As research for my newly released book, Reinventing Talent Management, I interviewed 75 executives, both before and during the recession, with some fascinating insights:
• More firms than I expected, even in financial services, continued to fund and budget for leader development. The cynical view is that there is always money for the top of the house; the more benevolent view is that even during extremely tough times, senior executives see the value and need for leader development. Many execs were surprised to find out how thin their top talent ranks were when they asked some of their long tenured, high salaried people to hit the golf course a few years earlier than expected. Many of the interviewees mentioned a real knowledge chasm that ensued.
• Almost no firms reported a degradation of executive interest in employee Engagement. Most assumed, incorrectly by the way, that their Engagement scores were sure to drop (see earlier post “Is the Recession Killing Employee Engagement”) on why that hasn’t been the case).
• Many executives, after acknowledging what a tough time it was, spoke about future talent issues—about near term gaps such as losing intellectual capital as baby boomers retired, or post-recession challenges—talent shortages in one area or another; lack of trained leaders; weak positioning globally; and so forth.
• Regarding the current recessionary environment, most worried about tough talent decisions: managing labor costs–affording to keep talent and intellectual capital that took years to gain; recalibrating workforce mindset to new realities; getting more focused on the customer; and optimizing performance.
• And as I have now lived through five significant recessions, I have seen that there is always the challenge of communications. Do we share the bad news with employees? While more executives recognized the fruitless delusion of ‘hiding??? the negatives, their natural instincts as marketers and motivators is to ‘spin’ a lot of communication. We’ll talk about this and some of the above issues in more depth in upcoming postings on this blog.
• One noticeable difference in this recession is the interest of executives in measuring things: a far greater desire to measure customers regarding their perceived value of products and services; a wish to know what the workforce is feeling; and, a need to know how “my” function is doing. In my opinion, this has been a healthy change from the ‘head in the sand’ mode of recessions past.
I came away from these interviews with a stronger sense that executives managing through this recession cared more deeply or perhaps more expressively, about talent issues. The talent challenges of the prior five years most likely galvanized many to the inevitable talent challenges ahead…….
Are your leaders reacting this way? We would be interested in what you have observed uniquely or differently about talent management thinking and actions during this recession.
I welcome your thoughts, questions, and suggestions!
The following is the first in a series of posts??that will relate to key issues identified in??my new book Reinventing Talent Management, co-published by John Wiley and the Society of Human Resource Management. The ideas in that book, and in these posts are based on extensive research across thousands of firms, and over 70 senior executive interviews.
A Once in a Lifetime Experiment
When I began the interviews for Reinventing Talent Management, the global economy was robust with many cries of talent shortages, high turnover in A-demand jobs, and battles for the best talent. About half way through the research, the economy plummeted providing an unusual glimpse at how viewpoints change when the world is much gloomier. Some views of talent remained the same while others changed quickly. The perspective changed from a reactive—find a person to fill the slot—to a more reflective mode.??
In some ways in looking back on the interviews from the go-go period, organizations appeared to be less strategic, tactically running faster and faster on the talent treadmill.?? Many leaders described environments in which they were growing so fast that it was hard to catch up, all the while not really challenging the overall talent framework. In a fishing analogy, it was a “talent catch and release” environment because many organizations were losing talent as quickly out the back door as they were hauling it in the front. It was like fishing with huge nets hoping to find the remaining minnows.
As the economic sky was falling, viewpoints changed. While the recession has hurt many people, it may have helped organizations and their people in the long run. It required people to stop and ask fundamental questions around Value. When we don???t have a plethora of customers, we have to determine what they value most and deliver it better than anyone else. When we want talent that meets strategic objectives and stays, we need to identify it carefully and nurture and develop it better than other organizations.
Executive interviewed in the final phases of this work were asking more future oriented questions, perhaps some that you might identify with:
- What things are we doing that really add value to our external customers or internal stakeholders?
- What do we really want from our talent? People with the right values? Right competencies? Aligned with our vision and strategy?
- Are we really seeding, growing, and harvesting our talent effectively?
- Are we really recruiting talent that is not only competent, but also capable of becoming engaged and aligned with our vision and goals?
- Are we really acculturating new talent in a way that is likely to lead to long term engagement and loyalty?
- Are our training and development efforts really producing talent changes on the job?
- Do we lose top talent that we could have saved if we had the right early warning systems and process to address gaps?
A future Blog will address some of the key challenges in thinking about managing the overall talent lifecycle in new ways.
Your comments and ideas are most welcome