Using a Talent Development Strategy to Build Bench Strength
“People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.” – Mary Kay Ash
It’s always a good idea to have a solid strategy for developing and retaining employees. And honestly, there has never been a better time to focus energies on building bench strength.
Often when organizations are reducing their workforce they also reduce their efforts on managing the workforce they have. A critical factor for organizational success is the employees who work there. In tumultuous times, the need to support and develop those who are staying with the organization can make the difference between success and, well, at the very least, a challenge to see results.
Our clients are coming to us with the following challenges:
- We don’t know how to get all the pieces to fit together – succession planning, career paths, development opportunities, etc.
- We don’t have enough resources to dedicate to talent management efforts
- We don’t have the funding resources to give employees what they want or need (pay increases, promotions, etc.)
Regardless of the position your organization is in, there IS something you can do to manage your talent, however big or small the effort may be.
The first thing you want to do is assess the tools you have for managing talent.
1. Do you have a talent management structure in place?
Take a look at your structural elements for managing talent. Do you have core competencies developed for each position? Are employees clear on what their performance expectations are within each role? Do you have a formal performance appraisal process in place and is it used consistently each year?
These elements are the building blocks to managing talent well. Having these pieces in place help keep everyone on the same page in terms of expectations and managing each other’s performance accordingly. They are also critical when it comes to succession planning or carving out career paths as they move the conversation to performance (what key factors are necessary for promotion or performance in a role), rather than loose conversations about who “could” do a certain job or why one doesn’t get a position he or she applies for.
These tools are a necessary foundation to be strategic about where you focus your energies.
2. Do you have development options available for employee growth?
When you have the structural elements of talent management in place it is easier to determine which development options the organization can utilize to support individual employees. Additionally it is easier to decide on which resources to outsource to assist with development efforts. Will the organization support a mentor program, leadership development programs, or simply provide a list of resources available for employees to obtain on their own?
Based on the competencies and skills that are necessary to perform a particular job, you can determine what skill training or other options will be helpful in developing those skills. For example, if a position requires the incumbent to have an ability to think strategically, having access to courses or activities to learn and practice this competency is an important way to build the person’s skills. Looking at the combination of the necessary competencies and the individual employees in the positions, it becomes possible to create a development strategy that will support the development needs of the individual as well as positively impact the organization’s performance.
Once you have your overall Talent Management Strategy in place, building bench strength becomes a natural part of daily performance management practices.
“Good management consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people.” – John D. Rockefeller
Building bench strength is about ensuring employees are ready for the next position. Although formal learning programs and other more robust efforts can support this effort, it can often be more basic concepts that get them there.
The best organizations find ways to engage employees in carving not only their own futures but also that of the organization. Given the lean circumstances of most organizations these days, there is little money for salary increases, performance bonuses, reward programs, or opportunities for promotion. It’s critical to be honest with your employees. When there is no money in the budget, let them know what to expect so they can best manage their expectations and their budgets. Engage them in problem solving – sometimes the best solutions come from those who can benefit the most from finding them.
Understand that if you are unable to promote or provide pay increases, employee morale can definitely suffer when they feel stuck or unsupported. Contrarily, even if you are able to offer monetary-‐based rewards, as the economy improves, many employees will entertain other job opportunities. It’s important to take steps to strategically manage positions that are critical, and invest in high performers. When you know what it will take for an employee to move into other positions, offer them opportunities to gain those skills as a way to keep them learning and building the skills they will need for that eventual promotion. Sometimes employees just want to move into a different group and gain a new experience. This is a great way to continue gaining new perspectives and insights without having to add headcount.
Line up your systems
The top three or four levels of every organization should have clear succession plans, so it’s clear which positions can fill a void. Additionally, career paths for the entire organization should be put into place to help manage performance as well as lateral and upward movement. When it’s clear which competencies, skills, and experience are necessary for each position, performance appraisals can be used for setting expectations and charting development plans to support employee’s continuous improvement within their role.
“My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds, too.” – Jack Welch
Taking an organized and strategic approach to managing talent doesn’t have to be difficult. Investing some time to put your strategy in place will save time in the long run. It makes performance conversations more routine and sends the message that you are committed to employees and oriented to organizational success. It also creates a greater likelihood that employees will stay for the long term because they are aware of their opportunities and know they will be supported in achieving them.