Creating a Garden of Talent

Creating a Garden of Talent

May 17, 2016

Spring is my favorite season. It represents new growth and a time to start taking action on my personal and professional goals for the year.  Spring may also be a good time to take a fresh look at how your organization is attracting, developing and retaining its top talent. Seasoned executives recognize the importance of talent management to their company’s long-term future success. Like cultivating a garden each year, companies look to ‘seed’ their organizations with the right people, ‘feed’ their employees with opportunities for development, and ‘weed’ out those that are not performing or blocking the sunlight from others.

Whether you’re contemplating how to get started growing the talent in your organization, or you’re a seasoned gardener, here are a few guiding principles to keep in mind:

  1. Seeding the Garden—Before picking up a shovel of soil, first plan what you want.
    • Where are the biggest talent gaps in your organization? What areas of the company have seen the largest growth or expansion and have few ‘ready-now’ individuals to fill current vacancies?
    • What competencies are needed to be successful in your company? Some plants are heartier than others and more resistant to pests and the vagaries of the weather. You may be looking for individuals that are more resilient, can quickly grasp complex issues, and possess solid business judgment. Agree on what you’re looking for before beginning the recruitment and assessment process.
    • Are the individuals best grown internally or do you need to hire externally to find the right skill set? Your business may be growing so rapidly that you need to fill the talent pipeline with more outside hires. External hires can bring much-needed fresh perspectives, yet there’s always a risk that they don’t work as well with the company’s culture and values. While home-grown talent may have deeper ‘roots,’ sometimes they may have become more insular and less inclined to challenge the status quo. A balance of both internal promotions and outside hires is often best.
  1. Feeding the Garden—Developing future leaders and establishing a robust garden of talent takes time and patience. Create the right environment for people to grow and thrive in your organization.
    • It begins with a belief that people can grow and develop. Leadership skills are best acquired through experience. Remember the 70-20-10 rule: 70% of leadership is learned from on-the-job experiences, 20% from coaching/mentoring, and 10% from training.
    • Individuals are responsible for their own career development. If they perform well in their current position, they can take on broader responsibilities and prepare themselves for other opportunities as they occur.
    • Management’s role is to conduct career development conversations with their direct reports, provide opportunities to address business challenges, support them through the learning process if they stumble, and recognize those who meet and exceed expectations. Managers who help employees recognize and build on their strengths, rather than focusing solely on their weaknesses, can produce greater employee engagement and productivity.
    • Conducting career development discussions, providing timely feedback, and checking in with associates is not just a once-a-year activity. Don’t start a garden without tending to it regularly; ongoing watering is needed to support employees’ growth.
  2. Weeding the Garden—Assessing and reviewing the talent in the organization and its ability to meet the business’ needs is an ongoing process. Retaining the right individuals is an important element of this process
    • Some employees may have aspirations that can’t be met within the organization, while others may have grown complacent. You may want to move an incumbent to a new position in which he/she can thrive, or you may need to move out an individual to make room for someone else who can bring new energy to the role. Just as rotating and replanting crops can enrich the soil, sometimes this can work for the business as well.
    • Analyze your turnover. Do you know why good people are leaving?  You may think that it’s compensation-related, but more often it’s a result of poor management and a lack of professional growth.
    • How are your reward and recognition processes working? Do employees perceive that promotion opportunities are awarded fairly?  How do you recognize top performers and are their pay increases commensurate with their achievements? Are managers who do a good job developing others rewarded for their efforts?

Creating a healthy, robust garden of talent is not a one-year effort.  It’s a continuous process requiring focus, patience, and persistence. Great companies that have achieved sustained growth and are building their future leadership talent likely have solid talent management processes in place. With a continuous focus on growing the leadership skills of its employees, companies can begin to reap the benefits of a thriving culture, a dedicated and committed workforce, and strong returns on their human capital investments.  Enjoy the harvest!

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