It's been 100 days since I launched the Breakout Performance blog. And so far, one of my blog posts has been more popular than any other: Top Ten Reasons Why Large Companies Fail to Keep their Top Talent.
This post came about after I read on GigaOM about how a team at Yahoo! (led by Flickr founder Catherine Fake) was working at building a brickhouse around their top talent. Since that story was published in mid-September 2006, Yahoo's stock has trended down from $29 to $26 amid luke-warm results and calls by some for a larger player to snap-up Yahoo! or for Terry Semel to enact changes (inlcuding on this site). There's no question that uncertainty swirling around an organization's future makes it a difficult environment in which to keep top talent around. However, there are solutions.
The truth is that Yahoo! is not all that different from thousands of organizations who are desperately trying to think of strategies for keeping their talent. No matter your industry, you know that it's much more difficult and costly to find and train new talent than keep them (just as it's more costly to get a new customer than keep one happy). And the demographics are only going to make this more difficult in the next 5 - 10 years -- over 50% of C-level execs will be leaving their posts in the next 5 years.
There are many strategies for building a "talent firewall" in your organization. Here are ten of the most effective:
- Set up a Leadership Development Program in your Organization. Most but not all organizations have some kind of leadership development program. Most include some kind of executive training -- either in-house or additionally through B-Schools. The best ones also include some formalized assessment on an executive's strengths and weaknesses at the front-end, some coaching over a significant time period, and a later follow-up measurement of an executive's improvement.
- Set Developmental Goals for the Executive and Track it. An assessment of an executive is only as good as an action plan that gets devised to address the points that come out of it. The action plan should key in on the developmental areas identified in the assessment. It should be complementary to a regular performance review plan. It's not simply a list of job tasks that need to be done. A developmental plan zeroes in on competencies such as strategic thinking, coaching and team development, and delegation. Once set, the action plan then needs to be tracked regularly -- which leads to the next point.
- Use Executive Coaches. Executive coaches serve a couple of purposes. They are the gel that often helps ensure a Developmental Action Plan gets followed up on. We suggest they meet once a quarter with an executive to review and update the plan. They are not there to chastise the executive if they don't achieve their previously set goals, but they do ensure accountability in a positive way. They also help keep the momentum going. Another major goal they serve is by giving the executive ideas on how to improve, which they have utilized with talent at other organizations. This broader perspective helps supplement the internal HR resources that are available to top talent. We often find that this wider organizational experience also gives the talent some additional perspective on where they rank in the universe of other executives with whom the coaches have interacted. (What makes for the best executive coach? There are many out there to choose from. However, we strongly believe in 3 things: (1) academic training at the graduate level in a related field like organizational behavior, strategy, or organizational psychology, (2) senior-level executive coaching experience, and (3) real-world executive-level experience to better relate to the exeperiences that the executives are going through.)
- Use Internal Coaches and Mentors. Although external coaches are helpful, the best organizations don't think of leadership development as an outsourced activity. Beyond support from HR, senior leaders should be an active part of the process, as coaches and mentors. For every executive going through a leadership development program, he/she should have an internal coach and mentor. We define a coach as the executive's boss; a mentor should be one-level above the executive's boss. There is critical knowledge that can only be passed on to executives from those inside the organization. Both the coach and the mentor should be aware of the Developmental Plan that the executive is working on. The boss should chat with the executive quarterly about their development plan; the mentor only needs to speak to the executive annually or semi-annually. A final point about mentors: they should never be assigned to an executive, nor should the executive be given free reigns to select the mentor. Our suggestion is that the boss and executive meet to chat about a possible short list of candidates. When they agree on who would make the best fit, the boss should be the one to approach the prospective mentor. This match-making approach seems to work best in pairing up the best possible mentors to executives.
- Discuss Long-Term Career Goals and build an Action Plan. In many cases, top talent has not worked out a clear long-term career path. For those in HR, this is a major opportunity. The best organizations are arranging "career planning" discussions with all their key people, in order to open the dialogue. Quite often, the executives appreciate the conversation (which happens first with their boss and then, if they are comfortable, expanded to include HR as well). Engaging talent on where they want to go helps to make them understand where they are going.
- Eliminate Extraneous Meetings and other Bureaucratic Tendencies. In a recent poll, asking for why top talent leaves larger organizations, the #1 response was "big company bureaucracy." Some bureaucracy is inevitable as a company grows. You can't run Google like a start-up. Processes and structure add value, when done well. However, we've all lived through Dilbert-type large company bureaucracy. As someone concerned about keeping your talent, you've got to wage a war against these tendencies. Eliminating extraneous meetings is a great place to start.
- Never Promote on Potential -- only on Performance. We sometimes get blinded by potential. Certain up-and-coming employees acquire a halo around them and are quickly promoted past their current performance level -- classic "peter principle." Peter Drucker correctly advised, decades ago, that organizations should never promote on potential, only performance. That means, an executive must demonstrate success in his/her current role before moving up to the next rung on the ladder. Many talent, promoted too quickly, will end up failing and leaving the organization under a cloud due to poor HR practices.
- Eliminate "Deadwood" acting as "Blockers" in your Organization. Too many organizations have important leadership positions filled with "blockers" -- taking up slots that could be more ably filled by other talented people reporting to them. Organizations might be reluctant to let them go because of the cost of letting them go or a thought that "the-devil-you-know-is-better-than-the-devil-you-don't." Yet, top talent won't suffer fools gladly. Organizations need to remove poor performers clogging the talent system or find a different spot for them that plays to their strengths but lets others take over key positions and do a better job.
- Use a Talent Management software system. You can't change something unless you measure it. There has been a lack of easy software systems to track talent management and development in organization until recently. We have worked with some of our clients on manual systems of tracking talent on an annual basis and it is a labor-intensive effort. It no longer needs to be painful. There are many new software packages available that can do this and integrate with your existing Oracle/SAP/PeopleSoft systems. One I like particularly is Sonar 6, because of its highly intuitive approach to presenting its results.
- Reward and Recognize, while also Giving Constructive Feedback. There are some bosses who never reward or recognize their talent; others who do it too much with never a negative word. If you treat your talent with kid-gloves -- only praising, never providing constructive feedback -- they will not be getting a balanced view of their strengths and weaknesses. You need to do both on a regular basis.
A talent firewall is not built over night, it reguires a series of steps. These 10 will make a significant difference in your organization. Good luck. The effort will be well worth it.Sphere: Related Content