I Could Have Been A Ditch Digger

Note of warning:  Stereotypes follow in plenty. Last year I wrote a post titled “I could have been a rice farmer.”  It’s completely true that had my parents not moved from Taiwan to the United States before I was born, the possible alternatives to my life are infinite.  However, I probably would not actually have been a rice farmer even though the family residences are surrounded by them.  I come from a family where most of the members are teachers/professors, or (to my great surprise) artists of some fashion or another.  Even if I go back 4 generations, the number of teachers is astounding.  (My maternal grandmother and grandfather were “arranged” by their uncle – a good match because they were all teachers).  The point though is that with the competitive educational system in Taiwan, I probably would never have made it through.  You see, in Taiwan, you have to test well to get into better schools, and the best of the best students get into the top schools based on test scores.  It’s basically a stack ranking system that begins in the very earliest of school experiences.  I don’t think I’m a total slouch in the grey matter department, but I’m by far one of the worst Asian students that ever was.  Given my lack of capacity for learning in a structured schooling environment, I probably would have exited the educational system for a profession that did not require my brain.

Fortunately for me, we in the US live in a society where opportunities abound to give second and third and fourth chances.  While a horrible classroom learner and incredible un-studious slacker, I managed to get good enough SAT’s and GPA ((Asian Slacker SAT=1275-ish and GPA=4.2-ish)) to get into a number of small, liberal arts colleges including Pitzer, my alma mater.  Here, I had yet more choices, all of which I failed at from a learning perspective.  However, I excelled at the experience that was provided to me.  I was active in many ways including politics (one of my core college memories is single handedly inciting a protest march of almost 1000 students), team sports (this is when I learned how to ride and race a bike), and college programs (as a student, I was on the committee of 8 people who made professor tenure decisions).  Most importantly for my future, I was also skilled at the discussions that happen in liberal arts settings.  Ultimately, even coursework became less about how well I could cram for an exam, and more about sitting around a table with 5 other students and a professor and having a conversation about the book we read that week.  Structured learning out of a textbook was replaced by learning through thoughtful discussion, and this is really what a liberal arts education meant to me.  The replacement of having to be “book smart” for thoughtful and intelligent converted my capability to be in the workforce.

At the end if it all, what defined my ability to craft a future for myself, was the ability to have that discussion and analytically derive a point of view and opinion.  It was the ability to influence, convince, and sometimes concede that point of view.  Every Asian student I knew was supposed to be a doctor, engineer or accountant, but had I entered US college with that aim, I would at best be a middling in my trade.  If I was still in Taiwan, I would never have made it into college.  Any success I’ve had in my career initiates from that initial deviation from “textbook learning” to flexible social thinking.

Here’s what I’ve been pondering – there are many ways to get a person to a goal, but there are also a few fundamental problems.  First, we don’t always know what that goal is.  Second, the best path for each individual is also unknown.  Finally, we in Human Resources have continued to fail at providing performance and goal events that are meaningful at individual levels.

It’s no surprise to anyone that Talent Management has failed.  From HR to executive ranks, we complain about performance reviews with such a unified voice it’s sometimes the only thing we all agree on.  The problem is not that we fail to track goals and objectives, or that we can’t identify issues with how employees excel at their tasks.  The problem is that most managers do this once a year, and certainly not in real time.  Employee performance does not occur at a once a year interval.  it occurs every day as they are working on tasks that move our organizations towards strategic goals.  Their ability to move us slower or faster depends on the quality of direction we are able to provide them, and if we only do this once a year, we have completely failed.  Since we actually do only do this once a year, we indeed have failed – specifically, performance management programs have failed.

The solution is quite simple, real time feedback on work, goals and objectives.  Organizational strategy is not static, so why should the individual goals and objectives that employees have be static?  Indeed, if any level of objective should be as flexible as possible, it is at the employee level.  Our daily lives are not dictated by a year long striving for single-minded achievement.  Instead, we flex our activities to constantly changing micro-tasks that emerge along the way.  While the organizational strategy probably remains at least 90% constant through the course of the year, changing business conditions, sales, service needs, operational realities, and technology all drive adjustments on a daily basis.  Employees react and should be measured in their agility to manage these changes while still staying on the strategic path.  Setting goals in real time that reflect the realities of the day or week not only change how employees receive feedback, but it also changes the way we reward employees, and their ability to connect rewards with their own actions.

We’ve also failed at ensuring appropriate development occurs in meaningful ways through the talent process.  Basically, the path to the goals we just talked about are not clear.  Even if we are working on real time goals and objectives, the tasks and activities needed to get to effective achievement   Today’s conversation is all about “gamification,” but I’m not totally a fan of how HR has been applying gamification to learning.  We seem to have taken gamification too literally and have been trying to create games from learning activities.  This is not the holy grail.  What we should be doing instead is understanding the mechanics of game as they apply to the human psychology, and providing frameworks for employees to excel, achieve, and advance.  Basically, learning should merge with goal outcomes that provide paths to effective employee achievements.

Once again, the problem is that we treat learning as a macro activity.  You go to a class, and after a week of training, you exit that class with a supposedly learned skill.  But the basic framework is an assumption that you needed that skill to begin with, based on some large project plan, HR created career ladder, or some job description.  As with performance management, these courses often have nothing to do with a person’s daily activities.  What gamification should be (and is in the minds of guys like Bunchball) is a structured approach to funneling people through flexible tasks to reach an end goal.  If I want to teach someone how to create a report, a class is ok, but enforcing the necessary tasks and activities within the actual job is better.  Through gamification, an employee can advance through various levels from data queries to advanced analytics, all of which can and should be tied to those performance goals we just talked about as well as a real time rewards system.  Many organizations have separate social gamification and learning teams, but indeed these practices need to be fused together.  Gamification of tasks if not configured in the broader context of learning activities is asinine, as is continuing a single minded focus on 1 time, macro learning events.  As individuals, we learn not because we’re told we should acquire a skill, but when that skill is truly needed and used in our daily routines.  Once again, the theme of “real time” dominates effectiveness of results.

What is exciting is that in 2013, we might finally have the technology to fix our failures.  Real time performance management has arrived for the masses, and gamification is penetrating all the major social tools.  In 2012 we were still theorizing about this stuff from an HR context, but in 2013, the technology has arrived.  While I don’t know what the adoption rates will be this year, I do think that 2013 will mark a transitional point in our approach.  In the following years, I’m confident we’ll see a downward trend in traditional talent tools, and a markedly upward trend in social talent management (probably the 2 approaches combined together).

