22 Jun Agility is the next talent management imperative
Competent businesses are adept at hiring and firing workers. Great businesses however are skilled at developing and deploying talent in ways that continuously grow their experience, stretch their abilities and enable their achievements. Creating work environments that promote people agility across jobs and organizational boundaries is the next imperative for companies seeking competitive advantage through their talent.
It is surprising how few companies develop and move their talent around the organization. They know how to recruit stars, fire failures and replace leavers – but few seem to know how to provide one of the most important factors in retaining talent – opportunities to achieve, move and grow – within the company. Ever hire a star only to see them leave in frustration 9-18 months later because they felt stuck? Or experience shock when an outstanding performer leaves your company after 5 years because they were ‘too valuable’ in their current job to be allowed to move to a different position or department? So instead, they moved to a different company.
There are many organizational and cultural reasons why companies constrain talent. Performance obsessed managers are often reluctant to give up the people resources they feel are needed to achieve ever more challengingly goals and performance objectives. This short sighted behavior is reinforced by management and incentive systems that reward business results but not development of people.
HR and line managers often lack the tools and information to understand and manage the supply and demand of people and skills dynamically. Thus they are likely to be slow and reactive in responding to shifts in skill requirements and opportunities to grow new competencies. They may also be prone to rely on traditional hiring and firing processes as a means of matching skills demand and supply rather than more complex retraining and redeployment of existing resources.
Some leading edge companies however are beginning to tackle the talent agility challenge. For example, in “Cisco Systems: Developing a Human Capital Strategy”, California Management Review, Winter 2005, http://www.haas.berkeley.edu/News/cmr/contents.html, Jennifer Chatman, Charles O’Reilly and Victoria Chang describe how this Silicon Valley legend has refocused its approach to talent from external acquisition to internal development and deployment.
For years Cisco was the poster child for how to identify, attract and hire talent. But beneath the surface, it was buying talent through acquisition and keeping it through high-priced equity stakes distributed to employees. Not much talent management acumen was required. But when the company’s marketplace and stock price tanked, Cisco had to learn a different set of skills for attracting and keeping talent. It also realized that it needed to better utilize the talent it already had.
According to CEO John Chambers, “We made progress in developing employees, but in our industry, I want the majority of us not to be in the same job – or even the same function – three to five years from now. I want us to create an environment of continuous learning and challenge, that will allow us to move from one business unit to another in engineering, or from sales to customer advocacy, or from financial to IT.”
Companies like Cisco that compete in dynamic industries, where technologies, products and markets are in a continuous state of change must learn how to develop and redeploy their talent in an agile manner. The company recast its Pathfinder software application originally developed to support external recruiting and used it to create an internal job matching system. Pathfinder’s corresponding online database, I-Profiler, allows employees to voluntarily enter their resumes for consideration. The profiles capture employees’ work and educational experience, skills, and technical qualifications and detail their career aspirations for development discussions with their managers. Line managers have access to each of their employees’ profiles to assess existing skills on their teams.
But these moves represented only part of the solution. The company also chartered Cisco University to lead a company-wide cross-functional effort to create a ‘development culture’ within the organization. The university does not operate as a centralized place to go for learning, but as a set of distributed capabilities for everyone to tap across the organization. This learning and development capability is built upon the ‘3E Model’:
-Experience through assignments, on-the-job learning, and traditional learning
-Exposure developed through on-line learning, mentoring, shadowing, periodic forums and talent reviews
-Education through a series of customized and focused programs that include significant teaching and involvement of senior Cisco executives as well as outside faculty
The impetus for shifting Cisco’s talent management strategy came from the top of the organization. John Chambers asked in a company meeting prior to starting these initiatives, “How many people think we are good at moving resources (people) and retraining? (No hands were raised). It’s not even in our vocabulary. But we’ve got to get dramatically better at moving resources around the company. Our top leadership….I keep moving them around. We’ve got to learn how to retrain people effectively as a part of our culture, to keep up with the market transitions.” This is good advice for any company.
How good is your organization at moving and retraining staff to anticipate and respond to changes in your business? Not very good you say? If so, it’s time for a change. Because companies that find ways to grow and move their talent within their organizational boundaries will not only substantially reduce recruiting and termination costs but will better attract and keep top talent as well. Indeed, those companies that can master talent agility will have a leg up on their competition in both the quality of their people and their performance.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.