During the last two decades of the 20th century, process and quality improvement was embraced primarily by U.S. manufacturers as a recipe for reversing shrinking margins and hemorrhaging market-share; a challenge brought forth by a flood of lower priced imports. The quality movement produced some astonishing reversals of fortunes in many areas, as in the copier and auto industries.
The successful quality movement quickly gained traction with an array of non-manufacturing businesses that saw it as capable of speeding up delivery of services and goods, reducing costs and errors, and improving customer satisfaction.
However the movement wasn’t a panacea and U.S. companies from all sectors were soon looking for a new advantage as the industrial age morphed into the information age.
Talent Management as Competitive Advantage
In a company’s relentless pursuit of seizing competitive advantage, it became clear that all the improvement initiatives and programs had a common denominator and that was the employee. Fix- it programs depended on the commitment, motivation and special talents of employees who ultimately determined if the program would succeed or fail.
With the playing field leveled by technology, the new advantage lay not with purchasing a faster widget maker but with acquiring, developing and retaining talented employees faster and more efficiently than the competition. Is it any wonder that the next brave frontier for competitive advantage shifted to Talent Management with the new millennium?
For most companies their payroll is their largest recurring expenditure. It makes practical business sense to optimize that monthly investment. Improving an organization’s talent management practices however, isn’t a silver bullet approach but rather a multi-pronged strategy that tackles challenges on at least four principal fronts, and they are: recruitment, performance and learning management, leadership development, and bottom-up communications.
The starting-line on the talent management path might begin with re-assessing hiring practices and asking the tough questions about the end to end process.
- Are the job postings reaching the best candidates?
- Is the selection process standardized and do managers have the tools and training to ensure that new employees have the correct skills, aptitudes, and the right level of motivation?
Hiring competent and motivated employees who fit with the company culture is paramount. Anyone can hire a person to do a job, but it takes a special set of skills and tools to hire the best person who is most likely to succeed and not jump ship at the first opportunity. A great hiring process pays unimaginable compounding dividends.
2. Post-Hire Talent Development
Employees without goals or learning opportunities are overhead, while those having both are appreciating assets.
- Do your managers have the right technology tools to accurately manage day to day performance, employee goals, and learning activities?
- Do senior managers have employee performance metrics at their finger tips to fuel recognition and pay for performance programs?
- Do employees have a career path, development plan?
A single portal for managers and employees to share and manage these disparate yet vital activities is empowering, productive and essential. Remember, talent needs to be made tangible and operationalized.
A manager’s job is to help each of their staff be as successful as possible. A manager succeeds only when their employees succeed. A manager fails every time one of their staff fails. Managers need their people more than their people need him or her since they can get the job done without the manager, but not vice versa.
Most organizations provide some form of manager training. However, leadership and manager skills are different, which usually accounts for why most organizations are over managed and under led.
- Have managers and supervisors been made aware of their leadership competencies with the results of a 360?
- Have managers and supervisors been given leadership skills training based on their 360 scores?
Old School Leadership Model
Senior managers go to an expensive retreat for a week to learn how to lead. Front-line managers receive manager skill training.
New School Leadership Model
Front line managers responsible for delivering productivity, profits and customer service also learn leader skills such as how to build loyalty and teamwork.
4. Bottom-Up Communications
Feedback is the breakfast of champions, unfortunately most organizational feedback fits the 80/20 principle; 80% of the communications are top down and only 20% of communications flow from the bottom up.
- Do climate surveys help guide management with decision making?
- Is climate survey data shared with the rank and file and acted upon by senior management?
- Is there a suggestion box strategy to capture employee ideas?
The free flow of trusting communication up and down the line is the fuel that drives a company forward.
Talent doesn’t flourish in a vacuum. It is a valuable commodity that needs to be identified, nurtured and optimized. Firms need to get better at operationalizing talent and moving it into the tangible world.
Companies that can identify and match an applicant’s inherent talents with their jobs and culture will enjoy a competitive recruitment advantage by building a much more solid foundation for tomorrow.
Organizations that build career paths around an employee’s special talents cultivate loyalty and commitment in return.
Balancing manager training with leadership skills and promoting bottom-up communications gets all the oars in the water pulling in unison. Remember that it is all too easy for management to monopolize the communication party line.
Competition is endemic. Competitors essentially produce the same products and services and they deploy many of the same technologies to produce their products and deliver their services. Some are able to gain a slight edge by being early technology adopters, but at the end of the day the playing field has been pretty much leveled from a technology standpoint.
The only true and authentic business differentiator in the long run is the firm’s employees! It is their collective talents, enthusiasm and loyalty that are the firm’s future. Firms who use talent based technologies to help them more effectively identify, manage and grow talent in this new millennium will most assuredly survive the uncertainty of approaching white water that may be just around the bend.