Form Follows Function

It’s common to hear us say things that those we admire say. We adopt their ideas over time. You’ll hear me repeat what those I admire say – “there’s nothing so practical as a good theory; good theory in service to a functional outcome.” It is a core value – Form Follows Function.

Since my early teens, I have embraced the Patagonia brand, their “cleanest line” design ethos and generally consider myself a fan – a Patagoniac. Beyond the best products for doing my favorite things, the brand engaged me with their technical marketing, product differentiation and influenced my thinking as a steward and as a designer. In 2003, I started my first business offering learning and performance consulting as form by function design & consulting. I have learned to make this plain in practice over years, and continue to seek the cleanest line, pursuing the elegant, simplest functional solution.

I was recently invited to help a group of HR Business Partners and their leaders level-up some of their talent practices. It’s a profoundly committed group of people who give their lives to “missions.” When making an effort to design a process or practice, it’s helpful to borrow some thinking and skills from practical problem solving.

In problem solving, the logic that to agree on solutions, we must first agree on the problem is accepted; to identify best solutions, we must understand the functional “job to be done.” I asked the group, when you plan missions, do your missions look like this (referencing image above)? Or, in order to be successful, must you first choose the mission? The same is true of your management and talent practices.

Where organizations go wrong is that they fail to balance complexity with value as they build these processes… as each additional element is added, evaluate the trade-off between the complexity it brings to the overall process and the impact it will have on the original business objective.

Effron & Ort, One Page Talent Management, 2010, p. 4-5.

For example, you may design a succession process with the purpose of lowering risk to business continuity or you may desire to build a culture of leadership stewardship and engagement. You may need both – but they will not have the same priority and time horizon. These choices will yield different best solutions. You may be using benchmarking as the basis for what a mature process will look like. Be careful that you don’t make it your plan to effectively deliver on day 1 what your “benchmark” comparison companies achieved – in a context different than yours – through a series of efforts over years by a learning and improvement loop.

You may design a performance management process with an interest to better align resources to priorities in deploying strategy for execution. You may desire review discussions to drive meaningful development plans. You may be laying the ground work to differentiate rewards, reinforcing a performance culture. Again, in what priority order and timing.

It’s normally easiest to start with your top business objectives. In light of these, prioritizing talent practices may be clearer. ALL of the value of talent practice work will come from successful implementation and adoption by a set of stakeholders. Simplicity and clarity in the priority jobs to be done and the benefits for each stakeholder will improve your chances of achieving a productive outcome. Focus, implement, improve, repeat.

Here is a simple example of an interview I originally developed early in my career that has served me and others well in engaging groups of stakeholders to improve talent practices. Even if the solution seems obvious to you, create the pull for intervention in your organization through a small effort to engage your stakeholders to build ownership.

What are your top lessons learned from building talent practices?

How do you engage your customers to build ownership?

The Rest of the Meeting

pexels-photo-260689.jpegFor many of us, being invited to contribute more broadly to leading a business, at times beyond our domain expertise, is the greatest compliment we can receive in our work. I lead a global function within an organization and contribute to several cross-functional leadership teams that manage the business. I work with a team of others that do the same – lead a part and contribute to the whole. What this typically equates to is that in a given 2-hour team meeting, 10 minutes will be planned for review of the KPIs, updates and decisions that need to be taken for my part. It is important to be well prepared to effectively manage your part of the agenda, but it’s been my experience that this time is usually cut in half through the normal course of the meeting. Or, if you’re allocated more time, it’s not because it’s going really well. The most effective colleagues I have worked with over the years adapt to accomplish their objectives AND actively contribute to the rest of the meeting.

Being able to accomplish your objectives in this normal course of business should be anticipated and is a team member’s responsibility. If it’s our meeting then we are accountable for the whole agenda. How we engage in the rest of the meeting can be analogous to how we operate within the organization. We can just show up, we can only focus on our tasks and lament when our agenda isn’t granted priority over others, or we can view ourselves as a member of the team accountable for the whole agenda and make a difference in the rest of the meeting. Having the perspective and preparation to succeed in the rest of the meeting can be developed in both process and content.

