Monday, February 09, 2009

Random Thoughts on Talent Management

Take the quiz:

1. What do we mean by “talent management”?
  • a) The programs, policies and processes in place to support recruitment, retention, training and development, staffing, succession planning, etc.
  • b) The actual day-to-day management of talented people
2. What do we mean by “talented people”?
  • a) The so-called “best and brightest”
  • b) Anyone with interests and talents that can be put to contribution
3. If you answered a) to the previous question:
  • How do you know who “best and brightest” are?
  • How do you know you are not overlooking anyone who is actually talented?
4. Talent management should be done in the interest of who?
  • a) The organization
  • b) The employee
  • c) Both

My working definition of talent management goes something like this: “Getting the best from employees so that employees feel they are contributing their best.”

While the first half of the definition is straightforward enough, I feel the public service tends to fall short on the second half. Indeed, according to the 2005 Public Service Employee Survey, 96% of federal public servants are “Strongly committed to making difference in organization” (Question # 86). However, the overall employee engagement score for the public service is only 56,8% - a 40% gap!

(The methodology to determine your employee engagement score is explained here, but in short you just need to calculate the average of the percentage of employees who “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statements contained in the following ten questions of the 2005 PSES:
Q. 16 Encouraged to be innovative or take initiative in job
Q. 18 Have a say in decisions/action affecting work
Q. 27 Supervisor takes suggestions for improvement seriously
Q. 37 Satisfied with how informal complaints are resolved in work unit
Q. 44 Immediate supervisor does good job at helping develop career
Q. 46 Have opportunities for promotion within dept or agency, given qualifications
Q. 63 Department or agency works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment and discrimination
Q. 65 In work unit process of selecting person for position is fair
Q. 78 Sr. management does good job at sharing information
Q. 87 Overall, organization treats with respect)

I sometimes wonder if senior executives and managers are aware of this gap. A group 300 senior executives from a federal department were recently polled at a meeting: “Which leadership competency is strongest in the Department: 1) Values and Ethics, 2) Strategic Thinking, 3) Engagement of People, 4) Management Excellence”. 46% of the respondents answered “Engagement of People”. Yet, this department is in the bottom 20% in terms of employee engagement according to the Hill Times’ ranking of federal public service organizations...


I see a number of obstacles preventing the public service from doing better with regards to talent management.

At the organizational level:
  1. Predominance of program and policies over good people management.
  2. People management is often an afterthought, and takes a backseat to all other priorities.
  3. Doing what is easily measurable rather than what is important.
At the field level:
With the current economic context, I know many managers are thinking: “See, working for the public service isn’t so bad all of sudden, because we have a certain level of job security that the private sector doesn’t necessarily enjoy.” That might be true. It is also true that many public servants will content themselves with their current jobs, not making as much noise about poor people management practices as they would in less turbulent times.

But I have to ask managers and senior executives:

What type of organization do you want to be?
  • The one people cling to and feel lucky to be in when the economy is bad? Or,
  • The one people want to join when the competition for talent is at its peak?

Back to talent management and the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES).

The 2008 PSES presents a number of changes over the 2005 PSES. I counted 21 questions that were removed, and the addition of 16 new ones. Of those 16 questions, there are five to which I will pay extra attention when analyzing the results for my organization, as they have clear implications for talent management:
  • Q. 10 I know how my work contributes to the achievement of my department’s or agency’s goals
  • Q. 16 My job is a good fit with my skills
  • Q. 4. My job is a good fit with my interests
  • Q. 8 I get a sense of satisfaction from my work
  • Q. 9 Overall, I like my job
So what’s the connection with talent management?

My organization has made performance management a top priority given the number of new supervisors who were appointed over the past three years. One of the things we did was giving each supervisor a copy of the book “The Managerial Moment of Truth”. I love this book as it offers a very simple methodology to provide accurate feedback to employees. One of the most interesting chapters of the book however, is the one on “managing the mismatch” (Chapter 10). The authors argue that four elements need to be present in order to get the best performance from an employee:
  1. Alignment (with mission, values, strategy of the organization)
  2. Skill (to do the job)
  3. Interest (in the work)
  4. Attitude (whether disruptive or not)
I see a clear linkage between these elements and the 2008 PSES questions I listed above:
  • Alignment = Q. 10 I know how my work contributes to the achievement of my department’s or agency’s goals
  • Skill = Q. 16 My job is a good fit with my skills
  • Interest = Q. 4. My job is a good fit with my interests
  • Attitude = Q. 8 I get a sense of satisfaction from my work
  • Overall job match = Q. 9 Overall, I like my job
Now I agree, the correlation is imperfect and the data incomplete (for instance you may argue that Q 8 and 9 should be inverted, or that the attitude of an employee might be the result of some past history with his organization). But that is not the point. What is more important for the manager is to get a sense of what needs to be addressed (or leveraged) as far as talent management goes. For example:
  • You would normally expect “alignment” (Q. 10) to be high, but if it’s not, this is something you can easily fix as a manager through improved communications with staff.
  • If you think of talent management as the day-to-day management of talented people, you should do well on “skill” (Q. 16), but if that’s not the case, it’s never too late to take the time to sit down your employees and identify with their strengths are and how they can put them to better contribution.
  • Same thing goes for “interest” (Q. 4).
  • “Attitude” (Q. 8) and overall job match (Q. 9), are partly out of the control of managers, but they are also a consequence of the three factors above.
In all case, there are implications for talent management and you as a manager can have a significant influence on it.

Your thoughts?

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