Back when I was 2 years old, the options I had for a successful career in my parent’s eyes was quite limited.  They would have wanted me to be an electrical engineer (seriously).  But clearly the path for me to get there was not quite as straightforward, and indeed, almost 40 years later we’ve all realized that not only did the overall outcome shift, but the path to get there for me personally was not what any of us would have predicted.  I could still have a good career, but I was not cut out to be an engineer, nor was I cut out to learn from textbooks in a traditional way, nor was captivated by the pursuit of straight A’s.  What did work for me was the ability to have an education that provided me with constant conversations and an approach to thoughtfully analyzing the world that took 4 years to teach.  If my parents could have set a path for me at birth, I would have gotten straight A’s, gone to MIT, gotten a PhD in engineering, and be some world renown dude with a hundred patents.  NOPE!  We have to flex, manage, and learn every step of the way.

Fooling Ourselves

I’ve been watching with fascination over the last couple years as countires have rebelled against their governments (Arab Spring in 2011), and American citizens have condemned corruption, and congratulated the populous for rising up and forcing change.  It’s fascinating to me because we are so unaware of what has been going on around us for so long.  After all, we (as a country) have been supporters of Egypt for decades.  The United States has supplied and trained their military, given them aid in various forms, and we have very publicly acknowledged them as strategic allies in the region.  Apparently, The United States has never actually cared that a particular leader was corrupt.  I mean really, do a Google search for the now famous photo of Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein.  Uhh, yeah, Saddam was an ally too.  Oh, the guy we took out of Panama, Noriega, him too.  Actually, we were the ones who put him in power ((I think, but I’m on a plane and can’t actually do the quick research to verify this)).  I mean, come on, we’re all blind to the other side of the coin that we hold in our own hands?

I’m often surprised at the level of myth that is present in large corporate organizations as well.  “Oh, no, we can’t possibly expect to have most of our employee transactions go through the portal.”  Really, in 2011, you can expect it, and you can even demand it.  “Oh, no, we can’t outsource payroll, the displacement of control would be devastating to us.”  Guys, you still control the rules in the gross to net.  You really want to run printers and update your own taxes in the payroll system forever?  “Our CEO has demanded that we implement talent management in the next 3 months.”  Seriously, this is just the flip side, and you didn’t tell him or her that it’s a bad idea to slam a strategic system in?

I love myth.  Myth tells us about ourselves, our beliefs, and our culture.  In every myth, there is a grain of truth, a particle of reason that is steeped in the reality of our companies.  But often times, myths get blown out of proportion.  Deeply held beliefs that are there for so long that they only are a reality in the minds of the 10 and 20 year company veterans.  Unfortunately, those 20 year employees are usually not that current with the as is culture.

We as HR have indeed started to change.  Talent Management was honestly one of the biggest catalysts we have had, in conjunction with an ever improving ability to manipulate data through systems.  But I often think that the biggest obstacle of change are ourselves.  Talent was supposed to be a revolution, but 5 years or so later, all we have is a bunch of automated processes and new theories.  We need to be the HR leaders that force the issue, realize the former state was crap (even if we put it there and supported it), and the future state is where the game will be played.

Back to Basics

It seems to me that there has been a renewed focus on core HR.  Now I need to tell the truth, I really thought core HR was dead.  I mean, it will always be around, but with the whole industry moving on to cooler things like analytics and talent management, who cares about core HR anyway?  Seriously, core HR is core HR, how many ways can you present an employee transfer or termination process?  How many different vendors can effectively pitch OSHA functionality and expect to win?  Within reason, all the core HR vendors are pretty much on an equal playing field, for one reason or another that I won’t bother going into.

So the industry if focused on talent and analytics.  The problem is that nothing seems to work if you messed up core HR.  People deployed a nice, automated performance process 3 years ago, and they got themselves away from paper.  But at the same time, the industry told them that they didn’t get where they needed to go, and a number of reasons went into this.  First, deploying a talent process just wasn’t enough, and the vendors are madly working on the next level of functionality that will actually help us manage talent as opposed to automating a process.  Secondly however, talent management did not work the first time because we implemented it assuming our core HR systems were already healthy, and they were not.

First, Job.  There seems to be a renewed effort around job these days.  I think we’ve realized that even with all the focus on competencies as a foundational building block of talent, job is still the foundational building block of HR.  Without job, nothing else seems to work.  The problem was that we’ve been neglecting job for eons.  Ok, so that’s a stretch, but it’s certainly not uncommon for many of our organizations to have 5 times as many jobs as we need.  They are not standardized, they are redundant, and they have mismatched naming conventions.  They appear differently from country to country and business unit to business unit.  At the end of the day, a corporate organization can’t make any sense our of our jobs.  So we’ve gone back over the last few years and tried to start tightening up our job tables, which will in turn enable tighter competencies, performance, recruiting, succession, etc…  Not to mention that your analytics are worthless if you can’t use Job as one of your core dimensions in your datamarts.

Second, Organization.  We don’t often think about how we think about org.  Is it a financial hierarchy? Operational? HR? People manager?  When we first implemented organization in core HR years ago, we may have tied it tightly to the payroll engine, and cost centers were the priority at the sacrifice of supervisor chains.  Or we decided that an operaitonal structure made better sense and we sacrificed how HR generalists needed to interact with employees in the structure.  Whatever the tradeoff we made, we didn’t realize that a couple years later, this thing called talent management was going to assume that core HR could provide a clean structure to talent.  I’ve been to organizations where the performance, compensation, succession, and hiring managers were all different.  Who the hell was going to think of that 5 years ago?  huh?  The point is, that we’ve needed to go back to core HR and make some sense of our initial implementations.  And oh yeah, if you’re org is not clean enough to be a dimension in your datamarts – worthless again.

So the moral of the story is this:  if you’re late the the game and just getting to talent now, learn from those before you – fix core HR.  If you are not late to the game, but have not fixed core HR, go do it now.

Linking Communication Collaboration and Talent

There was a time when if you wanted to collaborate, the only way to do it was either walking over to someone and having a conversation, or perhaps you could call someone’s “secretary” and leave a message.  Then we got voice mail.  Then we got email.  We’ve been trapped in an email world for over a decade now, but it seems that the next shift is finally happening, and it is happening quickly.

In the early years of email, Lotus Notes occupied a leading space in collaboration.  Not only did Notes provide the ability to send messages and collaborate, but Lotus Domino, the engine behind Notes, allowed for the creation of some pretty sophisticated database, forms and workflows.  With all of this, it comes as no surprise that many organizations are still on Notes since they have so much legacy database sitting there that the conversion would be enormous.