To be effective in the process, we have to develop our perspective and skills. Our perspective (i.e., attitudes or paradigm) on the team, our role on the team and our individual and shared objectives informs what we endeavor to do. We also have to be skilled in our preparation and interactions to show up on the job beyond intentions.

Here are a few resources I’ve found helpful:

As we learn the various facets of the work of the team and the relationships and dependencies that exist between them, the content (i.e., business acumen) of the team’s work can be the most daunting gap to bridge. When transitioning to a new role, the content is new and you will have a lot of questions. One example to illustrate this is in how a company manages finished goods inventory. In order to contribute to the rest of the meeting for a team that has to manage finished goods inventory effectively, the questions you have to understand include:

  • Why is it important? What happens if we have too much? What happens if we have too little?
  • Where does it come from? Is it sourced or made internally? What are the lead-times to receive more? What is the capacity of the supplying producer?
  • What causes or triggers it to be sourced?
  • How do we pay for it? How do we get paid for it?
  • If we have too much and need to reduce, do we have the right commercial team to increase consumption and what does that do to our production workforce and for how long?
  • If we have too little, do we have the right talent in the right quantity to ramp up?

Beyond the perspective and skills to effectively contribute to the rest of the meeting, we need to understand the content of the meeting.  Curiosity is the key. Do not believe enduring ignorance will go unnoticed. By noting what you do not understand to research and seek mentoring from your colleagues to better understand their part of the business, you can both improve your knowledge and build your relationships.

It’s a choice. You can fixate on your part of the agenda and hope the space you’re given fulfills your expectations or you can take accountability to contribute to the rest of the meeting and make a difference.

Is Employee Experience Talent Management’s Ziggy Stardust?

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photo credit: revolveribiza

I recently came across an interesting article touting the death of Talent Management. The concise introduction to the growing focus on Employee Experience was thought provoking. Unlike the attention seeking headlines about performance management being dead we too often read of these days, I think the shift to Employee Experience is a legitimate and productive application of human-centered design to employment.

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Today, the demand for skilled talent outpaces the supply of capable employees in a growing number of areas. Many of the terms of the employment contract desired by job seekers have also changed or at least have become much more variable (e.g., by generation). Some organizations have shown the agility to respond to this consumerization of employment, while many others, particularly slow changing organizations in industrial and highly regulated industries, are struggling to accept that the change is even necessary.

In 2014, HBR printed Ram Charan‘s proposal that it’s time to split HR into two groups – HR Administration (HR-A) and HR Leadership & Organization (HR-LO) with HR-A reporting to the CFO and HR-LO reporting to the CEO to focus on improving the people capabilities of the business. Dave Ulrich is known globally for helping the HR profession develop the capabilities and structures needed by their changing organizations and environments. While few argue that the field of Human Resources is changing and requiring innovation to compete, the reality is that making the right changes fast enough is difficult.

Ziggy Stardust was a short-lived persona adopted by David Bowie that allowed him to explore, then taboo, topics in his art. As Ziggy, he was able to venture into territory where David would never have been heard. Similarly, Employee Experience is an outcome to focus on much more accessible than many of the topics organizations have to face to consistently produce great employee experiences and compete for talent. Employee Experience has the potential to enable successful changes aligned to a common interest. Much like focusing your operations on value streams or your marketing and technology teams on user experience (UX), integrated strategies to optimize Employee Experience could enable organizations to make bold moves where current functional strategies such as Talent Acquisition, Talent Development, Talent Management, Total Rewards, etc. will fall short.

Employee Experience has the potential to be what Edgar Schein calls a cultural island. To overcome the subcultural issues that he credits as the real problem in many organizations hindering their ability to make needed changes. A cultural island is a happening where the norms, rules, interests and virtues of a culture can be suspended to try something new because the environment is exceptional enough to allow for it.

I have begun to think about this notion of cultural islands. Where can you actually get multicultural units into a talking relationship with each other so that they can begin to explore their common ground? It is not going to happen in the daily work scene. I think that we have to create cultural islands to allow that kind of communication to occur.  ~ Edgar Schein

Talent Management is not dead. To the contrary, there is a deficit of competent expertise available to help organizations grow and develop. Employee Experience is a useful concept to most organizations that can help overcome current circumstances and the energy that goes into keeping your organization as it is. Even if, like Ziggy Stardust, the useful life of Employee Experience is short, it has the potential to make a significant difference mobilizing management teams in alignment to a shared priority.

