How To Activate Your Existing Employee Talent for Better Business Results

Top executives still see their utmost people priority as having “the right people in the right place, at the right time, doing their job well”.  In a Workforce.com article, “What the CEO wants from HR”, Eric Wiseman, CEO of VF Corporation (Lee, Nautica, The North Face and other lifestyle brands) confirms this focus on talent by saying:

“I need a strong financial lever, and that’s never been more important than it is now. I need brands that are winning against the competition. And I need talent. Money and brands don’t do me any good if I don’t have the talent.”

Even for the average business, a talent-ready internal team is fundamental to fulfilling business operations and ensuring employees are actively engaged and retained within the business.   A low cost way of knowing what your internal employee talent pool looks like is through “talent pipeline reviews”. These reviews will also decrease the reliance on external hiring and provide a target for meagre development budgets.

What is a Talent Pipeline review?

A Talent Pipeline review consists of the following sets of activities:

a)     A leadership group meets to discuss the performance and capability potential for each member of a defined employee or manager group within the organization.

b)     Action steps for in-job development, special assignments, mentoring or training are agreed upon. Following the meeting, development opportunities are discussed with team members and actively supported by their manager.

c)     Vacant positions or special project work are filled wherever possible by the “reviewed” employees to facilitate internal skills growth.

d)     Significant organizational skill gaps are resolved through targeted recruitment or training.

e)     Details of meeting discussions, development actions and progress are tracked and reviewed at a later meeting. The cycle is completed annually or semi-annually.

The value of the talent pipeline review approach is realized when the employee group is more robust with capabilities to take on new roles when required.  Two central parts of the talent review discussions are the coaching discussions (held with the employees after the “review meeting”) and their manager’s support to help them develop.  In addition to identifying succession candidates for roles, tracking of employee moves demonstrates business impact with the reduction of “time to fill vacant positions” and an increase in internally-filled jobs.

When is the right timing to initiate Talent Pipeline reviews?

A key question for many business leaders is: what is the right timing for this kind of assessment and planning program to truly add value to the organization?  Any time might be right within larger organizations (2000+) where more time and resources may exist to develop pools of potential leaders or critically-skilled candidates.  Within smaller organizations (< 100) it may be too early to think about development when most people are working portions of 2-3 jobs and doubling down to get work done.  Employee development in these smaller organizations often arises by “doing the job”.  However, as an organization grows beyond 100 people, so do its leadership numbers and streamlining of roles. Managers and employees need to be more sophisticated in operating across the organization and typically have less visibility to development opportunities and career paths.

The following is a list of questions to consider whether the timing is right to implement a Talent Pipeline review program for your organization:

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  • Do you expect and need to plan for significant staff growth over the next 12-36 months?
  • Are there formal succession plan requirements from the Board or regulators?
  • Are leaders frustrated with not having skilled candidates to fill roles with internal company knowledge?
  • Is there discontentment amongst employees about either too much external hiring or leaders’ lack of focus on career development?
  • Is your organization considering an enhanced investment in learning but needs a baseline assessment of the team’s capability gaps?
  • Is there a business product/service or strategic initiative being launched which will require new skills and a careful assessment of development needs for execution?

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Talent pipeline planning can be integrated into part of the annual business strategy cycle by providing “current state analysis” and/or provide a foundation for business cases for other people-program investments. Talent Pipeline reviews can also be tacked on to any existing team performance alignment discussion held by a leadership group.

Make Talent Pipeline reviews priority over other development investments

Recently, during the implementation of a new talent review program a leader turned to me to say… “this feels like another HR tracking process”.  Needless to say, the value became clearer to that leader after several semi-annual discussion cycles, employee development and job transfers.  His team members realized that leaders were now focusing on them by providing work development opportunities.  The employees were being challenged and started to see potential career paths for themselves.  The talent within the organization was activated and we were delivering better prepared leaders for vacant positions.

On average, most business leaders resist adding people processes whenever possible (particularly in young, growing businesses).  Human resources won’t often recommend talent pipeline reviews until after pushing for commitments to other learning programs. Perhaps it is time to re-think that prioritization. Talent pipeline reviews require less budget investment and can be more directly linked to strategy planning and execution.

A Talent Pipeline review is a highly actionable program. Leaders usually take direct development action after the review meetings without waiting for training budget.   More than 90% of the time, employee development actions identified are “in-job” work, mentoring or within-department projects or committees. Talent discussions help a leadership group to focus on “who needs what type of development” and come to an agreement on employee work assignments for quick action.

Most importantly, Talent Pipeline programs support and execute upon the organization’s overall business plan, as well as help the organization meet Board and regulatory requirements. They keep a leadership group actively focused on their peoples’ development for high employee engagement, reduce productivity loss from job vacancies and enhance overall productivity for business results.

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