75 Senior executives tell all……….on Talent Management

Sep 1, 2009 by William Schiemann

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!

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