Customize, Align Talent Strategies with Business Objectives

Fidelity tracks its employees’ potential using talent portfolios

By Pamela Babcock February 21, 2013

NEW YORK—Talent management strategy needs to be customized and aligned with an organization’s business challenges and unique operating environment to ensure its positive impact on the bottom line, said several experts speaking at a conference here Feb. 13, 2013.

“There really is not a cookie-cutter approach to installing a workforce strategy,” said Michael Haid, Right Management’s executive vice president for talent management, at The Conference Board’s Talent Management Strategies Conference.

But HR professionals and their organizations often struggle to develop a talent management strategy, he said, citing data from Right Management’s research. For example, only 12 percent of 628 North American companies that Right Management surveyed reported having a fully implemented talent management strategy, according to the company’s September 2012 report, The Struggle Over Talent Management Strategy.

The survey included responses from senior leaders and HR practitioners. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed said they have a talent management strategy but can’t call it “fully implemented” because of corporate barriers or challenges. In addition, 44 percent reported that they have a series of separate HR initiatives, but they aren’t connected and there’s little alignment.

“So they can’t really call that a strategy,” Haid noted.

The study found little consensus about what’s getting in the way of implementation. Top reasons cited by respondents included:

  • Insufficient budget and resources (18 percent).
  • Not enough clarity or focus (17 percent).
  • Balancing short-term with long-term results and goals (17 percent).
  • Lack of senior management support (10 percent).
  • Lack of support exhibited by the organizational culture (10 percent).
  • Lack of HR resources to implement it (8 percent).

Haid said organizations often run into problems when strategies lack clarity, aren’t actionable or measurable, and aren’t communicated properly. Strategies should take into account unique business challenges such as the economic climate, as well as regulatory and geo-political environments, to ensure executive buy-in and to be most effective, Haid said.

Fidelity’s Talent Portfolios

Three years ago, Fidelity Investment’s corporate operations division began evolving its talent practices to do just that.

Faced with a changing business environment and complex organizational structure, the group moved beyond just gathering data and thinking about individuals and replacements by adopting a talent portfolio mindset that helps support broader business strategies while monitoring and protecting its critical workforce assets.

“We’re in an evolution, trying to move from binder production to actually having meaningful dialogue that results in meaningful action that sustains the health of our firm and manages risk,” explained Monty Stepura, vice president of talent management and development for Fidelity.

Fidelity’s corporate operations division oversees operations and IT functions and segments talent into categories that executives want to know more about. Because Fidelity is a financial services firm, she said it uses the language of the business to describe the talent process.

“Talent segmentation enables us to do some analysis and to manage the health of the talent portfolio because we’re able to see where we have risks, where we have gaps and where we’ve got core capability that can be leveraged,” Stepura said. “We also do this so we know where to invest in the portfolio.”

Understanding Risks

Mitigating risk is key. When it comes to talent, Stepura said Fidelity looks at six potential risks and asks the following questions:

  • Portfolio risk. Is the right talent focused on the most critical priorities? That means knowing who the talent is, as well as what his or her capabilities and aspirations are.
  • Vacancy risk. Are some positions vacant for a significant period of time? If so, what does the company do about that?
  • Readiness risk. To what degree are pools of talent ready? When there’s an open role, “we want to make sure the person is really ready,” she added.
  • Transition risk. How quickly do people become proficient in their roles? This is particularly important because once predominantly Boston-based Fidelity, which has more than 44,000 employees, is expanding throughout the U.S. and globally.
  • Process risk. Having a clearly defined process with common definitions and language is key. Without it, there’s a risk that others in the company won’t understand what Stepura’s group is trying to do and “will not be looking at talent through the same lens.”
  • Leadership risk. Ensuring executive buy-in and sponsorship is critical. Leadership has to understand the value of a diverse portfolio and “really understand how to effectively lead these conversations” about talent.

Segmenting Talent

Working with company leaders, Fidelity decided to segment key talent into six categories. Using a 9-box grid, each person’s potential and current performance are evaluated on a scale of high, medium or low. Each person also is designated as either business critical and/or a subject matter expert, Stepura said.

High-potentials receive one more layer of segmentation using a 9-box grid to determine whether they’re an emerging leader (that is, a mid-level leader beginning to lead effectively and stand out from peers) or enterprise talent (that is, a higher-level employee who can lead across functions and who wants to move around the business), Stepura said.

When reporting this data, Fidelity also asks leaders to provide information about their direct reports and to answer questions about current and future business challenges and talent implications. The company then analyzes all the information recorded and produces summaries that include “heat maps” that help to determine when to begin tracking high-potential employees or emerging leaders.

“We get the data, we crunch it, we tell the story, we present this back,” said Patti Wallace, Fidelity’s director of corporate operations talent practices, who conducted the session with Stepura. “Some stories begin to emerge,” when reviewing these reports. “Leaders really like these things.”

In the future, Fidelity hopes to set targets for various segments to see if they’re consistent with industry benchmarks, she added.

Measuring Talent Risk

The company overlays its data with another 9-box model that measures five potential risks for various employees:

  • Capability: How capable is the person, given Fidelity’s changing business needs and move into new markets?
  • Tenure: Is the employee approaching retirement?
  • Mobility: Is the employee willing to move?
  • Compensation: Is the employee's pay grade maxed? Could he leave as a result?
  • Opportunity and engagement: Is the person's engagement level waning?

Individual talent profiles look somewhat like large, detailed baseball cards and provide a snapshot of each leader’s education and work history, pertinent work and performance information, as well as plans that can address development or onboarding opportunities, Wallace said.

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.



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