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Aug 26, 2014

The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. A Bronx Tale, 1993

I was reading some amazing statistics from a Right Management report on talent management that covered global trends, challenges, and priorities.

Much has been written about the reduced investment in talent during challenging financial times and the recent re-emergence of interest in effective talent management practices. Unfortunately the culture that currently exists in many organizations will be the single greatest impediment to sustainable talent strategies.

Impact of talent shortages

The statistics from a Manpower Group Global Survey of 38,000 employers:

  • 54 percent reported that talent shortages are impacting their ability to serve clients to a high or medium degree (it was 36 percent in 2012).
  • Leadership development was identified as the primary focus of talent management investments with 46 percent planning to invest in that area (it may be part of the formula but will only be optimized if any cultural issues are addressed).
  • 48 percent reported that the senior management team “sometimes sees the connection” between investing in talent management and business impact (what a disappointing statistic).
  • Only 30 percent believe their senior management team is very confident that our talent management efforts pay off (an even more demoralizing statistic).
  • 37 percent seek to develop the skills of every employee (these leaders may “get it” when they talk about “our people being our greatest asset” but why only 37 percent?).

Turn the talent management switch on

I wish it was that easy and the statistics above show we have a very long way to go to overcome the culture and leadership issues that exist in most organizations. The lack of effective talent management practices did not emerge during the financial crisis but the recovery has fortunately led to many organizations re-examining how they attract, develop, and engage employees.

The Right Management survey recommends a “three-pronged approach” to talent management:

1. Assess

  • Strategically assess the talent you have and the talent you need to meet and exceed organizational goals. This assessment is necessary so you can “build a bridge between your talent strategy and your business strategy.”
  • Assessing talent should involve a number of steps including competency modeling, organizational assessments, team assessments, and individual assessments.

2. Develop

  • “Identify, develop, nurture and retain leaders as part of an ongoing talent development strategy.”
  • They recommend a “targeted approach to development that builds capabilities in a variety of ways across all leadership levels.” Combine broad-based programs that support career development and employee engagement with “specific programs and coaching on the advancement of key talent.”
  • They emphasize how the coaching can accelerate leader development and “deliver performance improvements that lift the entire organization.”

3. Activate

  • Companies need to recognize talent as “their main competitive advantage” and employee development and engagement should have a strategic focus. Engagement should include the define, listen, and engage elements
  • Define: Identify the right engagement metrics within the framework of business needs.
  • Listen: Open up the communication channels and actively listen to gain the insights necessary to “tackle pressing needs and challenges.”
  • Engage: Involve leaders and employees, especially key talent, in the process to build understanding with how employees impact the business and take action to implement improvements.
  • They highlighted that effective engagement is about “creating a culture of high performance” that covers a clear vision and goals from leaders and the systems, processes, and tools necessary to succeed.

This is sound advice regarding an effective talent management strategy but how do you overcome the cultural dynamics that contributed to some of the dismal talent management numbers highlighted in the survey?

Sustainably effective talent management is a culture issue

Are talent management and maximizing the contribution of every team member absolutely critical parts of how your organization operates? My guess, in light of the survey results, is that effective talent management is not a deeply ingrained aspect of the cultural DNA in most organizations.

So what do you need to do to not only implement an effective talent management strategy but to do it in a way that starts the process to form a new cultural attribute?

I can’t begin to adequately address that topic in one blog post, but I will highlight one critical aspect. It’s the same culture fundamental that’s necessary for any new cultural attribute to form.

The key is undisputed results

Results provide the reinforcement loop necessary for any new cultural attribute to form. In this case, it’s positive results from your initial talent management efforts.

Unfortunately, broad-based action in many organizations leads to lack of clarity about whether the talent management efforts are truly effective (as indicated by only 30 percent believing senior management is very confident talent management efforts pay off).

Clearly connect some of your initial efforts to a top priority of your organization (growth, customer satisfaction, new products / services, etc.). Even if you have a broad-based plan, focus a substantial amount of energy on the one performance area you highlighted.

Understand how your culture and talent management practices are supporting results in that one area and holding back performance. Communicate extensively about your talent management improvement plans in that one specific area and engage the broader organization in feedback and prioritization to repeatedly refine the approach so they feel a clear connection to the work.

If you succeed in the one area then the entire organization will learn from the process and begin to see the value of your improved talent management focus as you expand the approach. The key is undisputed results and building ownership as you repeatedly engage your team in refining the approach.

Your choices shape your life forever

I started this article with the quote from the movie A Bronx Tale. The quote actually continues: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever.”

Leaders need to make the choice to go at talent management in a sustainable way by applying the insights of talent management experts like Right Management and others. Don’t allow the work to get spread out to the point where you lose a very clear connection to results and your entire organization will begin to learn the choices they need to make that will shape their lives forever.

How have you applied talent management approaches that built ownership and produced “undisputable results” in the initial stages? What can you add to the insights from the survey and the need to deliver results?

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