The distraction of talent management

We love to over engineer a management practice, don’t we? And never more so than the area of “talent management”. We take something with a relatively simple principle at it’s core and turn it into an elaborate, process driven, complex, laborious practice. Then wonder why it doesn’t work.

Let’s start by understanding the core principles behind talent management:

To ensure we have the organisational capability that we need now and in the future in order to be successful.

That’s it, nothing more complex than that. But “management science” would have us believe that in order to deliver this we need a range of complex interventions, grids, assessments that require hours of time to complete with little, if any, visible benefit. And then we repeat it on a regular basis.

One of the challenges is our inability to have good quality, meaningful conversations about the ability and capability of people within our organisations and to convey those conversations to them in an honest way. It is also our reluctance to think openly about the future, especially into areas of uncertainty.

Organisations thrived and succeeded before the 9 box grid was created, I’m not sure any of the great industrialists ever attended a calibration session and I’m certain the sun would still come up in the morning if we skipped the annual “talent review”. We’d be much better prepared for success were we to put the processes away for a while and sit and focus on the why not the how.

Simplifying our view on the capability we have, need and will need and how to build and develop is the real trick, not creating more forms that need to be filled in.

 

Talent management starts at home

We talk a lot about talent.

But in any situation, on any day, I’d rather have a hard-working, committed but good team member, than an exceptional, but erratic and slightly lazy one.

Of course, I realise that the reality is seldom binary but the point remains the same.

We’re obsessed by “talent” we seek the “exceptional”, but in the process are we overlooking the essential? Are we missing the most exciting opportunities because we’re always looking for something more?

My instinct is this, if we were to focus a little bit more on developing and growing the people who already work beside us, if we were to be more ambitious about our colleague’s potential, then we’d discover more success than failure.

I would struggle to think of any individual who (when they were being balanced and thoughtful) didn’t think they had more to give, more to offer, more to contribute. And yet the amount of time we spend focusing on helping them to deliver on this, is marginal at best.

Sometimes, we overlook the opportunities that we have right before us. If we’re serious about talent management, we’d start at the closer point to home.

Give better interview

Let me start this piece with a giant caveat – I know I’m not the world’s best interviewer. I get bored, I have a tendency to wander in to areas that interest me and I want to explore and I have (on the very odd occasions) been known to be judgemental – don’t wear Christmas socks to an interview with me in March.

Whilst I’m willing to accept my own foibles are far from ideal, I’m also constantly surprised by the approach taken to interviewing by HR professionals and business leaders alike. Let me put it another way…

If you were making any other £50,000 investment decision, would you turn up to the investment meeting five minutes late, not having read the investment proposals and make a decision based on a variety of criteria and questions that have little if anything to do with the required product or service?

Ultimately each piece of recruitment, each interview is exactly that – a piece of procurement. And as such there are simple steps we can take to make sure we increase our chances of a better outcome.

  • Looking far and wide for the best providers (recruits)
  • Carry out good research and due diligence on the shortlist (application process)
  • Assessing against relevant and comparable criteria (interview questions)
  • Selecting based on moderated assessments (marking and rating of interviewers)

Too often we approach the interview process through the lens of employment law and regulatory requirements. And whilst this is a necessary consideration it shouldn’t be our ultimate focus.

Best practice is about best outcome and delivering real commercial value, perhaps more than anything else.

The missed opportunity in resourcing

Recruitment and resourcing fascinates and perturbs me in equal measure. Of all the areas of the HR lifecycle it is the one that tends to have the highest volume of opinions per capita and the lowest proportion of data. Which is peculiar, because it probably contains the richest opportunity of all to really hone the science of Human Resource Management.

At the recent TREC conference I was talking to Matthew Syed the author of Bounce and Black Box Thinking. He made a point which I found compelling and scarily obvious at the same time.

Consider a key hire:

We go through our recruitment process, we measure our KPIs, we long list, short list, assess and finally appoint. Three month later, six months later, the manager is happy with the hire.

That’s good right? We’ve made a brilliant appointment?

But compared to what?

What about the person you didn’t appoint? Surely that is the best comparator? Where are they now, what are they doing and how will their career progress? Do you measure the lost opportunity and what is the vested interest in measuring the “successful” candidate, successfully?

I also see this closed mindset in relation to technology, candidate experience, candidate management and pretty much every single aspect of resourcing. We are quick to make opinions, quick to justify opinions and slow to challenge our own preconceptions about successful or unsuccessful interventions.

I witnessed a debate on Facebook about using interview on demand technology (video interviewing). Left and right there were opinions being launched, most of them damning. The thing that struck me was that no-one there was offering any experience or data about usage, just their own opinions. Which is fine, but in a world where we are trying to show the relevance of our profession, shouldn’t we do better than, “I think”?

Measurement and data in the field of HR is notoriously difficult, we are awash with the bad and the dodgy. That will only change if we are willing to be open minded, curious and willing to challenge ourselves and our own preconceptions – nowhere more than in the field of recruitment and resourcing.

In order to get better, we need to listen and learn as much as show and tell. That requires a specific mindset and approach – one that we need to be checking for when we hire people to recruit in our name.