Friday, August 18, 2006

How Well Do You Know Your Talent Base?

Kevin Wheeler's article on ERE this week inspired me to write a about my own views on hiring from within. Kevin is right in proposing that companies need to make more of an effort to develop their own and make internal movement easier, rather than look outside first when filling a hiring need.

Part of the problem is that companies too often take the same "post-and-pray" strategy to filling jobs internally as they do externally. Sure, in some cases, internal candidates are 'encouraged' to apply for certain jobs. But more often than not, if companies want to fill jobs internally, they take the passive approach and wait to see who is interested, rather than taking the more proactive approach of leveraging their talent in the roles and on the projects that they are best suited for and are most critical.

So in order to do this, you need to A) know what talent you have in-house, and B) have a culture where talent is 'owned' at the macro, rather than at the micro-level. I have been fortunate in my career to be at organizations that understood this and took proactive steps to leverage their talent more proactively.

Several years ago, I was with a company that had just been through a major merger, and one of the first things that the new organization wanted to do was to get a handle on was succession planning. We created management org charts across the organization and asked each part of the organization to populate the charts with the incumbents, those who could step into these roles next immediately, and those who were 2-5 years away from being ready. It was a shock to many how many 'succession holes' there were in these charts. The next step was to populate a searchable database with the internal resumes of those in management roles, those who were identified as 'successors' and those who were identified as high potentials (with minority/female hi-pots identified as well). The goal was to fill in those 'succession holes' first of all, but also to have an internal talent database to pull from when future management roles became available. Within a couple weeks of completing this project, a new senior management position opened up, and by going to this new database, we were able to identify a candidate in the organization who was ideal for the role. Had we not had this database, we could only hope that this person would of actually stepped forward to be considered, or we would have likely had to look outside

At my last employer, we took a similar talent inventory of the existing staff. The organization and the industry at large was undergoing massive change, and we knew that to support this change, we had to know what talent we had in-house and how to leverage it better. We even tied the skills and experiences of our staff to a competency model to hopefully make better matches between new opportunities and the staff we had. We found in a number of cases that we had employees who had talents, skills and experiences that could be applied across a number of different parts of the organization.

At my current employer, we do not have a formal talent inventory/database like the ones I most recently mentioned, but we don't really need one. It is part of the culture that people move around to support different projects, especially if their time isn't being 100% utilized. Employees are able to 'brand' themselves effectively enough internally that their expertize can be effectively tapped for support on relevant projects as they become available. An internal posting system also exists where short-term projects are advertised and employees who are looking to pick up extra work and/or make an additional contribution can make a match. This system was actually created and is managed by a line organization, not HR!

Yes, you should always try to look internally first, but in many organizations, that can be difficult to do and may even be discouraged. There are times when you have to look externally, especially when the company is moving into new markets and/or new product/service-lines. Most organizations (especially those that are large and segmented) however simply know what they have talent and skill-wise in-house. If they knew what they had, and could leverage that talent more effectively, they could fill jobs faster, at a lower cost and with a shorter learning-curve as a result. To accomplish this, organizations can only benefit themselves strategically when they A) invest in the development of their staff, B) have a strong grasp on what talent they currently have internally, and C) have a culture that encourages the type of internal movement that benefits the organization as a whole. BTW, Ed Newman wrote a related article on this subject on ERE in 2005 that's worth reading again.

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