How Talent Management can keep up with the Changing Landscape

Talent management has not delivered the value that has been expected of the function. Yes, while there are cases where, in isolation, some good work has been done; those cases are the exceptions that prove the rule. By and large, the development of the talent management function has been more of a semantic shift from human resources management, in the same way human resources became more semantic in its shift from personnel management.

Before you get too angry with me for saying so, I have my professional roots in human resource management with PriceWaterhouseCoopers where I began my career in the early 1990’s, (I was with Coopers & Lybrand prior to the PwC merger,) so I am not here to criticize. I got in to the profession like so many of you did–because I was interested in how to improve the elements of organizational performance through people. At that time, we bristled when someone called us personnel, because we believed we were so much more than that.  The Personnel to HR shift, of course, was created in order to provide the kind of support organizational transformation and change efforts require. HR was to be something different. But with exception to the rare cases of success, for the most part it wasn’t all that dramatic a shift. Because of that, we now transition to talent management, which is quickly falling into the same trap that HR did.

So before I go much further it should be noted that of all the functions in business, talent management could be the most valuable of the next decade. I say this with confidence because I have worked with some of the best Human Resource and Talent Management professionals in the business and have seen first hand the impact they can have. Done well, Talent Management can create incredible value, but in order to do that, some things need to change, though.

Stop clamoring for a seat at the table and take it. The only way to do this is to get serious about the business of the organization and to understand the drivers of growth and profitability of the business you are in. HR and TM professionals are notorious for their lack of knowledge of the actual business so you may have to work double time to prove your competence in this arena. Further, TM needs to stop acting as an appendage of the organization by talking about how it needs to integrate or to earn a seat at the table. Simply do the work to be integrated and stop drawing attention to the lack. You never hear finance, manufacturing, or service talk that way. And for goodness sake, get rid of titles that include “business partner” Or “internal consultant.” Do you ever hear that with other critical functions in an enterprise? No. Why? They are critical by dint of their expertise and contribution. TM needs to do the same, and you will know this has happened when you see executives in HR and TM moving into other leadership positions in organizations, including general management.

Operate with speed and alacrity and perfect as you go. Few things are ever perfect and as the old saying goes, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Too many talent management groups are, as I write this, immersed in detailed needs analyses to prove a variety of relatively simple hypothesis, (e.g. we need to improve sales capability, we need to improve retention and engagement, we need better leaders, or we need leaders to do more of [insert your favorite leadership competency here.] Without engaging in too much analyses, surveying, and identification of needs, use your knowledge of the business to identify opportunities for improvement and design interventions that are created to address those performance issues. Do it with rapid prototyping, evaluate your results, and make changes for the next round. I am sure your R&D and product development teams don’t ever achieve the perfect product; so stop looking for the ideal training program, the complete recruiting process, or the perfect session design.

Last year I met with the division leader of a financial services firm going through a major transition. At her request, I also met with the Director of TM who told me that the next 18-24 would be focused on developing a plan and assessing needs for the future. Nearly two years to create a plan and assess needs? The business leader expressed a sense of urgency in getting results while TM spends then next year and a half or so getting a plan in place. (When I shared the TM Director’s time frame with the division leader she was aghast at the chasm of difference in priority and speed.) Focus on success and the achievement of your outcomes and you’ll go a long way to quickly having an impact on the business. Sustainable quick wins, and good short-term performance will trump the possibility of something great well into the future. And of course, the faster you get results, the quicker your stock will rise, enabling you to take that seat at the table.

Create metrics for success and demonstrable value that is tied to business success. Better yet, create metrics that are the results of business success. Most organizations have a scorecard (balanced or otherwise) on a routine basis that measures key objectives and performance indicators for the business. Make sure your objectives are tied tightly to those same performance indicators and be sure you are not measuring “stuff” because you need to add something to the scorecard from TM. Employee retention, employee turnover, and staff engagement are good measures, while metrics like number of training sessions conducted, orientation sessions held, and performance appraisals delivered are not. You want to make sure you are measuring business outcomes that you take responsibility for. In the same way that sales has a quota and manufacturing has production standards, you to, have accountability for critical measures of success.