 

To Tell or Not to Tell – Potential & Succession Outcomes from Talent Reviews

judgmentEvery succession planning and talent review cycle I’ve been involved in has included HR Business Partners and leaders looking for guidance on what to share with employees following the process. The answer to the question varies by organization. Those for openly sharing potential ratings usually cite higher engagement and retention as their rationale, while those opposed most often want to avoid creating expectations and time-tables that are difficult to control, or fear creating ego-tripping primadonnas. My guidance has been, and continues to be, it’s a matter of judgment – be completely transparent about the process and prudent about the outcomes.

In this post, I’m sharing some resources that should help talent managers and leaders making such judgments or uncertain of how to speak with their talent in the various circumstances you may encounter.

A little empathy Center for Creative Leadership‘s whitepaper High-potential Talent: A View from Inside the Leadership Pipeline provides insights from managers attending their development programs.

Major findings include:

  • Respondents said formal identification as a high potential is important to them.
    • 77% placed a high degree of importance on formal identification
    • Those who were formally identified as high potential leaders were less than half as likely to be seeking other employment as those informally identified as a high potential leader (14% vs. 33% respectively).
  • High potentials expect more development, support and involvement – and they get it.
    • They receive a disproportionate investment in their development – Senior Leaders’ time in coaching and mentoring, training and special assignments.
  • High potentials develop others.
    • While 84% responded the organization should invest greater amounts in high-potentials, the same number see themselves as responsible for and are actively identifying and developing other talent in their organizations.
  • High potentials expectations increase for a clear career path – to a level difficult to fulfill in some cases.
    • Commitment and engagement increase across all high potentials when they are given a picture of where they are going and their appropriate next steps in terms of development, experience and movement.
    • Changes to their career plan (e.g., delays in timing) cause frustration and impact trust.
  • They like the status but it has a downside.
    • Increased pressure, anxiety and frustration come with the perceived heightened expectations. This is greatly amplified when the organization’s intentions for their future are undefined.
    • Distrust and disengagement occur when the organization fails to deliver on expectations set with high potentials.

Implications:

The decision to share information related to a individual being named as a successor or potential status should be handled sensitively and the consequences should be weighed thoughtfully.

Opportunity Risk
  • Positive recognition for and perceived benefit to top talent.
  • Communicated status will likely produce benefits of increased engagement, commitment, focus on developing others, and performance.
  • Individual may experience increased pressure and anxiety due to perceived increase in expectations.
  • Organizational needs may not align with Individual’s needs and goals.
  • Individual may view status and development plan as a contract; if contract is not “honored” by the organization, negative consequences outweigh the benefits realized.

Tools & Resources

For those with a policy to formally communicate high potential status with employees, this video from Marc Effron may be a helpful resource, as an easily shareable message from a well-known thought leader articulating this point of view.

My Guidance for Handling Discussions about Succession Planning and Talent Review Outcomes:

General Guidelines:

  • Avoid using color coding or other process labels (e.g., high potential, HiPot, HiPo, flight risk, misfit, salvageables).
  • Show transparency on the purpose, benefits and process but be very selective and prudent about sharing outcomes.
  • Consider the implications of sharing specifics with high potentials as detailed above. Informing someone they have been included as a successor or high potential employee in the plan creates a psychological contract and should be an exception with clear benefit to the organization.
  • Make the message personal. Avoid passing ownership of the process off to others. Share your view of their contribution and help them develop a plan to increase it.
  • Performance problems should be addressed with HR observing the performance improvement process independent of talent development and succession planning.

Potential Responses to Likely Situations

Situation: You wish to notify an individual that they are identified as a high potential leader because you feel it will benefit the organization (i.e., engage and ensure retention of the employee).

“The talent review process helps <company> act as good stewards with our talent and supports our objective to build a high-performance culture. Part of that process is to identify individuals seen as having the ability, commitment and motivation to rise to more senior positions and contribute more strategically in the organization. These are individuals we plan to provide special and necessary support and other investments in to ensure they have the best chance of making the contribution and challenging increases in responsibility we believe they are capable of making in the future; and of course, that they choose to continue making their mark here at <company>. Individuals identified as a high-potential will not be the only group invested in or supported. <company> is a special place where all of our employees are expected to contribute high-value and we as an organization will continue to invest in our people and lead in a supportive way.

