Advanced Talent Management Approaches … That You Have Never Heard of (Part 1 of 2)

Talent management is a broad and contentiously defined discipline, so new approaches and tools are continually emerging. Staying on top of the latest definition or the newest enabling technologies can be overwhelming. As an evangelist of “next practices,” I’ve kept a running list of cool approaches that the average practitioner may never have heard of.

I’ve broken them out into six categories, but some of the approaches could easily belong in multiple categories. If you are using one of the approaches, please share your experiences, learning, and guidance using the commenting functionality below.

The Long List of “Unknown” or Barely Known Talent Management Approaches/Tools

Productivity Improvement Tools

  • “Free time” and Remote Work Flexibility — almost every firm needs to improve productivity, idea capture, and successful innovation. While many firms now offer flextime, a more effective mechanism is “free time” to think and innovate. Firms like Google and 3M are famous for offering “free time,” with Google offering up to 20%. A more common option is remote work or flexible scheduling options that allow employees to make their own decisions as to when and where they can that best produce. Flexibility is becoming increasingly important as next generation workers have come to expect the ability to work on the fly. When top-performing employees are allowed to control their own schedule, studies show productivity and innovation rates increase significantly. (Google, Genentech, 3M, and Best Buy)
  • Bad Manager Identification — managers oversee the single largest component of variable cost in most organizations –labor costs — which average 60% of variable expense. The actions of managers significantly impact the ROI of that spend by affecting innovation, productivity, and workforce development. Unfortunately, bad managers are not rare and they seldom hire “A” players or innovators. The best approach to mitigating bad manager risk is a bad manager identification program, a.k.a. leadership effectiveness or individual dignity entitlement surveys. Such surveys identify bad managers based on their actions and performance. Once-identified, organizations can act to fix, replace, or move troubled managers. (FedEx, Dell, GE, AT&T, and Monsanto)
  • Managing Factors that Effect Productivity — many managers simply do not understand how to effectively improve productivity. Most think improving productivity is about getting employees to work harder, longer, and more like them, but more often than not it’s about skills, motivation, and removing barriers. Educating managers on the top 20 factors that impact productivity and providing simple tools to address each can dramatically improve performance. The 20 factors that impact productivity include:
Managerial Skill Continuous Learning/Knowledge Sharing
Communicating Clear Goals Variable Motivation and Rewards
Employee Skill “Right Job” Placement
Unburdened Two-Way Communication Accepted Performance Metrics
Communicated Plans and Strategy Adequate Time to Perform
Cross-Functional Collaboration Resource Prioritization
Access to the Right Tools Quality of Inputs
Adequate Resources Degree of Process Integration
Handling Perceived Barriers Outside Work Factors
Data-based Decision Making Broader Team Capability
  • Removing Barrier to Productivity — identifying factors that limit productivity and eliminating them is one of the most impactful talent management actions an organization can undertake. Talent management professionals should begin by accepting their role as internal productivity consultants and develop a process that identifies true barriers to productivity. Through employee surveys and focus groups talent management professionals can uncover a vast array of conflicting process elements, antiquated policy, overlooked resource allocations, outdated organizational design, and routine system abuse. The premise is simple and highly effective; just ask: “if we had to scale up productivity tomorrow, what factors would prevent our current team from doing so?” Some political issues may emerge, but past experience demonstrates the vast majority of issues are extremely basic conflicts easy to address. (The State of North Carolina)
  • Leverage Non-Monetary Motivation — most would agree that employee motivation is a huge driver/barrier to productivity, and that all motivation isn’t compensation tied. Unfortunately, rarely does any department in the human resource function offer up non-monetary motivation solutions. Focusing solely on monetary incentives is both costly and ineffective long term. Progressive organizations are now leveraging systems to ensure delivery of non-monetary drivers such as recognition, praise, and feedback. Successful approaches rely on employees completing “how to manage me” profiles that can then be used by managers to deliver individualized treatment — i.e. adjusting the frequency of feedback, engaging socially, etc. Early stage adoption of CRM technologies to manage employee experience are demonstrating that the same systems use to ensure customer engagement (repeat conversion to buyer) and loyalty can work with employees. (Baptist Health Care)
  • Work-Challenge Based Promotions — if your engagement surveys capture perceptions about the fair awarding of promotions, you probably already know that it is a major issue in almost every organization. Most promotion processes are entirely subjective, and team members often feel that the wrong people get promoted, which has a dramatic negative effect on productivity, retention, and morale. One extremely effective solution is to promote employees based on their performance in a tournament, like series’ of challenges based on the duties of the job to be filled. Allowing team members from within and outside the department to participate if they desire the role. This allows individuals who feel they have not been given an adequate opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to do so. It also sends a clear message that ability to do the work the best is the only factor considered. The approach is proven to produce superior candidates, positively influence employer brand, and increase productivity. A second approach to consider is allowing employees to appeal when they consider a promotion to be unfair. (MGM Grand and IBM)
  • Support Best Practice Sharing  — Talent management does not need to create new tools or approaches in order to add value. In larger firms, many times there are already best practices in use, but hidden in a single function or business unit. Talent management can have an immediate impact if it simply develops a mechanism for identifying best and “next” practices and effectively spreading them rapidly throughout the organization. Internal wikis allow fast best-practice and information sharing using a model many are familiar with (Wikipedia). Communities of practice, consultant directories, and internal social networks can also aid in spreading practices and alerting others about upcoming problems. (Cisco Systems)