However, even with that, most organizations have been using Microsoft Outlook for at least a few years now.  Collaboration has been the domain of email for so long now, and primarily that of MS Outlook and SharePoint that we have significant amounts of knowledge sitting in these systems.  Within emails that have huge amounts of passive and untapped knowledge and SharePoint databases that are usually  not indexed for future state technologies.

Organizations are quite underway for implementing Web 2.0 communication tools and for much of it, HR has been at the forefront (or at least involved) in these implantations.  Through these communications, we can mine data to get new insights into competencies and talent.

I mentioned Lotus Notes before because we’re going to have the same problems moving off of MS Outlook and SharePoint as we did moving away from Notes.  The next stage is already upon us with Web 2.0 collaboration tools such as text, IM, wiki, and blogs.  Not only are these categorized for indexing, but users can self tag knowledge, creating whole new taxonomies that more easier for mass consumption and not limited by corporate understandings.  But we have a decade of historical knowledge and collaboration data that is possibly lost, without any hope to be tied into our talent data.  Because these communications were never intended to be converted into useful metrics on our talent, we’re looking at a complete loss of any usability for it.

I’ll admit that I’m not sure anyone else is on the same page as I am, that all these Web 2.0 communications are ripe for use in talent measurements, let alone converting all of our past emails and legacy collaboration databases.  However, it’s important to recognize at the very least that all of these methods, both legacy and future state, hold significant amounts of high quality information about our talent.

Why Can’t We Implement Succession?

I can’t quite remember when it was, but on a recent Bill Kutik Radio Show, Bill mentioned, “One of the things that drives me crazy, is every survey that comes out, everyone says that Succession Planning is their top priority, and then the following year, the same survey states that nobody implemented it.”  Bill’s absolutely right, and I’ve started wondering exactly what is so hard about Succession Planning that with all the best intentions, we just can’t seem to get moving on that front of talent management.

I have a theory that there are a couple of pillars that make us unable to implement it.  First of all, there are core capabilities that need to be created before we can get Succession in place.  While we can often think of Succession as a stand alone process from the rest of talent management, Succession certainly needs a few ingredients to work.  Fist of all, we want to be able to create plans based on actual measurements rather than the reviewer’s subjective opinions which we know would result in a high probability of bias and be subject more to potential successors networking capabilities than job capabilities (although this may not be a terrible thing).  What we need are a few years worth of performance and competency data.  This means that to have a quantitative means of measuring probable successors, we’d like to see trends and trajectory.  This can go not only for internal candidates since external candidates often have measurable indicators that may be public.  The core problem however, is that not only do we need the basics of talent management intact, but we also would like to have a few years worth of data.

Second, there is a distinct manager capability that is far beyond that of other talent processes.  In performance management, our managers are asked to measure direct employees on a specified set of performance parameters.  When we talk about succession plans, we are often asking our executives to look at possible successors that they don’t directly work with today.  They look at the capabilities of each candidate, level those candidates across the multiple business units, look at total experience, expertise and capability, and then look at potential.  Succession or our executives is far more complex than performance is for our managers.  We have an expectation that we can put in software and a process, but once we come down to the actual planning process for implementation, we realize that this is far more complex and the expectations are far higher than anything we have done before.

Usually what we think will happen is that HR will run all sorts of reports that show possible successors for each role, and be able to analyze those candidates so that meaningful conversations can be had with the appropriate successors.  We think this because we don’t really believe that a bunch of executives is going to sift through complex, detailed data on each possible successor.  However, this also means that the business process for Succession Planning is more complex than just the analysis.  In performance, we have a pretty reliable expectation that managers can figure it out.  In Succession, we have every reason to believe that HR business partners and leaders are going to have a series of meetings with executives to reach a final understanding of what the succession landscape looks like – and most of this happens outside of software.

When we really get down to it, Succession probably really is our greatest want and need.  When we get down to it, Succession really is more complex than we expect it to be.  However, we need to get succession right.  If we think Succession is bad, wait until we get to topics like workforce mobility and areas that are so cross functional and multi-threaded that we have multiple HR organizations interacting with multiple business organizations.

Talent Particles in Action

Until tonight, I’ve never seen a lightning storm from above the clouds.  I’m not sure what percentage of lightning strikes actually are visible below the clouds, but this storm over Texas that I’m watching has a few lightning bolts per second all localized in a small area over the course of the last 5 minutes that we’ve been flying by it.  It’s pretty amazing to see this many lightning bolts for such a continuous period of time, and thinking about the total amount of electricity being generated is mind boggling.

Nobody really knows how lightning is formed, but the current theory is that as water molecules evaporate and float upwards into the sky, these miniscule water particles sometimes “rub up” against each other and trade electrons, thus forming electrical charges.  As this happens millions upon millions of times, and these water particles all make their way up into the clouds, eventually some event happens where the energy is released and a lightning bold is formed.

It’s pretty crazy to think that a couple of water molecules rubbing up against each other on their way up to forming a cloud is what triggers the release of a several million volt lightning strike, but it’s possible that is the root cause.  It does not take much, but the same thing is true with talent management.  HR spends a lot of time these days managing talent, producing knowledge, skills and competencies, and ensuring growth in our employees. 

Every employee gets a set of goals every year, so there are thousands of these.  We measure all sorts of leadership, behavioral and technical competencies on our employees.  There may be separate performance guidelines like MBO’s.  Incentive compensation may have their own set of requirements that employees are measured against.  I’m hoping your environment is not this complex, but suffice to say that we track a lot of seemingly insignificant attributes against a lot of employees.

At the same time, employees are interacting with each other, hopefully connecting in our enterprise social networks, and collaborating and learning through content they are generating.  All of this just creates thousands more small particulate interactions that we don’t even see or measure.  We have no idea which one of those advances is going to be the one that triggers the next major innovation or the next big sale.  What we do know is that we work on individual transactions that on a singular level, we can’t quite trace to these huge events.

At an aggregate level, we know that these particles create clouds and rain, so we can measure the cause and effect.  However, every once in a while, a lightning bolt hits, and when it does, we should not only celebrate the organization and it’s achievements, but we should also know that somehow, the root cause was the effort we put into managing our talent.

Next Gen Workforce Planning

We’ve been doing a pretty good job with Talent Management in my opinion.  We have pretty much deployed our systems or are in the midst of doing so.  We have reengineered our core talent processes from talent acquisition to performance to succession to learning and compensation.  We have started to grow our talent thinking past these core processes to workforce planning and internal mobility, partly spurred by the news that our demographics are changing so significantly with soon-to-be retirees and a generation of workers coming at us that needs transitions at a much more rapid pace than ever before.

What we have not necessarily figured out is not about acquiring, developing and upgrading employees.  It’s about preparing the workforce and taking a very broad view of the workforce as an organism rather than as a large set of employees.  As we went though the last series of layoffs and reorganization in 2009, we realized that our layoffs created gaps that still remain unfilled as we continue into better economic times in 2010.

