Whilst companies may have slowed down their hiring plans, new talent management strategies are going full speed ahead.
By Simon Kent
Adversity is said to reveal character. In recent months, this has been illustrated by how companies have regarded the importance of talent management to their business. According to Jo Taylor, founder of HR consultancy firm Let’s Talk Talent, there have been two general responses.
First, there have been the HR departments that have retreated to old practices, whether by choice or by necessity, and many of these businesses have seen their talent and learning and development budgets cut.
On the other hand, there are those who have not only continued to invest in the talent they have, but have taken this part of their people strategy further, becoming more focussed on their talent and addressing training programmes despite the circumstances.
The challenging environment may have actually played a positive role. “In my opinion, better outputs have been achieved as everyone is focussed and aligned,” argues Taylor. “We have spent time working with clients to help them, for example, dial up the support to managing in a virtual world.” This support has included approaches to coaching, making meetings more effective, and increasing influence and impact.
“Just because your people have been working from home, let’s not be under an illusion that they are less interested in developing themselves, understanding the careers open to them, and seeking new ways to reach their potential,” says Taylor.
Linda Mountford, Northern Europe commercial HR director at Thai Union Europe, which includes John West Foods, says her company’s mindset has very much been one of “business as usual,” with talent management remaining a business priority. At the same time, agility has been key, with the business reprioritising some objectives and the general focus for employees.
“The process and level of investment into our talent hasn’t changed,” says Mountford. “We’re continuing to hold talent reviews and development discussions as usual, but now they are held remotely. Adopting tools such as Microsoft Teams has meant we can still have meaningful assessments with our talent, bringing together multiple stakeholders. It’s the same with recruiting and hosting interviews, and as a leadership team, we are continuing to review our future capability requirements, taking into account the unprecedented changes we have experienced this year.
“Talent and development discussions probably take a bit longer than when we were in the office,” adds Mountford, “but they are in no way diluted in terms of their importance, richness, and quality of discussion.”
It is a mark of how far practices have come through the pandemic that, according to Chelsea Pyrzenski, CHRO at HireRight, working remotely across the organisation is no longer regarded as a hinderance for teamwork or for achieving business objectives. Reflecting this, there have been very clear changes in the way talent is treated and managed.
“With limitations on recruiting, organisations are instead shifting business priorities and related staffing decisions,” she says. “Some are choosing to focus on providing opportunities for top talent—no matter the location—as a means of both retention and goal attainment. Initiatives like creating stretch opportunities for high-potential employees through cross-pollination efforts allow organisations to be more strategic with limited resources whilst continuing to invest in their dispersed workforce.”
In other words, regardless of how the pandemic may have affected the physical presence of the workforce, the demand from employees for meaningful, challenging work and a sense of achievement must still be met. Moreover, Pyrzenski makes the point that even now when workspaces are mainly closed, HR should be actively planning flexible schedules to ensure that they can deliver the flexible and agile talent resources their company will need to meet the challenges to come.
Whilst the past few months may have seen a slow down in terms of action taken around talent, Debbie Clifford, head of talent, people, and performance at cloud technology business Olive, says there has been a great deal of reviewing activity around the organisation’s approach to talent management. The company is currently completing its half-year performance reviews and this year will also see the creation of a holistic view over talent, which will in turn influence development activities.
Clifford also identified small and quick changes that can be made to help with the internal talent mapping and talent management processes. “In prior years, performance and potential were communicated as equal elements of our performance review—and therefore bonus—process,” she explains. “This became a very subjective process. We have revised this practice and the bonus is now tied to goals and performance only. Potential is now better defined and much clearer, helping the managers to have more objective conversations with their people at review time.”
Clifford also says the company is also working to shift its mindset on acquiring and developing talent to be more diverse and inclusive in their approach. She believes this will help to “fire up the skills, knowledge, and experience we can draw from to help us grow and develop as an organisation.”
What comes across in the new normal is the amount of trust now given to talent within an organisation. Through necessity rather than choice, perhaps, organisations have had to allow their people the space to do the work they need to do in the time they can do it, rather than insisting on them being in a specific location at a specific time. Naturally, this doesn’t apply for every job or every team, but for those who have come out of the office for the first time, the need for trust is clear.
In the next few months, HR teams will still need to balance what the organisation requires with what their candidates can offer, but what also emerges from the flexible and agile workforces many HR directors are reaching for is the potential to engage a diverse workforce and to appeal to and develop the widest, deepest, and therefore, the most skilled candidates for their organisations.
“Keep talent management at the heart of your experience,” concludes Taylor, “but look for new ways that are agile and create communities of practice which drive greater innovation, collaboration, and knowledge sharing.”