Adopt a results focused mindset. Process is important, and procedures and guidelines keep an organization from falling into anarchy. They are necessary, but not sufficient if you are going to create value for your organization. Kind of like getting dressed appropriately for work, you have to do it, but it isn’t enough to be successful. Similarly, TM professionals need to focus on outcomes and results. Too often, HR and TM are put in the position of administering a process instead of actively contributing to the value or the results of that process. The performance appraisal process in most companies is a good example of this, where most TM pros are simply coordinating the process instead of actively contributing insights based on actual observed performance. With development programs, TM pros are too often concerned with the details of intricate instructional design or instead of looking at the intended performance outcomes and determining what the outcomes of the program are. By focusing on the outcomes, or as one of my clients puts it, the “end-game,” TM leaders can focus on a given initiatives contribution to achieving results. Did the performance appraisal process produce demonstrable value for the organization? Did the development intervention make a difference in the results people produced? It is about output not input.

Integration with the line is how an organization works. I still haven’t quite figured out why some people think that a centralized function is required for recruiting, learning and development, and change management. The fact of the matter is that organizations are well served having skilled people close to the issues and the only way to do that is to have TM professionals working hand in glove with the leaders of the organization they serve. The transactional elements of HR and TM have been appropriately outsourced to those who can perform those tasks more effectively and efficiently. The transformational elements of these functions only seem to work when they are embedded in the line where they can be nimble and quick acting in their efforts to create value. Not done by an intermediary. Organizations don’t need a separate hierarchy on their org chart, they need expertise resident in the business units.

I have done my best to treat this sensitive issue with the candor it deserves. The fact remains that if Talent Management is going to move from a low spot on the totem pole, it has to create value quickly. That can’t happen on the current trajectory. The change in value creation won’t come in changing the placards from HR to TM. It will have to be a fundamental shift in the way TM pros conduct themselves. Right now, too many TM pros are in a support position when they could be integral to the business. After all, it is the people in an organization that bring the company strategy to life, and it is senior executives that are responsible for making that happen.

Develop Leadership Strengths By Building Around Them

It has become vogue in talent management to focus on strengths as a means to developing leadership skills. This is hardly a new idea since Peter Drucker was talking about this over 40 years ago when he wrote in The Effective Executive, that “Unless an executive looks for strength and works at making strength productive, he will only get the impact of what a man cannot do, of his lacks, his weaknesses, his impediments to performance and effectiveness. To staff from what there is not and to focus on weakness is wasteful – a misuse, if not abuse, of the human resource.”  This idea became popular again in 2001 when Gallup introduced the book Now Discover Your Strengths.

The question lingered though, once you have discovered your strengths how do you go about developing them further. Clearly, finding out about ones natural talents and abilities is powerful, but after you have done that, how do you take them to the proverbial “next level.” What do you do? The answer is to build around that strength with complementary skills. Here are four insights that will help you to do this.

1.  You don’t build strength in the same way you fix weakness.Improving weakness is a straightforward activity. Say, for instance, you want to get better at your average capacity to focus on results. That may entail getting clear on outcomes of projects you are working on versus just understanding the process steps. It could include setting goals, beefing up your work ethic, following through on commitments, and seeing assignments through to completion. If you are already strong in your focus on results though, these developmental actions are not likely to do anything more for you. It is probably more of the same of what you are already doing and you need a different approach.

2.  Use interaction effect to your advantage. Leadership abilities cluster around and reinforce one another.  They don’t operate in isolation. That’s, in part, why very effective leaders frequently have a number of complementary skill sets working together to make them great.  In the same way that diet and exercise work together to help you get in shape, leadership characteristics play off each other too. They interact with each other and produce an impact that is greater than the sum of the parts. For example, many leaders who are recognized as talented innovators excel in the areas of building trust and change management. These behaviors don’t necessarily cause the leader to be more creative or pioneering, but they do support what it takes to create a culture where innovation thrives. That helps them to be more inventive and come up with groundbreaking ideas. In the Harvard Business Review article that I coauthored in 2011, “Making Yourself Indispensable,” we found that most leadership characteristics have between 8-12 complementary behaviors that serve as a sort of building block for a given area of strength. By using complementary behaviors to advance your skills, you can dramatically improve your leadership capabilities. And so, you build around your strengths.