We know (ok – we probably don’t, but it’s a goal maybe) exactly how much of every competency we need to have in the organization.  In order to be able to make a particular organizational sales goal, we can probably measure the total amount of sales competency and the aggregate achievement level in each of those sales competencies – using this, we should be able to predict annual sales achievement in a variety of economic conditions.  It’s basically a type of multiplier – more sales competency * average economic times yields better sales results than a lower level of competency within the organization.

So we have done a pretty good job acquiring and developing talent – at least we’re focused on it if we are not doing it in a formulaically structured way as I have illustrated.  We’re also focused on workforce planning.  We know that we have a retirement cliff coming.  5 years ago we said it was going to be in 5 to 15 years.  Well, we’re there now, and if we didn’t already prepare – we are in the middle of it.  We were training our people so they could fill the leadership and senior contributor positions that were going to be vacated.  Along side the cliff of retirees, we didn’t necessarily see the layoffs of 2009 coming.  We ended up with an environment where we were letting go of some pretty good people, offering early retirements, and cutting competencies from the organization as a whole.  We did all of this without really measuring what the aggregate competency gap was going to be.

I’m a total believer that we should be doing individual talent management.  We should absolutely be positioning individuals to achieve success through their career and succession plans.  We should have performance processes that actually motivate people to achieve goals.  Along side this, if we are not tying these individual programs to a broader organizational talent objective, we have missed the boat.  Talent happens at 2 levels.  We need to keep people as individuals, but our workforce plans need to be actionable at the individual level – not theoretical plans that help us prepare our organizations and fill senior seats, but aggregate competency levels.

Thoughts?

Corporate Strategy & Talent Management

A long (very long) time ago, I used to captain a cycling team.  I had a crew of about 6 people that raced every week, and we all had our objectives and our roles.  As part of our weekly training for races, we would drill the sprinter on sprinting exercises, have the guys who would chase down breakaways doing crazy intervals, the climbers climbing, etc.  At races every week, our goal was to win primes (sprints that occur in the middle of races) or place in the final sprint.  We almost always had a specific formula.   I would send one of my guys out to the front of the 50+ rider group and ride as fast as possible from about 1.2 miles out from the finish.  I would collect the group behind me (usually 1 very fast guy plus a sprinter) and I would read the pack for the inevitable final break.  It’s not really a breakaway more than just a last acceleration.  If you chose the wrong acceleration, and go too early or late, you end up 15 spots behind choosing the right acceleration.  So I got to pick the “jump” and my 2 guys would just follow me as I followed a couple guys from other teams.  My job was never to win, it was to watch as the race developed around me and make sure my guys got launched at the right place and time, and have every possible chance to succeed.  Even while managing my guys individually throughout the week, and managing each individual race, the result of the individual race was never the point.  The real point was that if we wanted to say sponsored, we needed to place enough times in the year to attract enough money to keep us racing the next year.  (thank God I was never the sponsorship guy)

I sometimes wonder when we are designing talent processes, if we are paying enough attention to corporate strategy.  Each individual activity from process mapping to talent service delivery to technology selection should be hinged upon the overall corporate strategy.  I’ll give a simple example:  Let’s say that you are in a high growth mode.  You’re expanding into new markets or products, and the C-level execs expect you to have enough talent to get this done quickly before other competitors beat you to the punch.  Compensation has outlined a pay philosophy to lead market rates which allows you to acquire and hopefully retain highly talented individuals more easily.  HR has also developed a philosophy to pay for contribution rather than performance.

As a result of all this, the Talent organization should have developed a performance process that rewarded people not on the attainment of job descriptions or even role based goals.  Instead, performance should have been measured against competency growth and other attributes that contribute to organizational growth, not organizational maintenance.  Merit and incentive payments should have been disclosed with considerable transparency to disclose how individual actions create corporate value and result in growth in the targeted sectors.  Internal mobility programs should not just be filling jobs and moving people around, but specifically looking at how to move high quality talent to areas of the business that can use them most aggressively.

I know we do a lot of things that are process or employee specific.  I also know that each of these actions has a clear positive impact at the employee and organizational level.  But I question if we are sufficiently linked to our corporate strategies and if we know exactly how those linkages play out from an action to benefit perspective.  let me know if you have any answers.

What’s Next?

Just a few short years ago, it really seemed like the vendor space was leading the market with all sorts of great new functionality and new ways to think about the world.  After all, what would we have done if SoftScape had not coined the term “Talent Management”?  (I’m pretty sure it was them, but I’m not 100% sure, so if I’m wrong, don’t crucify me please)  Talent Management gave HR a completely new lease on life, helped us get the attention of executives, and got many of us the proverbial “seat at the table”.”  TM provided us a way manage our Human Resources, whereas before we were just another resource.

The SaaS vendor space provided us with dashboards while the rest of the organization was implementing them, but HR didn’t have the budgets or the technical capability.  We got analytics for cheap from vendors when our organizations didn’t seem to see the value of a $MM implementation for HR.

But lately, it feels like we’ve taken hold of all the new technologies and the opportunities it brought us and we are not trying to push our vendors faster and further rather than being tugged along.  While vendors consolidate and focus on platform integration, we’ve all moved on to thinking about long term talent management that goes beyond the processes of today and looks at the planning for 2 and 3 years from now.  We’re wanting to understand workforce planning and implement technologies to help us with it.  We want to understand internal mobility and get a handle on how increasing mobility engages, develops and retains our employee base.

But it’s not really all the vendor’s fault.  Sure, the vendors (some of them anyway) tell us they have some functionality, or that it’s on the way, but we in HR are certainly now pushing rather than pulling.  The problem for the vendors is that most of the new work is pure analytics and decision support.  To do workforce planning, we need to be able to project out where our businesses are growing and what skill-sets we will need a few years down the road.  Often, HR does not yet have this level of visibility in the organization.  Sometimes, the business as a while does not have the ability to know what the future brings in highly project and contract based businesses.  Others of us have more stable sales and business cycles that can be predictable.

