Ilana Meskin
Productivity through People

Stop Overlooking This Talent Pool – Part 2

In my previous blog entitled Stop Overlooking this Talent Pool, I urged you recognize that your internal workforce IS a true candidate pool, and made the case that without investment in learning, growth, and development, employees begin to feel that the organization is not investing in them which causes a cycle of employees looking outside for new opportunities instead of inside. As best written by my colleague and well-known career development guru, Beverly Kaye, with co-author Julie Winkle Giulioni, in their latest book Help them Grow, or Watch them Go, the first chapter is aptly titled:  “Develop Me or I’m History!”. I promised to follow up with additional talent strategies in order to significantly boost the potential for your current employees to fill open jobs.

Investing in employee development requires a strategic approach to people development, or cultivating a talent mindset. It can take many forms to name a few: skill building, training excellence, mentoring, coaching and delivering robust feedback, career conversations, development for all employees in addition to identification of those with the most potential who are targeted for differential investment. 

I firmly believe, and have witnessed and facilitated throughout my career, that experience is the richest form of employee development, oh and decades of research confirm this as well.   Think about it – can you think about a time in your career when you learned the most? I’m willing to bet it was on-the-job when given a new or challenging task or assignment.

 “Experience as development” works optimally with the right talent mindset.  As I wrote in my previous blog, there is no quick fix – transforming this mindset is long term and multi-pronged (but there are solutions – keep reading!).  

What do I mean by a talent mindset? It is defined by an organization in which the leadership has a deep conviction that competitive advantage comes not only from your science, technology, or service innovation, but from having and managing better talent than competitors.  If you’re lucky, this “talent mindset” emanates from the top leadership. While HR is a critical partner and facilitates processes, guides managers and provides training – leadership must demonstrate and act on the deep belief that talent is true competitive advantage

Even in organizations where this is not yet the case, don’t despair – a talent mindset can be cultivated.  Mindsets are easy to understand, but not so easy to operationalize. A concrete example of a talent mindset in action, for example, is in an organization which not only allows, but encourages sharing of talent across departments, i.e.: “I recognize my employee deserves to grow and advance – even if that means they will no longer report to me”.  If an employee explores a career conversation with someone else,  it is not considered “stealing”. If he or she applies for a job in another department, that is not being “disloyal”.  Then, and only then, can you succeed with posting jobs internally, when your internal transfer philosophy truly encourages exploration of internal opportunities.

While every organization requires an understanding of and customization to their unique culture, here are a few tangible approaches, to jump start your journey to a true talent mindset. These approaches work best in combination but can also stand alone.  Pick an approach and try it – even if you are not at all sure it is possible in your organization. Call it a pilot.  New ideas and initiatives are almost always uncertain – be a catalyst.  

Approach #1: Identify key influencers who can spark the talent mindset conversation using good analytics.  For those at organizations as yet unconvinced of this competitive advantage, work on ways to get your top leadership on board. One useful strategy is to spark the conversation with key analytics about your workforce. If you work in HR, this is an incredible opportunity to spark the discussion with the influencers. Do your homework to analyze the data about pain points in the talent cycle – from acquisition through retention.  If you’re not in HR – then work with them! Ask the questions – where are we feeling pain in attracting, developing, and retaining our best people?  Do we fully understand our turnover numbers? Do we know why people choose to leave? Do we know our build/buy ratio? (discussed in the previous post) Do we have survey data – i.e. do you know what your employees think about working at your company?  This data can be gold, but more about engagement surveys in a future blog post.    

Approach # 2: Make it truly “safe” for employees to explore, interview and ultimately move internally.   This must sound crazy in hyper growth start-ups when resources are scarce and rarely match demand… Of course it is seriously painful to “let them go”  but if you don’t, you risk ultimately losing them anyway – to another company. Several years ago I facilitated an employee engagement survey for a client, where numerous write-in comments were shared such as: “the transfer process is very cumbersome, it is easier to leave and get a job outside” and “I would like to be able to talk about what I can do next, I don’t want to do this for the next 10 years”.  This internal posting process was broken. Many companies post internally, but there’s no true commitment to share talent. If you have an internal posting and transfer process, but jobs don’t really get filled this way, drill down on this process to identify issues to initiate the conversation about talent from this perspective. And if you don’t have a process then start the conversation about establishing one.

Approach #3: Be the manager who delivers enriching experience within the scope of your employees’ current roles. This is typically entirely in your hands. You don’t have to gain broad organizational buy-in to deliver enriched development.  While internal mobility is arguably the most powerful strategy, it is not the only way employees learn from experience. Great managers understand that other forms of experience count. Here are several ideas: give an assignment requiring new skills, or dealing with important stakeholders; provide a key opportunity to present to senior leadership and gain exposure; give yourself a chance to delegate a crucial aspect of a deliverable; be more participatory by asking for input and ideas before decisions are made; allow your employee to be the buddy for a new employee, or train a more junior person.  This is what makes a great manager, the kind employees rarely choose to leave.

And one last pro tip: Remember to publicly recognize the early adopters of a talent mindset – these are the managers who get the ball rolling to invest in their teams, they are known for developing staff, either within their own departments, or even when it means they might “lose” them to another manager in your organization. These are your change agent champions – give them the credit they deserve and see how that public acknowledgment helps further cultivate the right organizational mindset.   

Full disclosure: these talent strategies are not new. In fact, these strategies were well documented two decades ago in the groundbreaking McKinsey study The War for Talent.  At the time I was privileged to work for one of the 27 leading case study companies as Director of Talent. In the frenzy of today’s talent market, these strategies are more relevant than ever.

When you address the imperative to develop your workforce, you will then have the greatest chance in this competitive market to distinguish yourself as an employer. The “War for Talent authors called this concept a “winning EVP” – a winning Employee Value Proposition – a uniquely attractive reputation as an employer who cultivates talent, and hires people for a career – not just a job. Employees are smart – they figure out pretty quickly whether or not they should look outside the company for development opportunities, or if there are true chances to grow inside.  Wouldn’t you prefer they learn, grow and develop inside your company?   

About the Author
Ilana Meskin has over 30 years of experience helping organizations become more effective through people management practices. She “grew up” in two Fortune 500 companies, with deep and diverse experience in Human Resources and Organizational Development. She left corporate life a decade ago when her daughter made aliyah, and founded her consulting practice. She shuttles between Los Angeles and Jerusalem to work and play - with her grandchildren!
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