3.  Follow your passion. In order to successfully develop your strengths you need to ignite your interests. When I work with senior leaders, one of the questions I always ask is “What are you most interested in improving?” The reason for this, is that when it comes time to integrate their leadership development plan into their work, it better not feel like drudgery or it won’t happen. (Or if it does happen, it will in some perfunctory way.) Done well, this kind of development becomes meshed into the day-to-day work of the leader, so that it changes the overall texture of their leadership effectiveness. Not just something they do at 4:45 on Friday afternoon to check the box on some plan they aren’t truly committed to. This only happens when you are excited about what you are working on. Think about it, when was the last time you gave 100% effort to something you truly didn’t feel like doing?

4.  You won’t overdo it. I’ve heard people say that our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness, but I don’t agree. How could strength of character, or being incredibly inspiring and motivating to others be a weakness of a leader? My guess is that when people say this, what they are observing is a lack of complementary skills. Like a leader who is great with building relationships, but becomes one-dimensional and relies exclusively on those relationships to produce results. It’s not enough to get the job done. I suspect that what you are really seeing, is not that they are “too good” at developing relationships, but that they lack a results focus or a strategic orientation. Add those skills and the leader balances out their strength. Like adding diet to exercise, it increases the likelihood of success.

There are of course times when we need to work on weaknesses, particularly if a deficiency is getting in the way of reasonable performance. My experience has been, however, that most of the time, leaders thrive when they develop their strengths. And the best way to do that is to build around them.

How To Convince Your Boss To Let You Work From Home

From my interview with Business Insider, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously banned working from home in February of this year.

That’s because she believes the best ideas happen when workers are face to face and have the ability to collaborate with each other.

But it turns out that remote workers are actually more engaged, Edinger Consulting Group founder Scott Edinger wrote on the Harvard Business Review.

Business Insider caught up with Edinger to learn a bit more about the pros and cons of working from home.

“One doesn’t have to be in an office environment in order to be highly engaged,” Edinger tells Business Insider. “It’s been proven that people outside the office are even more engaged.”

The number one rule for all of this is not to argue with success, Edinger says.

“There is no royal road,” he says. “Which is why I think at Yahoo, they have made a mistake by focusing on the ‘no remote work arrangements rule,’ instead of focusing on results and outcomes like engagement and productivity.”

Evaluate your work ethic and determine if working from home is right for you

Working from home isn’t necessarily for everyone. Some people are really great at self-motivation, while others may need to be in more of a traditional work environment in order to get in the work mood.

“If you’re working from home, the real danger is the distraction of everyday life,” Edinger says. “All the things that you could be doing are right there. Whereas in the office, maybe you’ll make some personal calls, but for the most part, you’re disciplined by work because you’re surrounded by them.”

That’s not to say that working in the office is free of distraction, Edinger says. But ultimately, you need to be a self-starter and someone who can effectively communicate with your teammates even if you don’t see them face to face.

Convey to your boss that working remotely would produce better results

Now that you’re sure working from home would be a more productive solution for you, it’s time to convey that to your boss. The focal point of any conversation with your boss needs to be around output over input, and results over actions.

A common misconception is that you’re hired to take action, Edinger says. But in reality, you’re hired to get results.

“Actions and methods are just a means to an end to get those results,” Edinger says. “Whether it takes me 10 or 12 hours isn’t of concern. It’s the results produced that are needed for my job.”

That means as an employee, you need to show your boss how you will actually complete more tasks or projects, achieve better results, and make more progress on significant projects.

“If people are more productive working in that environment on their own, and are better able to produce results, then that’s what’s in it for the organization,” Edinger says.

But again, working from home isn’t for everyone. You need some level of self-motivation to be able to productively work from home, Edinger says.