I think we’ve gone forward with our thinking, but both the HR and Vendor capabilities are lagging, and we have come to count on the vendor space to provide us a solution for our problems.  Unlike with Talent Management where many of us didn’t even know we needed it, now we know we have an itch to scratch – and we are eagerly awaiting a stick to scratch it with.  I’m sure it will be great…  (just hurry up already)

Going Too Far: Social Media Notifications

I don’t know about the rest of you, but pretty much every time I receive a notification about farmville or gangster wars on Facebook, I pretty want to shoot the senders.  If they are nieces or nephews, they get some allowances for being kids.  But when I get literally 5 or 6 notifications in a row from the same person (who I have worked with at some time or another and is very highly paid) it absolutely drives me crazy.  In all honesty, I love most of Facebook.  Keeping tabs on people who I have been close to but have either moved away from geographically or just through the cost of time is a wonderful thing.  But there are some people out there who I would love to stay connected with, but the only thing I know about them is that they forgot to water plants on their farms (or something like that).  I think I would be totally ok with it if I never saw another gaming notification again in my life.

I then think about RSS feeds like many of you already have.  I’ll bet you are reading this blog either through a feed-reader or in your inbox.  Some way or another, you have requested this text to be sent to you.  I’ve never abused my e-mail lists and I couldn’t abuse my RSS subscribers because I have no idea who you are.  And that’s a lovely thing.  At the end of the day (or beginning in the case of systematicHR) you get a delivery of the goods you requested.

I’ve been talking about enterprise social media quite a bit lately with clients and friends.  It’s a complex topic that involves not only the Facebook-like connections with people around your enterprise, but also the collaboration that may occur in blogs and wikis.  The power of the enterprise social media cannot be limited to any one of the features, but is an integrated experience that involves all of the above.  Lets say you have a talent management program in place at your organization that has internal mobility processes.  It would be marvelous if the talent management program could capture data on not only internal candidates who have declared interests through their career paths, but identified candidates based on their activities within enterprise blogs and wikis.  Talent managers could find that some of their best knowledge workers in an area didn’t actually get paid for a job in that area.  Similarly, if you were interested in a role but were not getting the type of response from your talent managers, you could connect to groups or people who could help steer you into the right career path.  Networking is half the battle after all.

The downfall of enterprise social media is in the governance.  It could make it really good or really bad.  In general, “bad behavior” is fairly limited.  Although we see more iffy transactions happening with younger people, most have some amount of self censure and restraint in a work environment.  The problem is when the organization does not censure actions when they happen, and questionable behavior becomes customary.  The posted pictures of inebriated sales people at the company convention is humorous to many, but not appropriate for the masses.  You never really know who your links are linked to, and who is looking at profiles (which are usually totally open behind the firewall).  To many, there is no line between posting pictures of the local after work happy hour and the company softball team (and perhaps there shouldn’t be).  But not all of our interactions with work people outside of work should be published.  Some of it is team building that is great for everyone to know about, and other stuff might be things you really only want to share with the limited group that was involved.

I think we’ve started in the enterprise social media space being a bit too careful.  But I also think that we will manage to start to lose attention to it as the technologies start taking a life of their own and we forget that an entirely new generation is starting to enter the workforce.  Perhaps I’m old fashioned? (wow – that indeed would be strange).  Thoughts?

What does Irony Taste Like?

My wife and I were recently at dinner with her sister’s family. One of the boys is about 14 years old, and as we were waiting for our table, he was looking through the bottles of wines displayed nearby. (No, he’s not drinking yet, we don’t live in France) He observed one bottle keenly, and turned to my wife asking, “I wonder what Irony tastes like.” My wife replies, “probably somewhat bitter-sweet,” at which point our nephew breaks out in laughter.

As I look through all of my nieces and nephews, most of them are far too young to have conversations like this. They are all bright young people, but I wonder if they will all have the same ability to connect random thoughts and ideas, and create different types of meaning that were not there before or not intentional by the originator. It’s not that I have some strange familial desire to see my family smarter than everyone else out there, but in my experience, the ability to connect the dots between seemingly disparate pieces of a puzzle is somewhat rare.

It also occurs to me that the ability for the mind to think this way is not necessarily trainable. Taking myself as an example, I am known in my family to be the world’s worst student. ((Ok, ok, being Chinese, the standard of expectation is fairly high.)) I absolutely hated studying, and basically managed to slip by the first 12 years of schooling without looking at a text book. Somehow I managed to end up with a 4.0 and took so many AP classes that my high school ran out of classes for me, but I seriously never studied. Instead, I remember various science and math classes where I would get pulled aside by the instructor. The conversation was always the same: “This is not how we taught you to solve this, but somehow it’s correct and the work checks out.” In my mind, I would never know how I was supposed to do something because I didn’t study, but I could find ways to connect the dots and figure things out.

For me, college was most interesting learning experience. I went to a small, liberal arts college (that probably would not admit me now) where the provision of trade skills is not at all important, but the provision of thinking skills and analytical problem solving is. I do believe that creating an approach for thinking through a problem is indeed trainable, but still, the ability to connect seemingly random pieces of information is not. The people out there who have both of these abilities running in tandem are probably your strongest innovators and thought leaders. These are the people who rise to the top of the individual contributor ranks in your organization, and given other skills might become top management candidates. These are the people that when you’re looking to fill critical roles should be at the top of your list. Regardless of the experience they have, these candidates have an uncanny ability to work through problems and come up with incredible new ideas.

The irony in this to me, is that that primary ability to discover unseen connections and pull together ideas that might have been heard in a completely unrelated topics months ago is both a key attribute you want for your talent, but is also almost completely impossible to detect and record without significant observation and experience. I believe it’s a key talent attribute, and I can tell you when someone has it, but can’t tell you how to measure or record it.

Thoughts?

Taleo versus SuccessFactors

At the end of 2009, Bersin did a great analysis of the two organizations that I can’t really beat.  It’s a nice objective and score by score view of the vendors that is based in good factual data, and I’m going to take a different approach, but you should read Bersin’s post first.  From my point of view, the discussion of the two vendors is quite simple, and the decision around to who has the advantage is also quite clear.

Let’s start with their roots.  It’s quite clear that Taleo is based on recruiting roots while SuccessFactors has the Talent Management side.  Both have ventured into each other’s strong suite, with Taleo having an incredible launch into performance a couple of years ago.  However, as time has gone on and the market has assessed the product, it may actually have been too much innovation for the average HR department to adopt and absorb.  I still think it’s one of the coolest products out there, but the change may have been too radical or restrictive.  Traditional performance vendors that were more flexible in allowing people to stick with processes that were somewhat similar to their current states might have been more comfortable during the selection process.  While we all say we want drastic change, when functional HR people really get down to business, I’m not sure it’s true.

SuccessFactors on the other hand has been reaching into recruiting.  Their first couple of sales came in 2009 and the product is in its infancy.  What Taleo has spent a decade developing, SuccessFactors has been at for a few short months and the product shows its weaknesses.  At the same time, Taleo’s recruiting product shows the immense configurability and options that the market wants, but does not get with the Taleo Performance module – sort of a contradiction.  SFSF’s Talent side gives the depth and maturity that simply isn’t there on the SFSF recruiting end.

