Fitting the (talent) pieces

by HRD30 Nov 2016
Effective talent management can be likened to a jigsaw puzzle – multiple components must fit together seamlessly in order for it to work well

HR professionals would be familiar with the concept of engagement from ‘hire to retire’ – and indeed, savvy employers these days recognise that the employee life cycle extends beyond ‘retire’ and through to the alumni network. The repercussions of this concept for talent management are multifaceted and complicated.

All about people capability
Mark Chan, Cornerstone OnDemand’s Regional Sales Director, ASEAN and HK, views talent management as essentially being about harnessing people capability – and particularly how that capability is aligned to the needs of the business. He says Cornerstone OnDemand uses talent management to help clients align employees’ individual goals and needs with business objectives.

There are several key components that need to be considered for effective talent management.
  • Identifying and recruiting talent, followed by successful onboarding of that talent.
  • Learning and development. Building and developing the knowledge and competencies of employees.
  • Performance. Defining goals and measuring performance against those goals; building a performance-driven culture.
  • Succession. Identifying talent and then preparing that talent for key areas of need within the organisation, and ensuring that employees know about the career paths available to them within the organisation.
  • Compensation and benefits. Ensuring these are market competitive, fair, and transparently communicated.
While Chan says these are “disparate but interlinked” areas, there’s one area he believes lies at the heart of effective talent management: L&D. “We care passionately about L&D,” he says. “And employees care about how they develop themselves. As employers we must show employees that we have a strategy and program in place to develop them – as professionals, as leaders – to keep them engaged.”

L&D also plays a critical role in succession planning and creating career paths for employees, although with much flatter organisational structures today, this can be a challenge. “There are still career paths within a stream, whether we call that a ladder or not,” Chan says. “However, with these flatter structures we might see as much sideways movement as upwards movement.”

This is particularly important for millennials, who have the dubious honour of being branded as ‘job hoppers’ – something that Chan does not believe is true. “We actually see that young people will stay with the same employer but they will change roles within the organisation. They’re looking for new challenges, for different types of fulfilment within their careers. That’s why sideways movement is very important.”

How can employers enable that sideways movement and career mobility? Firstly, Chan suggests, there needs to be recognition within the organisation that job movement is a key part of talent management, and that’s got to come from the very top. Secondly, there must be a culture of transparency and visibility between departments, and between companies in larger organisations. Once these goals are achieved, more effective talent mapping can take place.

“Where organisations are truly adding value is when they create not just career paths but more dynamic career progression and career development. They do this by looking at the skills relating to each type of job, and the development activities associated with those roles. This comes back to empowering and engaging your employees through L&D,” says Chan.

Engagement and talent management
Another key aspect of successful talent management is ensuring that employees are engaged throughout their entire life cycle, as Chan explains: “We always hear from our clients and employees that this is one of the things employees care most about: Is what I do meaningful? Is what I do bigger than just a day-to-day job? Am I participating in and engaging with my organisation and having a positive impact on the broader community?”

Engaging employees throughout their career with a company has long been recognised by HR professionals as being critical, but today they have the metrics and empirical research to back up their hunches (see box).

Talent management processes are designed to focus on employee development, confirms Vikas Verma, Principal, Talent, Rewards and Performance at Aon Hewitt. However, no matter how sophisticated the training programs and career development processes are, the fundamental element is the relationship between manager and employee.

“Engagement gets affected due to an employee’s lack of visibility on his or her career path in the organisation,” Verma says. “This is why it’s not enough to just have performance conversations once a year. Managers have a responsibility to communicate all talent management processes clearly, and how it relates to the employee.”

Aon Best Employers coach their managers on how to have effective career conversations, and communicate a vision around how team members can transform their careers and grow in the organisation. “At Aon Hewitt, we call this ‘continuous listening’ – or gathering feedback and taking action across the entire employee life cycle, from pre-recruitment to exit,” Verma explains.

Aon Hewitt’s The Engaging Leader study also identifies five qualities of good managers, one of which is ‘Serve and Grow’. “This refers to a manager who believes in the wellbeing of his or her employees, and provides employees with the resources to be successful, not just in the team but in their entire professional journey,” Verma says. “Apart from processes, systems, and technology, this is the lynchpin of an effective talent management process.”