Staying productive while working from home

Now that you’ve convinced your boss to let you work from home, here’s how to make sure your privileges don’t get quickly revoked.

It’s important to set aside an area for only work, Edinger says. If you’re working in your living room, the chances for distraction are plentiful.

You have the TV and refrigerator beckoning, and you see all your personal errands right in front of you. There’s no escaping them and it can be tempting to take care of that business when you should be working.

“I know a lot of very successful individuals who work in a one bedroom apartment but have an area set aside for work,” Edinger says. “That’s the number one factor.”

Other important factors are to be mindful of your calendar, and block off time to accomplish certain tasks. You also want to tackle the toughest things earlier in the day. The same goes for an office, Edinger says, but it’s even more important to keep that in mind when working from home.

Leadership Behaviors to Avoid

Getting teams right means determining how much of a team it is

One of the presenting issues I encounter as an expert in organizational performance is the need for improved teamwork. That need may be for a sales team, a management group, or even the executives of an organization. Frequently, this need is, as I stated, just the presenting issue, and there are a lot of matters beneath the surface that need to be dealt with before we get to actually begin working on team effectiveness.

There are four conditions that I frequently come across:

The team is actually not a team, but rather, a committee. There is no value judgment here—both teams and committees are useful for different purposes. It’s just that they have operating principles and ought to be treated as such. The key to determining whether or not you have a team or a committee is the degree to which they all win or lose together.

When I work with organizations that want to improve teamwork, I try to get a clear understanding of the team structure. In most instances, what I find is that there is not actually a team in place. Instead what I see is a collection of professionals that have been put together, often loosely, to accomplish a goal or set of goals; the group may be cross functional in nature or they may be from the same discipline; they may be together for a single purpose and then disband or they may work together with no end in sight.

Regardless of the make up, the first step is to get clear on whether you have a team or a committee.

They confuse shared destiny with shared destination. One of the principal differences in the team and committee is the notion of shared destiny and shared destination.

Shared destiny allows for a common goal in which each person in the group does their part as an individual contributor to achieve that goal. One person may do a terrific job and another, a lousy job, but the goal may still be reached. Many sales “teams” are a good example of this where one person can over-achieve their quota and another fails to reach their quota and the overall target is still achieved. That really isn’t a team. It is kind of like celebrating individual statistics in a sport where winning is all that matters.

That doesn’t happen on a shared destiny team, where it requires everyone to do their part in order for the team to succeed. An R&D team on the other hand may exist in an environment where it needs everyone to succeed in doing their job, as the nature of their work is dependent on others. There is great power in shared destiny teams but they need to have interdependent goals on which to operate.

They fail to differentiate means and ends. Too often, however, leaders undertake the task of developing teams for the sake of doing so.

Teamwork is a means to an end, most often the achievement of some kind of result that would not be attainable without the combination of everyone doing his or her part. That end may be greater productivity, more profit, increased speed to market, or any other business outcome aided by teamwork.

One of my clients is a Fortune 100 financial institution and I was in a meeting where the CEO reminded a group of senior executives that they needed to work as a team to capture the profit dollars that were falling through the cracks of the organization’s (self constructed) silos. That required real teams that depended on one another in order to be successful with a clear result in mind. Teamwork is about results and good teams are laser focused on the right ones.

Operating principles and expectations are explicit, not tacit. When teams are successful they operate on a set of standards or a code that is clear to everyone on the team.

Teams get very focused on how they are going to operate, what acceptable performance looks like, and the expectations of each individual on the team. They are clear on roles and goals as well as how success is defined. This is a critical step in the team development process as it establishes the working culture for the team. On good teams, it is not left to chance.

There is a lot written about why teams fail, and I’d suggest to you that most of the teams that fail, aren’t really teams at all. Sometimes, that is the problem. Before you embark on forming a team, or if you are wondering why a team is not functioning, examine these conditions to see which are present and you may have your solution.

