More Than HR Competencies Needed to Manage Talent

By Pamela Babcock Mar 6, 2009
NEW YORK—For strategic talent planning to succeed, you need not only HR competencies to help pull it off but also the right governance model and ability to align and integrate talent management with other business processes, experts said here at a recent conference.

“Before two years ago, we never had conversations with senior leadership about this,” said Gary Walljasper, second vice president for HR development for Principal Financial Group (PFG) in Des Moines, Iowa, during a Feb. 26 session at a talent management conference held by The Conference Board. “When we put together action plans for people around business units, it was very generic.”

PFG has since begun shifting away from what was largely a headcount planning process tied solely to the company’s annual operating budget and a purely data-driven or formulaic approach to managing people costs, void of dialogue about the business’ strategic needs.

Today the company sees strategic talent planning as a business process that helps determine the type and capability of talent needed and that enables leadership to understand, forecast and manage the number, location and cost of people required. The planning process helps to identify and prioritize gaps between the current and desired talent portfolio and to define specific “buy and build” actions and investments required to close workforce talent gaps. In addition, it helps executives develop detailed and focused workforce plans.

That will be all the more critical to PFG over the next three years, as the company’s business will require more effective forecasting and modeling of talent needs and a rigorous, repeatable methodology that Walljasper said he hopes will yield “far greater insight” based on “where our business is going and who our customers are. This is all about creating a road map.”

HR Needs Right Stuff

To implement strategic talent planning successfully, HR professionals need business, financial and organizational skills to understand strategic plans, investment and cost implications. They need process management skills to implement, educate, syndicate and sustain a business process, along with data collection, synthesis, analytic and assessment skills, he said.

“If you have the right data and right trigger points for your leaders, you can get them to sit up and listen,” Walljasper noted, adding that such data can include things like proficiencies, churn and number of people to be hired.

HR needs to be able to integrate and coordinate strategic talent planning with other HR processes and practices and real-time consulting, teaching and facilitation skills that involve critical thinking, problem solving and shared learning. Lastly, HR needs “the courage and ability to deal with senior-leadership resistance in real time,” Walljasper said.

Panelist Josette Jean-Francois, director of talent development for The McGraw-Hill Cos., said HR needs to be able to speak the language of business leaders.

“We fall into HR lingo oftentimes, and you really need to put yourself in the shoes of the business leaders and figure out what keeps them awake at night and to understand their views and concerns,” Jean-Francois said, adding that HR should be able to create change and have the ability to consult.

“We don’t have to give all the answers, but you should be able to ask the right questions and to probe with them,” she said.

Don’t Forget Governance, Integration

Companies have different strategic workforce planning models. At McGraw-Hill, Jean-Francois said, it’s 100 percent owned by HR, but she added, “We want to shift that and have it be a stronger partnership with the business leadership.”

Mike Norman, senior vice president for Sibson Consulting in Raleigh, N.C., cautioned HR about “over-ownership, because the more HR owns, the less that the business leadership does. Be careful to get across that this is not just HR’s, and another flavor of the month, but a core business process.”

At PFG, governance is a partnership but “senior leadership needs to be the umbrella,” Walljasper said. Governance covers key roles of senior leadership and line management, plus HR leadership, generalist and business partners. Key governance elements include oversight, guidance, execution, assessment and improvement.

When it comes to integration, PFG’s goal is to link or align strategic talent management with other talent management processes, practices and timelines, strategic and operations planning processes and timelines, organization performance management practices and scorecards, other workforce related measurement, and data collection and analytics, as well as to natural business and management cycles.

“It has moved much more quickly than I ever imagined,” Walljasper said. “You either move at the speed of a steamboat or you move at the speed of an aircraft carrier and we’re an aircraft carrier.”

Lastly, Walljasper said, it pays to have “patience with the rigor of the process” of strategic workforce planning. “For strategic workforce planning to go through, you have to stick with the process,” he said.

Study Finds Disconnects

A 2009 Taleo Research study titled Unified Talent Management: A Global View,

found that while talent management is “of high importance” and critical to business success, talent management presents executive and technology challenges for most organizations.

A majority (56 percent) of survey respondents said that talent management is essential for business success, while only 42 percent has a talent management strategy in place.

The study found that only one-quarter of respondents report that their talent strategy encompasses their whole workforce and just 12 percent report that talent management systems are used by all staff.

The study analyzed results of a global survey of more than 900 business professionals, primarily from mid- to large enterprises in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France and Australia.

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


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