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Talent Management in the Trenches

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Talent management in the trenchesFrontline managers are a critical component to achieving organizational performance goals and business results.

But you already knew that.

What you might not know is that involving them in the design and development of talent management (TM) initiatives is common practice. Well, to be more accurate, it's only common if you work in a high-performance organization. If you don't, it's likely you ignore their involvement.

This is one of the key findings from i4cp's latest research report, Talent Management in the Trenches, conducted on behalf of our Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board. This new report is exciting because, frankly, there's a blank slate when it comes to research on this topic. What's even more exciting is that the report details six key findings that show that the involvement of frontline managers in the design, development and execution of TM has a significant positive correlation with a company's market performance.

But isn't this common sense? As the managerial and supervisory ranks closest to the majority of the workforce, one would expect that these individuals are in the best position to lead and direct the workforce in alignment with corporate goals and objectives.

This is where reality sets in. Walk into most companies and it's clear that frontline managers are operating in highly pressurized environments. Their job demands that they balance a plethora of priorities, which often involve multiple hard deadlines and a daunting number of core responsibilities. This role overload often prevents companies - even with the best intentions - from leveraging frontline managers in their core talent initiatives. And honestly, many managers are just as happy to not be leveraged. Talent management? That's best left to HR.

But high-performance organizations recognize the immense power of getting these managers involved at the front end of TM and utilizing them throughout the process. Following are the six key findings that i4cp research uncovered as part of this study, which highlight the key aspects of frontline manager involvement that support TM initiative success and improved organizational performance.

1. Involve frontline managers in talent management design and development
High-performance organizations are more than twice as likely as low market performers to say that frontline managers in their organizations are highly involved as partners in both the design and development of TM processes and services as well as in the execution of TM activities. But make no mistakes; this isn't easy. The factors that typically get in the way are fairly universal: heavy workloads, not enough bandwidth, inadequate training and complicated HR processes were the most often cited issues, along with unclear division of roles and responsibilities between HR and frontline leaders.

While these barriers are the common stumbling blocks, it's clear that high-performing organizations manage to get around these issues and involve line managers in the critical aspects of the process that can benefit most from their insight and input.

2. Use frontline managers to develop the workforce
High-performing companies are three times more likely to say their frontline leaders are highly involved in leadership development. Additionally, high-performing companies are almost twice as likely as lower performers to say their frontline managers are highly involved in career/employee development and high-potential employee development.

Organizations need to be mindful of its workforce composition. Paul Humphries, EVP of HR and President, Medical, Automotive and Aerospace for Flextronics, notes that the TM priorities are quite different for frontline managers in his organization, where the majority of its 200,000 employees are hourly. Talent management responsibilities in that environment include engagement, retention and attraction, while leadership and high-potential development have less immediate application.

3. Treat recruitment and selection as an essential first step
One interesting note is that frontline involvement in the recruitment process and compensation decisions were not found to be correlated with market performance in the study, though both are critical responsibilities that fall, ultimately, on the frontline manager's shoulders. If line managers are not fully involved in talent acquisition and compensation planning, they probably will not do a very good job at the higher-level TM activities associated with people development and, more specifically, development of leaders and high-potentials. Karl-Heinz Oehler, VP of Global Talent Management for The Hertz Corporation, sums up this sentiment, saying, "Effective frontline management involvement shows better business results at Hertz, especially if frontline leaders act as coaches, providing real-time, situational feedback. In contrast, there is a lot of evidence at Hertz that poor selection will, by definition, result in more remedial training, which is pure waste."

4. Involve the frontline in coaching, development and training
Oehler believes that frontline managers should act as coaches, and he's not alone. The study documented a 66-percentage point gap between those who said organizations provide one-on-one coaching and mentoring and those who said they should provide it. Other large gaps between "does" and "should" include monitoring progress of individual development plans more than once or twice a year and verifying that training has achieved the desired outcomes.

5. View workforce planning as a critical partnership opportunity between executives, HR professionals and frontline management
Almost every piece of literature on workforce planning starts with the same cautionary note - in order to be successful, the process must have a champion, and that champion should come from the C-suite. So it is not surprising that CEO, COO and CFO engagement in workforce planning has a high correlation with market performance and integration.

High-performance organizations are twice as likely to agree that there is sufficient dialogue between HR/TM and business leaders during the strategic planning process. In addition, i4cp research shows that this often leads to line managers taking a more active role in the design, development and execution of the TM strategy.

6. Next practice: Measure talent management results
High-performance organizations are three times as likely to use metrics to track key performance indicators, as well as results, for all of their TM processes. However, only 25% of high-performing companies (and 17% of lower performers) are actively measuring talent management. While not yet a best practice, this is clearly a next practice, as is the focus on quality measurements as opposed to efficiency metrics. For information on what to measure and scorecards for tracking qualtiy of hire, quality of attrition, quality of movement and other metrics, visit i4cp's Human Capital Analytics Knowledge Center.

If you are a talent management professional, the message is clear: get frontline management more involved in the design and development of your initiatives. Helping to build a stronger talent base could be just one more way to have your frontline managers support your bottom line goals.


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