As you would expect, this sensitive information is not being openly shared, but you are an individual that makes a special contribution to our company and we see you as someone capable of contributing more strategically and assuming greater responsibility in the future. I share this with you because I want you to know how much I and our Leadership Team think of you and value your contribution. I trust that you can handle this sensitive information confidentially. While it is observable that some contribute in a special way and are involved and developed uniquely, we do not want to segment our workforce or make others feel less valued. In fact, not everyone who has been identified will be told.”

“How do you feel about what I’m sharing?”

“Do you have and questions or concerns? I’ll do my best to answer them.”

Situation: Individual asks “Was I identified as a high-potential?”

After weighing the consequences outlined in the previous section, decide if sharing with the individual if they were formally identified. Whether you choose to tell them specifics or not, you should share with them how the organization defines a high potential in the process and the implications:

Ask:

“As you would expect, this sensitive information is not being openly shared for a couple reasons:

  1. We know these plans are imperfect and will continue to develop. It would be unfair and unwise for the organization to set expectations that we are not certain we keep.
  2. While these plans help us guide development and recruitment, they do not replace our selection process. When a position becomes open candidates are evaluated for the position based upon the job requirements.

. Why do you ask? Is there anything concerning you?”

If the individual was not identified or you do not wish to tell them of their high potential identification, share information like the following and speak to their concerns:

“The Talent Review process helps <company> act as good stewards with our Talent and supports our objective to build a High-Performance Culture. Part of that process is to identify individuals seen as having the ability, commitment and motivation to rise to more senior positions and contribute more strategically in the organization. These are individuals we plan to provide the necessary support and other investments to ensure they have the best chance of making the contribution and challenging increases in responsibility we believe they are capable of making in the future. Individuals identified as a high-potential will not be the only group invested in or supported. <company> is a special place where all of our employees are expected to contribute high-value and we as an organization will continue to invest in our people and lead in a supportive way.”

“Do you have concerns about your future opportunities here?”

“Is there any support or development that you think would help you continue to perform highly here at <company> that we should discuss? I am very interested in helping you.”

If you do wish to tell them that they were identified, see the example above.

Situation: Individual asks “Was I identified as promotable?”

Ask:

“Are you interested in understanding how the succession planning process works, what was said about you or do you have a position in mind that you would like to be promoted to in the future?”

If the individual responds that they would like to understand the process or what was said about them, share information like the following and to address their concerns:

“Part of the Talent Review process is to identify successors for critical positions in the organization to ensure we are able to effectively run the business and execute our strategy. We do not discuss all positions, but for those that we see as critical due to a variety of factors such as the difficulty to run the business while they are vacant or long lead-time to learn the position, we try to identify individuals throughout the organization that we see as capable of performing in that role and when, such as those we see as ready now verses those we believe need time to develop.

This enables us to do a few things:

  1. Explore if the individual we feel may be capable of assuming a critical role in the future has career goals that align with our needs.
  2. Identify and support the individuals identified with the development and experiences needed to perform in the role in the event that they are needed to.
  3. Identify gaps were we currently are unable to identify potential successors.

We do not assume that through this process we identify every individual that has the potential to assume a critical role; it is an ongoing process where we, based on what we know, work proactively to plan ahead.

Related to what was said about you – as you would expect – this sensitive information is not being openly shared for a couple reasons:

  1. We know these plans are imperfect and will continue to develop. It would be unfair and unwise for the organization to set expectations that we are not certain we keep.
  2. While these plans help us guide development and recruitment, they do not replace our selection process. When a position becomes open candidates are evaluated for the position based upon the job requirements.

I see it as part of my role to help you be successful and want to better understand your interests, goals and the help I may be able to provide to help you achieve them in a way that adds value to the company. Do you any specific concerns about the feedback I’m providing to you about your performance and career options here?”

If the employee responds that they have a position in mind that you would like to be promoted to in the future, share information like the following and to address their concerns:

“That’s good to hear. It’s always good to hear that you’re thinking about how to make a greater contribution to <company> in the future. I see it as part of my role to help you be successful and want to better understand your interests, goals and the help I may be able to provide to help you achieve them in a way that adds value to the company.”