Strategic Talent Management Tools

  • Measuring and Rewarding Great People Management — managers are the primary delivery channel for talent management processes, but too many fail to take their people-management responsibilities seriously, and managers rarely spend enough time on people management. An effective way to get a manager’s attention is to measure, report, and reward great people management results. Only 39% of firms currently reward managers for great people management even though HR “owns” all of the key components of the reward process (including performance management, performance appraisal, competency management, and the reward systems). “What is measured, reported and rewarded is … done first and done best.” Implementing and rewarding success via a quarterly people management scorecard can dramatically improve people-management results. (GE, PepsiCo, and FedEx)
  • Providing Integrated Talent Management Solutions Managers Expect — managers are faced with multifaceted problems that simultaneously require at least a partial solution from several different talent management functions. Unfortunately, the solutions that most talent management teams provide are fragmented and independent. Obviously managers would prefer a single integrated solution. Talent management must work to integrate the different talent management functions and to provide comprehensive rather than fragmented solutions.
  • Identifying “Headcount Fat” — quite often corporations are forced into conducting layoffs because they suddenly realize that they have a surplus of employees. A superior approach is to periodically assess the overall workforce and the workforce in each major business unit to identify areas that are overstaffed. Identifying labor surplus is usually done using predetermined ratios. The current ratio is compared to the ideal using revenue per employee ratios, labor costs-to-revenue ratios, and manager-to-employee ratios. The early identification of surplus gives talent management managers time to identify possible solutions that may minimize the need for layoffs.
  • Developing a Story Inventory — the emergence of social networks and peer-to-peer media make it much easier for employees to play a larger role in building employer brand and recruiting referrals. “Authentic stories” are the most powerful and credible way of spreading an organization’s brand, but most organizations have no way of identifying, cataloging, and sharing the powerful people stories that could influence talent populations. The best approach is to develop a process for gathering stories from employees and managers and building out a “wow” story inventory that is easily accessible. The inventory can then be used by employees, managers, and even the press when looking for cool stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. (Zappos)

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Tools to Improve Successful Innovation

  • Measure, Report and Reward — the tremendous success of Apple in recent years demonstrates the financial impact of successful innovation. Unfortunately, innovation does not come easily in a large corporate environment. What you measure, report, and reward is more likely to be done well, so talent management needs to develop processes for effectively measuring, rewarding and widely reporting managers whose teams produce innovations that are successfully. Managers should also be measured and rewarded for coaching and sharing best practices among other managers on how to manage and improve innovation. (Google)
  • Increasing Collaboration — innovation is surpassing efficiency as the prime driver of corporate performance. Even with the increased emphasis, few in talent management accept responsibility for delivering something proven to increase successful innovation, cross functional collaboration. Higher rates of collaboration increase learning, drive best-practice sharing, and excite and energize employees. Collaboration can also reduce project roadblocks and resistance. Talent management must develop physical (i.e. increased cross-functional interactions and meetings) and online approaches (i.e. internal corporate social networks) that increase the chances of more frequent and in-depth collaboration. (Google)

Coming Up in Part Two…

Next week, I’ll introduce talent management approaches and tools aimed at workforce development, improving talent management functional positioning and budgets, and using key business processes and tools from other functions.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.