Talent Management Systems: HR Needs to Test Drive the Product

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My wife’s favorite on TV is the Food Network and their new creation, the Cooking Channel. What this means is that she controls the remote sometimes and I “watch.”

At the end of each cooking episode, there is always a tasting. This reminds me that during my tenure at Martha Stewart Living, around noon every day, all the chef-editors would gather around and taste each others’ creation. Whenever I was in the building, I would always make sure that I was in the vicinity at that time.

At the new General Motors, each engineer now is required to drive the car they are working on daily. At the end of their “test drive,” the engineer is also required to fill out an assessment form that is then reviewed within a roundtable discussion on the product. What a radical idea!! Yes it is, because in years past this was not a requirement at GM. No wonder design and quality suffered.

I thought of that scenario after reading a report on talent management recently called “Talent Perspective: What Does It Feel Like to be Talent Managed?” This report was compiled by Capgemini Consulting for The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. The CIPD is the United Kingdom’s leading professional body for those involved in the management and development of people within organizations. This is the UK’s version of SHRM.

What is it like to be talent managed?

This report looks specifically at what it feels like to be talent managed and what companies can learn from their experiences. We are all inundated by various reports covering all segments of human resources, but what makes this report so different and unique was that it focused on (and interviewed) the “talent” to get their perspective.

All research that I have come across has always been designed from the employer’s perspective. However, this report looked at this: How senior leaders in various talent management programs feel about them? What was their perception of the program and how it could be improved? What would they do differently if they were to go through the program again. What advice would they give to the designers of the program to make it more efficient? What could be done to make the end results match the designed goals?

There was also a look into the mindset of the talent that was not chosen, and how they could be dealt with more effectively. Yes, these are the “tasters” and they provided excellent insight into talent management programs.

The study was completed in Spring 2010 across 11 medium to large sized organizations from a range of sectors and industries. It comprised a survey with 302 full responses followed by 17 follow-up interviews.

Findings and recommendations

Some of the key findings from the report support a few of our working assumptions, but some were just gold nuggets of information that we may have never thought about, such as:

  • The power and energy from high performing individuals provides a significant opportunity to harness talent.
  • Rigor in the selection process enhances the value of the individuals, their confidence, and their motivation to perform well.
  • Unsuccessful applicants should be provided effective feedback to counteract or minimize negative effects.
  • Respondents value coaching, mentoring, and networking above the more formal development opportunities.
  • HR must play the lead role in sustaining momentum.
  • Maximum support and sponsorship from the very top of the organization is critically needed.
  • Business support and engagement across divisions and between line managers appears to be inconsistent (the Silo Effect).
  • Get individuals that have completed the TM programs more involved in an ongoing process to make the ongoing program more effective.

The recommendations from the report were equally interesting:

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  • Clearly communicate the rationale for, and core objectives of, your program.
  • Ensure that participants expectations are consistent with the business and HR.
  • HR is crucial in maintaining the consistency of the selection process, credibility, and its reputation within the organization.
  • Review the structure and participant pool to ensure the effective development opportunities: Coaching, mentoring, and networking
  • Develop a structure and a rigorous process for selection.
  • Ensure the selection process criteria are administered consistently.
  • Have a planned strategy for those who are not selected.
  • Make sure that the selection process is a learning event.
  • Maintain dialogue with completed participants and include them in the strategy review

Needed: insights into the process

As I read this study, I found it was just a gold mine of informational nuggets that could basically be replicated into any type intervention. I have often lamented about organizations building and designing strategies based on people without the consultation of a select group to give insight about their thoughts on the process. This will not only increase your chances of a successful intervention, but more importantly, it gives you ground troops in getting the message out.

I was tasked a few years back in putting together a Performance Review System, which we dubbed “Career Review,” which was a branding coup. After we had done our preliminary research based on the culture of our company, we put together a draft of the program.

Our next step was to create a number of focus groups comprised of employees at all levels of the company, from the C-Suite to the mailroom. These groups were given an assessment of the current paper-based system, and their thoughts of what a new system based on career development and improved performance would entail.

At each session we would preview our system, do a walk through, and follow a structured feedback process. Over a period of months, this high profile project was the talk of the company. Once everyone had heard so much about it, the rumor mill was percolating and the communication was all positive. By the time we had a finished product, everyone was excited. The rollout was flawless and execution was explicit.

All this brings me back to Food Channel, Martha Stewart, and General Motors. It comes down to this: let your people taste the product, get their feedback throughout the process, and adjust accordingly. Do not design your people initiative in the boardroom/conference room with no input from the folks that will actually be involved.

Going forward, be like the GM folks and let them test drive the product; or the Food Chanel and let the people taste it. You will become a better cook, engineer, and HR executive in the end.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.