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Retooling Talent Management: How HR Teams Can Engineer a New Era of Productivity

Doug Ring
on June 12, 2018

To remain competitive, manufacturers must often retool their factories seize the advantages of new technologies, new process models, and new design paradigms. From assembly lines to lean principles to integrated circuits and—today—things like artificial intelligence, blockchain, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things.

Perhaps the simplest definition of retooling is “to revise and reorganize, especially for the purpose of updating or improving.”

For manufacturers, retooling is driven by the pursuit of efficiency, product innovation, and productivity.

So what does this have to do with talent?

Through an HR lens, the idea of retooling is one we—as de facto engineers of the companies we serve—could and should apply to our work.

Granted, people aren’t cell phones or Teslas. But the analogy works in that it calls for continuous updating and improvement of talent management practices, with the ultimate goal of elevating the productivity of our people.

Focusing on Business Outcomes

In 2017, Gartner identified a need for HCM technologies to shift focus from digitization driven by process to digitalization driven by outcomes—not just talent outcomes, but business outcomes.

As the needs of the business change, HR systems need the flexibility to retool configurable, to facilitate multiple ways to communicate and collaborate, and to generate continuous optimization through an ongoing roadmap that incorporates new, enabling technologies.

HR teams must continuously retool talent management to facilitate and improve employee productivity—all with an eye toward business outcomes.
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Speed and agility aren’t just a matter of smart thinking and anticipation. Companies also need to accelerate the deployment of digitally powered processes, employee experiences, and ways of working across global teams—all with an eye toward business outcomes.

Taking an Agile Approach to Talent Processes

Given the pace of change and the constant pressure to adapt, it’s not surprising that the number one trend in Josh Bersin’s predictions for 2018 is the move to new agile organizational models. A shift he notes will have an impact on “recruiting, goal-setting, careers, rewards, and culture,” among other things.

For many companies, talent processes—and talent management technologies—have fallen out of sync with what the company needs to grow or expand. And even if a company’s practices and HR systems are robust and current, without a commitment to evolution and a flexible system, talent management remains at risk of stagnating.

Just as markets change, so do employee needs. Same for customer and shareholder expectations. Employment laws and regulations. International business standards. Media attention to issues like diversity, inclusion, and pay equity.

You get the idea.

The challenge of building and managing a modern workforce has, in a sense, crept up on businesses. Demographic shifts—notably, multiple generations of workers and the impending retirement of baby boomers—seem to have caught us all unprepared. And coupled with the lowest unemployment rate in nearly two decades, the move to digital business, and growth in global markets, what we have is a nexus of drivers creating dramatic shifts in talent management, including

  • Increasing use of contingent labor and internal mobility as solutions for talent acquisition
  • Adoption of continuous learning and rising employee expectations for career development
  • Transformation of performance management from an annual appraisal and rating to frequent conversations and real-time feedback
  • Burgeoning and vocal demands from employees, customers, and boards for pay equity and radical transparency
  • Evolution of diversity and inclusion beyond mission statements and one-dimensional initiatives to an essential component of employer brand.

In order to support ongoing organizational change, companies need to regularly reevaluate their approach to talent acquisition, onboarding, compensation, learning, and career development. And they need a talent platform that not only automates and optimizes key processes but allows custom configuration so they can accommodate future process changes.

Communicating the How, When, and Why of Talent Management

Across all talent management processes, communication is mission critical, not only to explain how to do things but to convey why and when. Many HR processes are seasonal. Managers and employees participate annually or ad hoc.

Just as factories gear up and gear down depending on market demand, HR systems and teams need to ramp up periodically, to refamiliarize themselves with, for example, compensation planning or interviewing protocols.

To reduce friction and ensure manager decisions are sound and employees feel valued and empowered, it takes more than a user-friendly interface. Companies need an experience that conveys institutional knowledge and expert guidance right in the flow of work—for example, via real-time collaboration tools or video coaching from HR, peers, and managers.

Communication is also the secret sauce of successful change management. As processes evolve, change can create anxiety, shake confidence, and tank enthusiasm. To overcome individual and organizational resistance, HR and leadership teams need to generate buy-in—by defining the change clearly, explaining its impact on business goals, and simplifying and reducing the burden on employees wherever possible.

Employees and managers may need comprehensive training to learn new skills and behaviors, or micro-learning for just-in-time adjustments and continuous development. And everyone must have a clear understanding of how his or her role in the transition affects and depends on others.

Engineering a Productive Workforce

The digital evolution of talent processes is inevitable. For CEOs, it really should be a top priority in the next two or three years to avoid being dramatically displaced by competitors who beat them to it.

For HR leaders who have a strong executive champion, the time is ripe to begin thinking like an engineer and looking for opportunities to retool talent management and drive organizational productivity.

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