David Reyero – Aedipe Cataluña – May 2013
In recent years I have attended several important forums on management talent and my conclusions thereupon have urged me to write the following lines.
In the meetings in question, as a result of the impact of the economic crisis, I perceived significant frustration as to the real possibilities of promoting powerful development policies in HR professionals belonging to a wide range of companies and business sectors.
An unfavourable environment for development
It is true that, for various solid reasons, this is not the best time to achieve internal support or special budgets to promote development policies:
a) great demand for short-term result, since, in many cases, even the medium-term survival of companies is at risk.
b) significant cuts in personnel and, in general, the prospect of scarce growth in employment and, consequently, in the creation of new vacancies.
c) uncertainty, making it very difficult to predict future business and to define medium-term strategies, both in a general context and in the framework of people management.
d) “triple-change”context, deriving from three simultaneous situations of “crisis or catharsis”: global and, in many cases, also sectoral and internal in all companies.
e) lower voluntary turnover and less attractive job opportunities in the market, which may lead us to the conclusion that the “talent war ” is indeed no longer a current issue.
f) powerful talent management is always a very sensitive matter in the context of internal communication and may demotivate the entire team of employees as they may feel they are not included in the ‘high potential’ group.
g) in most companies there is insufficient involvement of middle-managers in people management, as it tends to be regarded as a matter to be dealt with by the HR department or, at best, the Management Committee or the General Management team.
The present article has three main objectives: to share a holistic and very practical definition of talent, to contribute some specific ideas to professional development (which, in my view, tends to be insufficiently valued in companies) and to convey a degree of optimism as to the validity and importance of strategic talent management. I therefore believe that we should not be demoralized by the current economic situation as, if we are realistic, talent management is still a pending issue in many organizations.
We all have talent and some people have “accelerated talent”
To begin with, I think we should differentiate between the concepts of “talent” and “high potential or accelerated talent”. I also believe think that all professionals have talent: special and specific skills that we must help to bring to the fore through a clearly committed development culture. Such talent, however, may not always be “accelerated” (with a good and swift adaptation to new work positions, whether horizontal or vertical) or in line with particular cultures and strategies.
I define talent as a sum of five elements: capabilities, commitment, learning agility, aspiration and values, which, in the case of any given employee, will be combined in a personalized manner. We thus anticipate that it is a multi-faceted and complex question involving a certain degree of subjectivity, as is inherent in any matter relating to people.
In my experience, in the identification of high potential we must perform three types of analysis: the first to identify good capabilities and commitment to the company; the second to detect whether the employee has real aspirations to grow and “complicate his or her life” in new horizontal or vertical posts and whether he or she has the necessary agility to learn, and especially “unlearn”, with a view to successfully handling new and different positions outside their comfort zones. And, finally, the third level involves values and leadership quality, a fundamental factor which is often forgotten in many companies.
The following questions could be the key to assessing the values of candidates for positions of top responsibility: What level of alignment does the candidate have with corporate values? How does he or she handle power? Is he or she really a “team player”? Is the candidate in question an agent of change? Does his or her leadership style reflect the values that we aim to convey in the future?
Principles and actions for effective talent management
In the current context, it is convenient to identify principles and actions that will allow us to achieve “more with less” and to satisfactorily combine professional challenge and support of the career development of each employee. The following list includes some of the practices I have used in my experience and others that are being successfully applied by leading companies which are not just focused on plans for high-potential employees.
Conclusions: talent management as an accelerator of business results
We are aware that this difficult and long-lasting crisis clearly hampers medium-term strategic talent management. As a natural consequence of this, in the past five years I have heard all kinds of failure stories.
But I have also come across many cases of successful companies that have continued to grow in terms of sales, profits and staff commitment, regardless of their size or specialised sector. All of them have at least three strong points in common: austerity and cost control based on common-sense criteria, continuous innovation and a clear commitment by Senior Management to people and talent management, thus creating a culture of happiness at work and professional development.
And here is a final thought on the obvious link between talent and results. My own professional experience has taught me four principles that are unfortunately still not generally accepted:
a) the competitiveness of any business in the medium term is mainly due to the quality, alignment and commitment of its staff members and to the policies by which they are managed. Other factors that are also important (e.g. financial resources, product or service quality,…) are considered to be much more easily copyable competitive strengths.
b) it is precisely in times of crisis when we should continue investing in people (selectively and in terms of the company’s specific resources and strategies) as, thus so doing, we will overcome the current situation both sooner and more successfully.
c) implementing an organizational development culture is a clear indicator of professional commitment and business success for two reasons: it will increase staff productivity and reduce the risk of voluntary rotation (especially in terms of our most valuable employees).
d) a company with a clear development-culture policy should go beyond catering for just high-potential staff (usually well under 10% of personnel), promoting general self-development, internal mobility and workplace development.
We should, therefore, have the courage to fully approach and embrace the business at hand and implement the strategy we really need in each and every company so that our staff members will give their utmost, overcoming the limits of short-termism and striking the balance between realism and courage.