Next, looking at their market presence, you decide who has the advantage.  While Bersin points out that SuccessFactors is in every RFP for Talent Management, Taleo is also in every RFP for Talent Acquisition.  This is not scientific at all, but I’m going to say that SuccessFactors has the advantage here.  My argument is that recruiting is not so much more complex than performance, compensation, succession, mobility, etc, and that Taleo has much more to build.  I’m also going to say that traditional recruiting is much more of a commodity, and that the Talent Management side is often seen as more of a business transaction.  Recruiting does not come out of commoditization until you get to mobility strategy, and that is generally a TM function than TA (granted cross functionality).  Its generally going to be easier for SFSF to build TA than for Taleo to improve the TM functions.

Lastly, looking at leading the market segments they specialize in, I’m going to say that Taleo has a pretty healthy lead in the TA market, and while SFSF is omnipresent, they don’t have quite the dominance simply due to the larger number of players.  Still, I think overall I’m looking at SFSF to be positioned better in the remainder of 2010 as the economy picks up steam and budgets continue to return.

Great Individual Contributors <> Great Leaders

I hate taking things from the sports world because other than the occasional job, riding my bike more than I should and watching the Boston Celtics in the post-season, I really don’t follow sports. Fact is, I usually don’t even realize it’s Superbowl Sunday until the game is half over. But being a pseudo Celtics fan, it’s even worse that I’m about to attribute something to Pat Riley.

I’m not entirely sure, so I won’t footnote this one, but I think it was in his book that he compares the great basketball players and correlates it to coaching ability. The basic idea is that great basketball players don’t always make for the best coaches. The basic idea behind this is that the guys who were not naturals at the game had to go through the process of learning and growing into their sport to become good or great. The guys who are already great don’t understand the growing process and don’t understand why players just “don’t get it.” Take Phil Jackson (of the hated LA Lakers – loved him with the Bulls though) for example. He understood the process he had to take players through because he went through it himself.

Lexy presents us with a similar concept in an entirely different genre:

Last year I took a class from a world renowned quilter for a week. It’s my gift to myself each year to spend a week learning something new at the Empty Spool seminars. By the way, if you’ve never gone, it’s a wonderful way for quilters to learn! This year though, the teacher, wasn’t my kind of teacher. For me, not very affirming. I digress here a bit, but I’ve noticed that sometimes great artists are really not great teachers — some are great at promoting themselves and their work rather than encouraging and teaching students. I think I’ve had a few bosses like that as well. ((Martin, Alexia, December 22, 2009. “Giving yourself permission not to finish frees up energy – another quilting/work intersection.” Retrived from http://lexymartin.blogspot.com on December 25, 2009.))

As Lexy did, I’m going to relate this to work somehow. We’ve all had or been exposed to bosses and management that were not worth their weight in pennies. ((a penny weighs about 2.5 grams, and a 150 lb person would be worth about $272, or 27,215 pennies.)) Organizations are all too often willing to promote great individual contributors without seeing if they are management or leadership worthy. I have had a couple such experiences in my life where leadership capabilities were just about at a level zero, but these people had “drive” and ambition. Unfortunately, what went along with that were turnover rates off the charts.

In the first, all the drive and ambition was about all there was. This guy could sell, but was arrogant and a micro-manager down to 2-3 levels of staff below him. He drove the entire region crazy, but he delivered results (not difficult in 2003 by the way – anybody and everybody could sell anything coming off of the budget crunch in 2001). The second was a bit different. Genuinely one of the smarter guys I have met in my life, but also full of ambition, he had all sorts of people who simply could not work with him, and either transferred out, literally quit their jobs, or became incredibly disengaged.

I think it’s one of the major mistakes of succession planning that we look at performance and the operational or sales capabilities of leaders before looking at leadership. Driving operational performance is not the same as driving organizational performance, and success is a function of both. It’s another reason that HR needs to be involved in leadership development and planning. Without us, corporate execs promote based on the wrong information.

Internal Staffing Through Social Media

We all know that the best way to find a job is by having great professional networks.  God, looking for a job through job boards is possible, but oh so difficult.  Shouldn’t the same go for internal staffing?  Rather than having internal job boards and postings, we should be deploying social medias to facilitate internal staffing transactions.  Here is the idea:

Employee plans around high potential employees, career paths, performance plans, and even succession plans should give us a pretty good view of what the possible next steps of each employee could be.  Rather than sitting around waiting for a position opening to pop up and hoping that the internal employee and the position opening get magically linked up, there are certainly ways to be much more proactive about this.

Often, employee job growth is a function of pure luck.  They either knew the right person and the hiring manager wanted to hire/transfer them, or HR stumbled upon someone and decided it was the right move the get them to the new department.  The science and predictability of moving people around the organization these days is more haphazard than science.

In the external market, people now join groups in social medias to acknowledge their interest in specific jobs or job families.  If you want to get into compensation, you can link up to people who are already in the compensation field.  If I’m an internal employee, why should I not have an internal social network of people who are in the compensation department?  I could connect to people, do informational interviews, ask questions about the skills needed, and understand the realities of working there.  Best yet, rather than hoping that magic occurs, I have a direct link to the people in the compensation department and when an opening actually happens, the probability that I’ll become aware of that opening grow significantly.  The hope is that someone in comp that I’m linked to is just going to let me know as soon as something happens, and not only am I linked and have some good awareness of the requirements, but I’ve also had time to prepare myself and develop the necessary skills.

Internal mobility is something that talent practices can execute within our HR organizations, but we can also put a lot of power in the hands of employees if we can correctly deploy social medias and have our employees adopt the idea that they can actively manage their own futures.  One of the key parts of the employee engagement equation is control.  Not only do employees need to love what they do, but they also need to feel some measure of control over their own destiny.  Deploying internal social medias in this way makes sense on so many levels, and HR really needs to get on the bandwagon of actually starting to deploy this stuff.

The Error of Operational Reports

Julian had a childhood friend named Lucy.  One day, he came home with one of those kindergarten drawings with a little girl and diamonds and presented it to his father.  John asked him what the drawing was, and Julian replies, “It’s Lucy and the sky with diamonds.”  Thus, the song.

You can take some core facts, and given those facts, you can make some assumptions, correlations, and logical guesses.  But at the end, assumptions, correlations and logical guesses don’t get you anywhere but a certain probability of correctness.  With John Lennon and the Beatles song, you have Lucy and the Sky with Diamonds (LSD) in an age where the Beatles were probably high every night.  For decades, this has been the thinking of what was behind this song.  In reality, the truth is more innocent.