 “While the specifics around the succession plan are sensitive and not being openly shared, I’m very interested in supporting you and I will always provide feedback on my perspective of your talents and opportunities to make even greater contribution to the company as we go through it.”

Talking Talent Reviews: repost of Interview with Cornerstone OnDemand

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I recently had the opportunity to speak with Chris Stewart from Cornerstone On Demand about how I have helped a company implement talent reviews as the capstone of their annual talent management process. See more here:

Reblog: from August 25, 2014 CSOD Q&A on Talent Reviews

Hiring internally is a cost and time-effective way to recruit, yet many companies fail to move employees through the organization. We spoke with Brandon Curry, director of global talent management at Federal-Mogul Holdings Corporation, about the approach his company has begun utilizing to make career succession and development planning more integrated with business management, rather than a stand-alone HR task. As a result, the company has seen more internal hires and a greater focus on developing employees to follow their ideal career path. Here, Curry shares his insights on how the company changed its talent processes and several tips for companies looking to do the same.

How does your company approach talent reviews?

We’ve adopted leadership team-based reviews, so the decisions that are made become the leadership team’s decision. Our bottom up approach drives a level of ownership, accountability and visibility to an individual manager’s peers and their manager around how are they doing at managing their talent. 

Many organizations identify succession candidates solely based on managers’ ratings of employees’ performance and some competencies identified as HR’s criteria. In these cases, the leaders may have some confidence in the criteria because they trust the criteria concepts, but if it’s not a team decision, then they don’t necessarily all feel accountable for the decision. What we’re trying to do is bring the best of both perspectives together, where we have strong criteria and a strong process that engages the leadership teams. The goal is to ensure that when people are broadened to new roles and are onboarded into the organization, that they have support from their peers and their leader for continued development. The process also brings out quality developmental feedback on how individuals are impacting the organization and reveals areas where we lack the bench-strength desired to execute and grow in the future.

What was the process like before it became team-driven?

In the past it wasn’t nearly as inclusive. Previously, leaders from the top two levels of the organization prepared a succession report as an HR process, and each business or functional leader reviewed it with the CEO, HR leader and me. There wasn’t much visibility on who were the key talents across groups and we lacked the diverse perspectives and options for how to deploy talent. As a result of that, it reinforced silos, and we didn’t have many cross-moves for development purposes.

What results have you seen from the new succession planning process?

We now have a broader talent pool, and the talent in the organization sees more opportunity because they see more people moving across the organization. We’re able to identify better leads internally before we look outside. When a position becomes open in the organization, employees are able to search for opportunities in the system. We also receive requests from hiring managers and HR Managers to search internally such as, “We have this number of candidates identified as successors, who else do you have in mind?” We’re able to go into the system and do searches based on career preferences — who has identified that role as their next logical position and, based on succession plans, who is ready to move into that role.

We’re also seeing improved development planning because of increased visibility. If an employee has a development gap for a planned career change, it’s much more visible now because we have this series of discussions during which managers have to present this information to their peers and their manager.

Talent Management is clearly a priority for our leaders as they have a growing demand for resources to operate and grow their businesses. As the process becomes more socialized within the organization, it will become more of a cultural element and less of a tool. Succession planning and talent management is now considered a legitimate business conversation.

What advice do you have for companies that are having trouble making talent management part of the business discussion?

Start with the end in mind and think about basic objectives. At Federal-Mogul, we want critical positions to be filled internally and that drives a lot of our development action. Too often, in the past, we identified a need too late with not enough time to develop an internal candidate, requiring us to hire someone from the outside. This can cause resentment from employees who are not developed and given the opportunity and, ultimately, may leave the company. That’s a major objective of our process: that we’re good stewards of our talent.

Another piece of advice is to keep it simple. We have made leadership team-based reviews a recurring event on the calendar, so it’s integrated with our business process of budgeting, business planning and quarterly reviews.

Finally, make your leaders the owners. We enable line managers to take ownership, accountable for doing the work and presenting it, and human resources is supportive by providing them counsel, tools and resources. Previously, HR performed this function for or to the organization; now business leaders own it and HR facilitates this process.