Develop talent to score business goals

Neil Davidson, vice president of enterprise at Deltek, explains how organisations that align their talent plans and business operation can thrive

When you hear the words “people are our greatest assets” it’s because nowadays they really are. Thankfully, in today’s competitive landscape, business leaders increasingly understand that organisational success has less to do with the things they make and much more to do with the people they have, and the strength of the relationships they are able to develop with clients. In no industry is this more pronounced than professional services where people and expertise are the values on offer.

But talent management – the process for making sure these well-meant words are actually day-to-day reality – is so much more than simply recruiting the right people, retaining them, and giving them the skills and experience to succeed. These elements are critical, but we believe it’s how this is ingrained within all corners of the business that really matters.

Talent management can’t just live as a concept within the human resources department; it needs to be fully aligned to the operations and day-to-day service delivery in order for a firm and its people to prosper. For talent to truly feel engaged and listened to, there needs to be two-way conversations about what they want, where they’re deployed and how they can go to the next level. Not only must these conversations happen, they must be founded on data and so ingrained into a company’s culture it should no longer be something only HR does.

So why doesn’t this always happen?

Talent management programmes can sometimes be knee-jerk. Programmes can be introduced because firms identify, say, a retention problem and think that a talent initiative will remedy it without fully appreciating how to unite it within their culture and operations.

But a notional idea that talent must be the focus is only half the answer. Think about this: has the business really looked at why staff might be leaving? Maybe they’re simply not recruiting the right people. Maybe line managers are not diverting the right people into the right roles. Maybe there are too few or too many badly timed conversations about upcoming opportunities within the project pipeline. Maybe highly skilled people are being assigned to low-skilled projects. Maybe people don’t know where and what they will be working on one day to the next.

It’s only when all parts of the organisation start asking these sorts of questions that silo mentalities are finally broken down.

The antidote to this is talent management that takes the holistic view; talent management that is data-led and where the activities of people can be linked so they are bound up with the operational strategy of the business.

To apply a sporting analogy, think of this approach of using data to align operational and people goals as applying Opta Stats to your firm. But it is not about the metres run, number of assists or goals scored; it’s about projects completed, margins achieved, utilisation and client retention rates. Think about what this intelligence can mean to the individual, team and organisation in terms of performance and development.

With margins under pressure, clients demanding more and competitors ready to pounce, the professional services industry needs to stay at the forefront of this transformation. Research from IDC shows that firms without a human capital management or talent programme see a dramatic decline in staff utilisation, project win-rates and revenues.

This reinforces that operational goals can’t be achieved without investment in your people and their development. To achieve this, talent needs to be championed right from the very top.

Talent management is much less about organisational complexity, and much more about measuring key performance indicators, and then putting these into the context of your recruitment, retention and career development strategies

Evidence shows most employees want a say in how they can satisfy themselves as individuals, as well as the needs of the organisation. It’s often assumed talent is peripatetic, always ready to up sticks and leave, but actually employees mainly want to feel engaged. Staff today expect more dialogue about how their careers are going; they need to be given this reassurance. The once-a-year appraisal will soon be a thing of the past and already firms like Deloitte, and indeed Deltek, are dropping it in favour of more regular feedback discussions.

There’s no reason staff have to leave if organisations can align the wants and needs of both staff and the business. Employees and line managers simply need to be open with each other. When they are, we find both parties tend to feel part of, and take ownership of, their own trajectories.

So what are the remaining barriers? It’s often said the way businesses have to organise themselves means true collaboration is difficult. But we disagree. Business structure is not a constraint in itself. Managers simply need to be able to uncover the right insights. When stakeholders receive the insight they need, they can act and make critical decisions.

Talent management is much less about organisational complexity, and much more about measuring key performance indicators, and then putting these into the context of your recruitment, retention and career development strategies.

It’s clear talent is very much the issue of our time. While finding talent may not be any more important than it ever was, what is different is there is a shortage of good talent. What firms need to realise is that this good talent is often already within their ranks; it just needs to be developed to align to the future of the business and client needs. People want purpose from their work; they want to know that what they are doing is adding value to their organisation. And they also want to know that in doing so they are meeting their own personal needs for advancement and skills development.

When organisations have strong alignment between their talent plans and their business operations, then they really do have the foundation to be best in class. A recent IDC survey found hiring and retaining talent was firms’ second-biggest priority at the moment. Yet, at the same time, IDC also found 60 per cent of organisations didn’t yet have a talent management system. Organisations cannot have a coherent talent strategy without the systems and culture to facilitate it.

And remember, systems aren’t just about IT. They help bring fact to the sometimes awkward conversations that managers need to have about talent. When people are mentally on board, you’ll soon see they’re physically on board too.

For more information visit www.deltek.co.uk