Operational reports present the same challenges.  I define operational reports against analytics.  Operational reports are typically one or two dimensional in nature, present a set of data that is static in time.  While you can make some pretty good guesses as to what is going on in your organization, operational reports don’t present the type of deep digging that you can do in analytics to really identify root causes.

Turnover is often the easiest example.  If you have a turnover rate by department, you can figure out where your highest turnover is and do something about it.  But if you have trended analytics, you can see how turnover is shifting over time throughout your organizations, dig into each organization into a number of factors such as gender, age, tenure, and specific job types or look into the turnover performance of individual managers.  It’s not that you can’t do this with operational reports, but each report is run individually rather than sitting in a single “cube” of data.

Any reporting is great, and operational reports utilized correctly present a spectrum of facts that can then be further interpreted to a fairly close degree of statistical accuracy.  But it amazes me still, how many organizations are not going out there and spending the money to do real analytics and decisions support.

We’ve been talking about the “seat at the table” for too long – how talent strategies make HR a real business partner to the core needs of our organizational leaders.  But as much as we talk about that seat, 80% or more of the large organizations that I visit still don’t have good, detailed decision support tools in a comprehensive and coherently deployed manner.  You have to have a strategy around these tools, implement them well, and then actually know how to use them in a cross-functional manner with some business (not technical) sense behind it.  Let’s get moving already, people!

Salary and Benefits are NOT Engagement Tools

So you’re thinking about getting married.  You go out and buy a ring with a diamond in it, you figure out a romantic place to ask, and then you get down on one knee and pop the question.  Somehow, she says “yes.”  They key is that there are probably a large number of reasons she is willing to get married to you, but one of them is not the fact that you presented her with a ring.  The ring is one of those compulsory things that you just kind of have to have, but it was not the deal clincher.

Similarly, salary and benefits are not engagement tools.  The reason for this is that they are not differentiators.  Everyone offers competitive salaries, and anywhere you go, the salaries will be within 10% of each other for similar geographies, similar skills and similar work.  The same goes for benefits.  The 401(k) and the health benefits can be better or worse, but probably are not factors for employees sticking around.  Every employer is going to offer some form of benefits, and while the cost of benefits can vary greatly here, the value of these benefits is relatively lower now that most families have 2 income earners and so long as one of the partners has good benefits, the other can go wherever they want.

I write this as I read FoT’s post on the “anchors” that cause people to stay at your organization.  It focuses primarily on salary and benefits.  While I don’t argue that these are contributors, I think we have all know for years that salary and benefits are really just a commodity in the engagement equation.  So long as they are competitive with the rest of the employer market, salary and benefits don’t differentiate your organization at all.

From a talent management perspective, I now ask a similar question – “What would happen if the government eliminated the anchors that ‘most’ employees perceive as the reason they work for a firm?”

Those anchors in my mind are – health insurance, retirement, income and stability.  After those basic needs come the more esoteric, but important, elements of feeling recognized, feeling in control, feeling connected, etc.  I say importance – but the right word might be “fear” – employees do some things for survival and fear before they worry about engagement.  ((Herbert, Paul, December 22, 2009.  “Answering Why Should People Want to Work at Your Company. Anchors Aweigh!”  Retrieved from http://www.fistfuloftalent.com/2009/12/anchors-aweigh.html on December 24, 2009.))

Employee’s decide what company to join based on opportunity, salary, and benefits.  However, they stay for how much they love their jobs, if they are doing good work, if they like their peers, and appreciate their direct managers.  Salary and benefits has not been part of the employee engagement equation for ages.  IMHO.

Leadership Competency Design – Five most common mistakes

Guest Author:  Stephen B. Jeong, Ph.D.

Designing and using a set of reliable and valid leadership competencies is critical for organizations seeking to go from point A to point B.  Leadership competencies are essentially an ideal profile specifying the types of skills, knowledges, and behavioral traits you want your leaders to possess, and therefore, exhibit.  Leadership competencies can used as part of a broader talent management system and succession planning, for leadership identification and development purposes, and/or as part of a performance management system – e.g., via a 360 degree feedback.

Despite the prohibitive cost associated with its design and use – anywhere from $75,000 to $400,000, depending on the size and scope of the project – many organizations fall short of the reliability and validity requirements set forth by such governing bodies as APA (American Psychological Association) and SIOP (Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychologists).  As a psychometrician and a consultant, I have found the following five steps to be common in leadership competency design.

  1. Starting from the top – Many believe (HR/OD professionals and consultants alike) that there are specific leadership competencies that is fixed – meaning that if you find leaders possessing certain qualities (critical thinking skills, strategic orientation, market awareness etc.), you can plop him/her into an organization and he/she will bring out the magic.  Given the large number (in the hundreds) and variations in competencies purported to be important, it is highly unlikely that one set of competencies apply to all organizations. As with Olympic athletes, while one generally needs to be “fit,” this does not guarantee a gold medal in every event. In other words, like athletes, different organization need different sets of competencies in order to optimize their competitive edge.  This means starting from the top.  A solid set of competency, therefore, is modeled after what an organization needs; not something offered “off-the-shelf.”  This step ensures that you identify precisely those skills you feel is “necessary” for your organization to be successful.
  2. Validating with existing leaders – Once you have a set of competencies deemed important, it is critical to run them by existing leaders to obtain their thoughts on how important each competency (and related questions) is.  This step is important for two reasons:  First, it legitimizes the competencies in the eyes of those who are being assessed – i.e., the leaders themselves; thus, getting them to buy-in on the idea.  Second, it satisfies the “face validity” requirement set forth in the major governing bodies.  In other words, if I am design a test to select competent mechanics, I need to run the test by real mechanics in order to be sure that the test is measuring what it is intending to measure.
  3. Validating against actual performance – Once the first two steps are complete, the next step is to assess existing leaders on these competencies and compare these scores against their performance evaluations.  The most objective was to do this is through a 360 degree assessment – i.e., obtaining judgments from subordinates, peers, and supervisors. In this way, an objective scores on each of the competency is obtained without the inflated scores often seen with self-rated assessments.  After some reliability checks and data cleaning, the aggregated scores are compared against the same leaders’ past performance scores.  If the set of competencies deemed important for an organization are, in fact, what the organization values, then the correlation between those same competencies and performance ratings should be positive.  This is called “concurrent validation.”
  4. Validation against future performance – In addition to validating against current performance levels, the same competencies should be compared against performance some point in the future – e.g., 9 to 12 months.  This technique, known as “predictive validation,” further ensures that the set of competencies are, in fact, deemed important and that leaders are being assessed – at least partially – on those competencies.  **Note: Although unlikely, it is possible that performance management system is entirely different, and event, opposed to the set of competencies being assessed.  In such a case, the performance management needs to be refined to be aligned with the competencies.
  5. Setting competency cut-off scores or categories – Finally, once data have been obtained on the competencies from each leader, there is a need classify individuals according to their scores on each of the competencies. While it may be tempting to choose an arbitrary category, this may lead to classifying most, if not all, leaders as needing improvement.  Thus, it is better to allow the data to choose the size of the difference that is meaningful to the population being tested.  This approach, known as the “data-driven” method, is done by using the “standard deviation” (or average difference) of the competency scores.  This approach ensures that the different score categories are based on the population at hand (each organization will differ on what this deviation score is) and is a known “legally defensible” strategy.

