Talent Management 360: An Evolving Approach to Talent Part 2


Today, we continue with our three part series dedicated to evolving approaches to talent management. This series stems from interviews with HR thought leaders in a year that has presented some of the most significant changes in workplace culture and norms that we have ever seen. 

Talent Management and Strategic Workforce Planning

The talent management challenges facing HR teams today come at an interesting time in the evolution of HR in general. At a time when CHROs are getting closer to holding a highly sought after seat at the executive table and HR teams are adapting to new technology at a faster rate, they’re also being asked to take on tasks around strategic workforce planning.

“Strategic Workforce Planning is a crucial department or skill necessary to succeed, but too often is either nonexistent or poorly executed in HR,” says Sebastien Girard, Senior Vice President of Workforce Engagement at Atrium Health. “One of the obstacles COVID-19 generated is the need to balance immediate actions and shift to long-term strategic planning. To address a crisis efficiently, enterprises or HR departments will, for all the right reasons, be very short-term focused. Talent Management needs to make sure to do so without losing sight of and hurting the long-term strategy.”

The view has to remain long-term due to the length of time that it will take to recover from the pandemic. As a report from Deloitte highlights, COVID-19 won’t end on a specific date and multiple waves of outbreaks will occur before a vaccine is released. When it is, it will take time administer it broadly. The result, is a gradual transition from what the report calls the “respond” phase to the “recover” phase across industries and specific businesses depending on a variety of factors.

WATCH: Strategic Workforce Planning: Upcoming Market Trends and Disruption in HR

That recovery phase has to be adaptive and take into consideration different outcomes from the pandemic as well potential risks for employers. While talent acquisition faces its own challenges, talent management should focus on not only developing people to meet business needs, but being able to adapt if asked to step into a leadership position.

“I think an increased emphasis on succession planning is in many cases long overdue,” Jenny Hill, Talent Development Leader at Sun Life Financial said. “It’s important to identify and develop the talent you will need to take on critical roles in the future, and to let them know they’re a part of that strategy. It helps to demonstrate a commitment to longer-term sustainability and makes it that much easier to move forward and manage transitions when new challenges arise. For those just starting out, I would recommend they think big, start small, scale fast and clarify the vision for implementing workforce assessment and succession planning. Then, identify quick wins that you can integrate into existing processes to get quick feedback and improve. When you have a solid process that works well, scale it across the larger group.”  

Talent management practices can evolve in a variety of ways, whether that’s taking on more gig workers, expanding the talent pool to take advantage of remote work opportunities or untying people from specific roles and letting them do what they’re good at. A report from Gartner notes that 40% of employees say they frequently complete tasks outside of their job description. This points to roles not fitting neatly into modern workflows and suggests that perhaps the development of skill clusters is a more effective way to approach how the organization thinks about talent.

For those in industries such as healthcare and hospitality where the future is either clouded by risk to the business or significant strain on the workforce, that flexibility is going to be a requirement. It’s the type of environment that breeds what some managers through the years have come to know as “VUCA,” short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Each of these types of challenges requires a different type of response, but each can be mitigated with effective workforce planning.

“Indeed, we are living in a hyper-VUCA world, making talent planning difficult, but not impossible,” Huffaker said. “I think in terms of how I might ‘de-risk’ a talent strategy. What are the top 2-3 probable scenarios? What obstacles can and will emerge and what counter-measures can we launch? How can we spread continuity risk across a talent pool, rather than solely betting success on one person? How can we take an agile approach to planning, rather than a once-a-year talent plan? What signals and analytics can I detect to know if the talent strategy is veering off course and a course correction is required? My point is that a static plan, filed in a binder, put away on a shelf isn’t going to cut it.”

The Employee Experience

The famous writer and poet Maya Angelou once said: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Those words hold true today when we think about employees, how they view the organization and how engaged they are with their work.

In looking at something like employee engagement, it’s not hard to see why in 2020 more organizations started to shift to an employee experience mindset. Indeed, the entire work experience has changed, from what is around the employee to how they communicate with colleagues and management. Behaviors and norms change as a result, but what many have come to find out is that those changes are not necessarily negative.

“This entire journey has been a forced change management exercise, greatly compressed and on steroids,” says Vishal Bhalla, Chief Experience Officer at Parkland Hospital. “Most teams have found what works for them. With remote teams, it is totally okay to see a child walk through the screen or a pet come up for a quick cuddle. This has opened each of us to see the other as a whole person and engage in a more human-to-human manner than position to position.”

READ: Talent Management 360: An Evolving Approach to Talent Part 1

That sense of humanity can help during direct interactions, such as a video call. With employee experience in mind, it is easy to pinpoint moments in which Talent Management teams can impact the work life of an employee. The goal should be to generate memorable experiences at a key moment in the lifecycle of the employee, whether that’s the first day of work, onboarding, a performance management meeting or a routine 1-to-1.

Employees identified as high potentials may be very active throughout their time with the organization in setting goals and taking on tasks that challenge them or fall outside their usual workflow. At the same time, those folks may be at greater risk of experiencing burnout or exhaustion, though it’s important to look for the signs of those conditions rather than falsely equating large workloads with burnout.

To engage and challenge high potentials during times of crisis while simultaneously ensuring they don’t overstretch themselves, Girard believes there are three principles that will prove to be effective:

  • Align desired results with a definition of what success looks like
  • Shift from productivity-based leadership to outcome-based performance management
  • For each additional project added on the shoulders of a high-potential employee, remove one.

As for those who fall outside the high potential category, this is a vital time in their growth as well. With the needs of the business shifting, employees will have to continue to evolve with it, regardless of their aspirations.

“Those who are not high-potentials are crucial to every organization and every leader needs to remember that progressing and promotions is only a motivation factor to a small subset of the employees. New challenges and learning opportunities, even if in a lateral move, are often a very engaging solution that is often overlooked.  As a Talent Management department or a leader, to keep engaged and progressing employees who are not high-potential, I would always ask myself what an employee can learn.”

In the end, improving experience drives retention, a key factor in the success of the organization and its people. Those who stick around for the long term are key to culture and culture spreads a positive employee experience across the organization. This is particularly important at a time when the skills on the talent market don’t necessarily match the organization’s needs and for every two baby boomers retiring, only one Gen Z employee enters the market.

“Under the current conditions, retention is the only way for any organization to maximize success,” Girard said. “With retention in mind, the number one cause of turnover in the U.S. is a lack of fit with the leader, with a close second being a misfit with the enterprise culture. Investing deeply into the employer-employee relationship is becoming the only way to win.”

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