Leadership And The Periodic Table Of The Elements

Last May we added two new elements, Livermorium and Flerovium, to the periodic able after being first synthesized over a decade ago. Adding new elements to the periodic table is rare, not that we have discovered all there is to discover (certainly we will add more in time,) but because the table represents the constants, or all those known in the universe. So it is already quite comprehensive. And while there are alternative representations and grouping methods of the periodic table, for the most part it is laid out in the same way. I am not a physicist, but I would point out similarly, that we do the same thing with leadership competencies.

The ongoing study of leadership occasionally yields a new discovery and there are experts in the field that contribute greatly to that effort. However, too many organizations, in trying to take on leadership improvement more resemble an exercise in renaming the elements of the periodic table, than making new discoveries. For instance, I worked with an organization a few years ago in an effort to design a competency model for the business, and prior to engaging with them, they had spent hours, no—days, going back and forth over whether or not the competency listed in their model was going to be Character, Integrity, or Honesty.

Honesty (I’m not kidding.) They were talking about the very same things related to trustworthiness but were very hung up on the labels.

My counsel: Stop getting caught up in the minutia of renaming or relabeling competencies and focus instead on capturing the essence of the most desired behaviors for leaders.

Having worked with dozens of organizations to develop custom competency models, and reviewing the data on tens of thousands of assessments, the following are the constants that I see in what amounts to the core of the leadership periodic table—kind of like the eight elements that make up 98% of the earths mass. 

  •  Character. Like I said above, call it what you want, integrity, honesty, being an exemplar of behavior, but it is oxygen for leaders because its absence undermines any effort to lead.
  • Inspiring/Motivating. In the book I coauthored, The Inspiring Leader, in a study of 20,000 this was the one thing that subordinates wanted most from them. To be inspired.
  • Results Orientation. Leadership is a means to an end, in that, without an objective of some kind, it is not critical. Leaders need to be mindful of those objectives and stay focused on them.
  • Communication Skills. When I’ve conducted interviews or reviewed the written comments on thousands of 360 degree feedback evaluations the most common issue I see highlighted for improvement is communication. Who does it too well or too often?
  • Professional and Functional Expertise. Leaders have to understand how to do the basics like solve problems, analyze issues, and demonstrate knowledge of the organization. This includes functional expertise in a discipline like finance, manufacturing, sales, and marketing.
  • Interpersonal Skills. No matter how strategic or how much of an expert a leader is, if you can’t relate to others it won’t matter. Leadership is largely a relational skill.
  • Leading Change. Not much leadership is required to maintain the status quo, but great leaders prepare their organizations to adapt to the future.

You could certainly debate groupings and subsets with the above list (and I suspect you will,) but there is little doubt about the criticality of each of these.

There are bound to be new discoveries of competencies that have a substantial impact and certainly there is more to learn. Additionally, there are some environments where competencies that are more specialized would be quite useful. For instance, Safety Leadership is likely unimportant in professional services firms or in a technology distribution company, but it was critical when I worked with an oil refinery.

Yet these represent the core of great leadership, albeit not the entire universe of leadership traits. As an aside, we could spend days coming up with leadership competencies, and none of them would be wrong. In my last firm we did a study of hundreds of leadership competencies and all were positively correlated to success at some level. No leadership competency is bad in and of itself. Further, most additional work on leadership behaviors either combines the components of these characteristics or to look at the minute particles that make them up. So take these leadership competencies and embed them in your models. Use them to develop great leaders. And where it is appropriate, feel free to add an element to your organizations periodic table.

Five Techniques to Grow Your Business

How Great Sales Leaders Coach

As I continue to write about what separates the excellent from the average sales leader, it didn’t take long to get to the topic of coaching. Because few people go to school to earn degrees in selling (there are hardly any Universities even offering a degree in selling,) sales talent is developed in the field, largely through formal development and coaching. Unfortunately, most training efforts fail to reach their objectives, in large part because of the absence of any kind of reinforcement or coaching. In fact, one of my former bosses whom I have quoted before, Neil Rackham, conducted a study that indicated that post training, if there was no coaching or reinforcement activity, there was a drop-off of 87% of the knowledge acquired. That’s a waste of 87 cents on every dollar spent on formal development efforts. So why then is it so difficult to do well?