In sum, there are a number of common mistakes (mostly by omission) that occurs in the development of leadership competencies.  While the above steps may seem overly rigorous, there are ways to incorporate them without making the process overly daunting.  The result is a set of competencies that (a) will be viewed by incumbents as legitimate, (b) has proof that it is measuring what it is supposed to be measuring, and (c) ultimately allow you to place your complete confidence in the intervention stemming from its use.

Stephen B. Jeong, is currently the Managing Director of Waypoint People Solutions – www.waypointps.com, a human capital consulting firm that focuses on high precision employee diagnostic surveys using cutting-edge measurement technology and methodologies. He holds Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational psychology from the Ohio State University and has been advising private, public, and government organizations since 2000.  He can be reached at stephen.jeong@waypointps.com.

Competencies versus Critical Experiences

We’ve been talking about competencies for a while. Yeah, I know what they are, I know how they get implemented into a talent system, and I even know how they are integrated into critical talent processes. But you know what… I still don’t get it.

We talk about competencies, but when we really get down to the interesting topics in talent management like how our talent interacts with each other to collaborate and innovate, we no longer care about those competencies. We start talking about the experiences they have and the knowledge they can bring to the table. When we staff cross-functional projects, we don’t look at the competencies, we look at valuable experiences.

We talk about competencies, but when we talk about executive development and succession planning, we talk about critical experiences. We look at our possible successor and see if they were deployed in more than two countries as an expat. We look and see if they made the round through finance. Again, we look at the experiences they had, and not the competencies.

We talk about the vision of competencies and how we’ll eventually staff to a specific desired amount of certain competencies in future models of workforce planning, but honestly, we’re already ignoring them before we even get close to that future state.

I know there are a lot of really good talent people out there and perhaps I’m not one of them. Someone tell me if this competency thing is over yet, because you know what, if it’s not over, maybe it should be.

I still don’t get it.

Workforce Talent Retention

I recently talked to an organization who is moving their organization from one end of the city to the opposite far end of the same area. The commuting time between the cities is about 40 minutes, and some employees would benefit and have reduced commute, others would certainly pick up longer train or car rides. I asked about turnover rates and received an answer I was not quite expecting. People who normally would have left the organization were deciding to stay and make the long commutes. For a wholesale organizational relocation, their turnover was in the low single digits. Well, I suppose this is to be expected in this economy, if you leave a job now, there is no telling when you’re going to find the next one.

This got me to thinking, not about corporate relocations, but about the state of turnover and talent in the next couple of years. Sure enough, nobody is leaving their jobs willingly. But whatever the situation is, whether it’s a long commute, someone angry over a missed promotion, or a bad manager situation, there is a large amount of talent that is unhappy and not moving. Let’s say that the average turnover rate in the U.S. is 15% per year and that it sits at 5% today (totally made up numbers – I don’t feel like doing the research). That means a full 10% of the workforce is fairly disgruntled and is in your employee population right this minute. That is a pretty big number, and it’s a lot of unhappiness.

The number is probably a lot bigger than 10%. While this is a global economic problem and most companies are proportionally impacted, negative economies tend to decrease employee engagement. The real problem is that this year you have 10% of the population that is not leaving. That does not exempt you from the additional 10% that is going to get pissed off next year and want to leave. While you might be basking in a disengaged workforce with low turnover this year, next year’s situation might change drastically.

Employees may not be leaving now, but the top talent is already scouting strong companies, identifying which are weak, and determining possible landing spots. You might be the recipient of many applicants when the economy clears, but you might be on the negative end as well. What’s going to happen next year when the economy does turn and the floodgates of people ready to leave open up? Are you ready for the mass exodus or influx? Do you even know where your company is positioned against your competition?

Don’t fool yourself – next year is going to be different for talent and talent acquisition and I don’t know if any of us have really talked about how to prepare for it.

Scouting for Talent – An athletic view of the world

— How do you measure talent?
— How do you determine who to develop?
— How does that impact who gets developed and who gets money spent on them?

We’ve talked about soccer moms and helicopter parenting on this blog. But we’ve never talked about how some of those kids participate in selection activities within their sports, music programs and anything else. Looking at how children are selected into prestigious programs, college athletic scholarships, or even into pro tour inclusion for some sports actually shines a very interesting light into our own talent management programs.

As we look at how elite child athletes have to compete, they have the realization that their performance actually down selects them investment dollars. College and new days even pro scouts go to high schools looking for the best athletes in the country. The best of them get to go to elite schools with full scholarships and even other benefits. Even before that, promising athletes can be identified and junior sports programs sponsored by national sports governing bodies provide investments into camps, training and coaching. Ultimately however, it’s really only the cream of the crop that gets development dollars. The rest are left to their own means to grow and mature.

Talent management is not so different. We have succession plans for the top tier of our companies to figure out who is going to be ready for executive positions and how we will grow them into those jobs. We identify high potential contributors and throw training dollars at them and include them into development programs globally. We broaden their experiences hoping that their potential manifests itself. Our identification and distribution of talent into a variety of buckets has serious implications on who gets the money and who does not. It also effects people’s lives in the long term as we determine who gets opportunities in the future and who does not.

Going back to the junior athletics view of the world, we can see how it is entirely possible that athletes could develop at different rates. Someone who is the shortest person in their class might not pursue basketball as a sport, choosing swimming instead. 5 years later, the person has not only the physical stature to have been a great basketball player, but also the coordination as well. By choosing too early, and based on early conclusions of down selection, we may have allocated and determined what “buckets” people fall into too early and missed other opportunities. On the other hand, some child athletes are ignored early on and might fester in mediocrity when some investment might have made them bloom as athletes, but these kids will never have the opportunity to find out.

Here are my concerns: how do we know that we have not missed the boat? And how do we know that we’re not making these decisions that cause us to miss exceptional talent opportunities in the future? Is it ok that our talent decisions have serious impacts on the lives of real people in lifetime earnings and achievement?