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How to Effectively Align Your Organization’s Talent Needs for the Future

By January 9, 2024February 6th, 2024No Comments

Finding and keeping good talent is a challenge for most organizations. Add to that how fast things are changing in this complex and volatile world, and it is hard for companies to keep up. While senior leadership is building and planning strategies, we need to think about our talent pool within and outside our organization to determine how to best plan for and align employees for the work of the future.

This is the time of year we spend much time in strategic planning mode beginning with identifying the right goals, setting budgets, and considering new innovations. As leaders, we may even be involved in these conversations. As they are agreed upon, they get handed off and distributed throughout the organization and it can seem disconnected. This is why we need to do our best to foresee the future and plan accordingly throughout all levels of the organization.

When it comes to talent strategies, most organizations struggle in this area. Organizations have high expectations for their employees. They expect them to already have the skills needed or they set out to hire those with the right skills. This approach has become a poor strategy for organizations as new technologies, such as generative AI, are brand new skill sets and are evolving so quickly that many struggle to keep up with these skills. On any given day, millions of jobs need to be filled, but organizations can’t seem to find the right fit or the right skill sets in one person. To add to the problem, many organizations have not been investing in employee and professional development in the last 10-15 years, leaving the responsibility for any development to the employee. We are facing a talent war that is only going to get worse as we search for the ever-elusive “unicorn” employee. As stated in the HBR article, “Building a Game-Changing Talent Strategy” by Ready, Hill, and Thomas, those leaders who are skeptical about making substantial and continual investments in their people have already lost the war for talent. This reality is made worse by the current low rate of employment and the number of job openings outnumbering those who are looking for work.

Because few employees have upskilled themselves and there was a lack of investment in employee development, it has left organizations with a severe shortage of highly skilled employees with the right stuff. To address this gap, both employees and organizations need strategies for developing people that align with the organizational strategies. By creating a roadmap for success in partnership with key departments, you are better able to drive results throughout the organization and understand its capabilities. Many CEOs globally realize this gap and reveal that human capital management is their top priority. Unfortunately, most organizations are doing no workforce planning of any kind. How do we know which are the critical roles and skills that will drive results and ultimately the desired outcomes? Do we understand where the current gaps in skills for those employees? To answer these questions and develop a people strategy, I recommend partnering with both your Human Resource (HR) Department (or Human Resource Business Partners) and your Talent Management/Learning Department to pull together a plan of action. These departments can help build out a plan to address these gaps in skills, knowledge, and abilities for you and your organization. You first need to garner support from several areas of the company or organization to make this goal become a reality.

I have worked with companies to align strategic direction with the workforce needs. For example, there was a large high-tech firm headquartered in Germany I was working with that sent out a 30-page RFP (Request for Proposal) for a consultant to implement company-wide professional development. The RFP was extremely detailed, down to the specific learning objectives, and, of course, restricted to a certain number of days for training. The expectation was for the consultant to cover all the stated objectives regardless of the limited time. There was quite a laundry list of skills, many of which were open to interpretation, such as “develop presentation skills.” In response to the RFP, I had to propose specifically how my firm would support this effort without the benefit of talking to the actual employees who would be impacted. This was probably the hardest project I tackled in my career up to that point. The reason it was so hard is because the Human Resource representative in charge of this initiative was handed a legacy curriculum, and leadership wanted to replicate that program. Further complicating the project was that two companies and cultures were being merged together, and no real conversation was had about how these disparate workforces were trained previously or how big the gaps were in their knowledge of these subjects.

To overcome this challenge, I asked to interview various stakeholders that were tied to this initiative to better understand how to better support this training program and make it successful. When I dove a bit deeper with senior managers and new project leads, I started to understand that the target employees fell into two camps. One group already had some training, and the leadership was looking to build on those foundational skill sets to take them to the next level. The other group was completely new to these skills. If we built the training for one-size-fits-all, as we were asked to do, it would not have the impact that the business desired. Additionally, we would have frustrated employees with training that would be too basic or not advanced, and not serve either side well. The resolution was to build two tracks. At first, this was not a popular suggestion; but once we explained why we wanted to approach the training with these levels, we gained more buy-in from our sponsors. In the end, the company gained a return on investment from this training through improved communication skills, a reduction in project costs, and less scope creep in the execution of the projects.

To avoid either a lack of skilled employees or misaligned training initiatives, I suggest asking a few alignment questions of key stakeholders who are driving the business outcomes.

• What clear business result/outcome are you looking to accomplish?
• Which roles or functions within your organization will be responsible for delivering these results?
• What will the roles or functions need to do differently or better to accomplish the outcome?
• Understanding the desired impact, what is your action plan to support these roles or functions to overcome the gaps?
• What metrics are you tracking to see if this initiative is having the intended impact of supporting the business results?

Where I see organizations struggle with strategies for developing people is where the strategies are not implemented holistically throughout the organization. I see three key foundational areas for developing these strategies. I call the combination of these areas my 3 PillarsTM Model. As you can imagine, if one leg of these pillars is lacking, then you could be facing talent risk, which can easily lead to business risk.

These elements are not new in talent management. However, it is rare to see all three of these pillars working in conjunction with each other to support overall business objectives and strategies. If you are a function or department lead or leading a support function for the business–such as HR or Learning– this model is for everyone and is critical to developing holistic workforce planning strategies across lines of the business. I will cover each Pillar in the coming months in more detail starting with succession planning. If you want this information now, you can order my book, “Top of the Mountain Leadership: The Future of Performance and Productivity in a Technology Changing World,” which I cover in Chapter 2. Good luck in your journey to the summit!

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