Disruptor 1: Big data
At the tail end of 2016, big data and keeping up with technology are the two disruptors in the talent management space – and all employers will need to keep up.

On big data, Chan says the number of transactions done and the data points touched on during all elements of the talent management process are “absolutely staggering”.

“You’re collecting a huge amount of valuable information, but the key is what you do with that data,” he says.

Cornerstone is working with clients to help ‘connect the dots’ and understand the patterns apparent in the data collected.

“We’re looking at areas like career progression and analysing the data to identify possible career paths. This can lead to innovations like predictive succession. How do we leverage that data in terms of helping drive our top performers and guiding them on a career path?”

Verma adds that rather than basing decisions on industry-wide studies, big data can help employers make real-time decisions based on specific analytics within the organisation. Verma cites a telco employer as an example: “Big data enables the telco to utilise findings from stores with high employee engagement and customer engagement scores, discover what they are doing differently and effectively, and apply these actions to stores that have lower scores. They can also identify high-performing managers and use them to revitalise stores that aren’t doing well.”

Disruptor 2: Technology
Technology has allowed people to be more social: they are forming networks online; they are collaborating and interacting more effectively than ever before. How will this ‘social aspect’ of talent management play out?

The biggest technology-related game changer, and not surprisingly the area Chan says employers struggle most with, is using social tools in the workplace.

“We fundamentally believe that when you deploy social tools in the workplace, it has to be within a certain context. We respectfully believe that should be around talent.”

The benefits of social tools for talent are manifold. Firstly, collaboration occurs. Communities are formed for individuals to share information, to share what personal and organisational goals they’ve accomplished. It’s also a great way to make information and knowledge searchable; it allows organisations to capture valuable information from leaders and thought leaders and then disseminate it to all employees. It also allows for open, transparent, and multidirectional communication. Another area is recognition: social tools provide opportunities for peers and managers to give kudos to others in ways that go above and beyond the official performance review.

Chan adds that how, where and when employees are working is changing. People work from home, on the go, outside of traditional office hours. Often this means these social tools become vital for employers to engage with these employees.
Aon Hewitt looks at the benefits of engagement from three perspectives: customer satisfaction, financial outcomes, and talent outcomes. Vikas Verma of Aon Hewitt explains:

“Higher employee engagement scores are strongly correlated to Net Promoter scores. The Net Promoter score measures the strength of word of mouth to determine the likelihood that an employee will recommend an employer to someone seeking a job. If we take the example of a telco operator, stores that have higher employee engagement also have higher customer satisfaction.

“At the same time, organisations with a higher engagement have greater return on shareholder value. Findings from the Aon Best Employers 2015 study show that Best Employers across Asia-Pacific have 24% higher engagement and 25% higher relative growth in sales, with 17% lower turnover.

“This leads us to the talent outcomes. Employees with higher engagement scores are less likely to leave, as shown in the Aon Best Employers 2015 study. Engaged employees also show greater satisfaction with leadership, with these organisations likely to do better during difficult times.”

Unified talent management
Chan talks with clients about the importance of unified talent management, because too often they approach each area of talent management from a siloed perspective: they have a learning platform, a performance platform, etc. “We all know these elements are tied together. Cornerstone approaches this through unified talent management,” he says. “We help clients look across all these discrete areas but then look at the interconnections and how these processes tie together.”
Social media is impacting on all facets of talent management. Two examples include:

L&D: While there will always be a place for traditional synchronous learning (whereby a group of employees are all engaged in learning at the same time), companies today are utilising the asynchronous nature of social learning – that is, their employees are learning the same material at different times and locations. However, this is impossible unless you embed that aspect of learning, creating groups and cohorts with common topics of learning. 

Performance management: “Cornerstone has seen a drive to companies using tools to facilitate ongoing feedback,” Mark Chan says. “These might be social performance tools, which can be collated and utilised in a more structured conversation, or perhaps tools like badging and providing different  types of recognition for employees that can then be tied back and considered in the ongoing performance discussion and the performance review.”

Cornerstone OnDemand (NASDAQ: CSOD) is pioneering cloud-based learning and talent management software to help organisations realise the potential of the modern workforce. Based in Santa Monica, California, the company’s solutions are used by more than 2,700 clients worldwide, spanning 26.3 million users across 191 countries and 42 languages. Visit

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