The answer lies in the reality of the job of the sales manager. Most sales managers are placed in a position where, in the eyes of senior leadership, reporting numbers is their top priority (even when the top priority should be improving numbers or moreover, improving capability to achieve numbers.) They end up creating pivot tables, reports, and analysis, all to improve the accuracy of the to-be-reported-forecast. These exercises of examination and review create a false sense of security among sales managers and leaders because they are working under a false assumption. That is, that higher levels of inspection creates better results. Ironically, the opposite is true—just ask any sales professional or manager how much time they have spent rolling up forecast data what kind of difference it made in their ability to achieve an objective. I’ll save you the time; the answer is virtually none.

So if forecast and numbers management doesn’t quite do the trick, what will? The answer is focused talent development through one on one coaching with sales professionals with their managers. Sound time intensive? Difficult? One more thing to do? Yes, it is. But it does not need to be incrementally more difficult, time consuming, or onerous. Rather, done well, effective sales coaching replaces many of the counterproductive activities taken on by sales management. Here is how to do it.

Develop a clear line of sight between sales actions, sales goals, and business outcomes.  As much as I encourage leaders to always focus on the bigger picture, there is a time, and that time is during coaching, to focus on the practical, tactical elements of how you need to execute. Align the sales actions with the sales goals, because, try as we may to manage the outcome, we can only manage the actions and what our sales reps are doing. As a result, if you effectively manage the sales actions of your team, that should naturally lead you to the achievement of your sales goals the majority of the time, (provided they were the right activities.) Doing this time and again ultimately realizes the business outcomes.

Coach by asking, not telling. A startling number of sales managers have been promoted solely on the basis of being stellar representatives. Without management guidance these managers frequently think that coaching is all about telling team members what they need to do—and most of the time that consists of what they used to do. The best coaches work with their people to understand the current issues and jointly diagnose what is working and what is not as they develop an action plan to achieve sales objectives. They ask questions to help the seller frame the issues properly and provide constructive feedback regarding how to improve. There are many generic coaching models for this but they all seem to fall flat in the selling environment because they lack the specificity of driving toward sales behaviors that will make the greatest difference. Most coaching conversations are deal focused (rather than special time to coach and develop generically,) so it is all about the ability of the manager to weave in the development of the sales representative in a productive way. Effective guidance by the sales manager in this process is critical and that guidance comes from asking as much as telling. Particular if part of the goal

Trade half of the numbers review discussions for early stage pipeline review discussions. I know, it sounds radical. It is. But if you believe the premise that so many do, that sales leaders spend an inordinate amount of counterproductive time obsessing over the numbers than this should make a lot of sense. Consider how often you hear the questions “When is that deal going to close?” “When are we going to get the contract?” “When is that order coming in?” “What is the invoicing status?” Because most of that obsessing is about late stage deals that are close to closing, little can be done to influence them. By shifting half of the time on early stage deals, sales leaders are able to determine where optimal value can be created in the sales cycle and direct resources toward that value. There is nothing wrong with asking questions about late stage deals and understanding the forecast, but when that is the only focus, you miss the greatest opportunity in improving sales performance.

When it comes to sales coaching, there is no silver bullet. But intense focus and alignment coupled with the right kinds of conversations with representatives can make a dramatic difference in the output of your sales organization. Give it try.

Three C’s of Strategy Implementation

Customers Need More Than Products

The best salespeople see a sale as a consultation, not a transaction. They find ways to benefit the customer beyond what the product offers. Here are three ways you can be more valuable to your potential clients:

  • Help clients see issues they hadn’t considered. Don’t start by lecturing a customer about the problems you see in her business. Lead a conversation, prompt her to explore deeper issues, and then offer thoughtful diagnoses as the discussion progresses.
  • Point out opportunities they’ve missed. If you can identify them, help your customer see untapped possibilities – markets, technologies, trends – that will allow his business to grow.
  • Refer them elsewhere, when necessary. Not every client needs what you’re offering. When that happens, connect them with people who can help think through a complex issue or point them to another vendor who has what they need.