their talent will determine its ability to weather any potential storms – including markets where there are more jobs than job seekers. All it takes is vision and strategy.

West Marine leveraged their internal development program to identify potential candidates for several district manager (DM) roles that would become available within three years. Twenty-eight employees submitted development applications to be considered for advancement. Six candidates were ultimately selected as viable successors – all of whom were promoted or took on more responsibilities, adding value to the business in different areas as they continue in the development program.

Forward-thinking business leaders will increasingly rely on their talent management programs to gain valuable workforce insights and identify the high-potential employees who are well suited to develop into strategic roles. And, in this market especially, those forward-looking business leaders who prioritize hiring from within can feel confident that they’re working to make their organization futureproof.