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?