After the Fiscal Cliff

24 12 2012

We all still wait with bated breath to see just how long Washington insiders will continue their puerile sandpit squabble; but the truth is that these are issues outside our control. Better to enter 2013 determined to something about the issues within our control. How about a commitment to get smarter – genuinely smarter – in 2013?
Two ways to do this of course. One is to understand ourselves better and leverage who we were made to be instead of trying to be a second rate copy of someone else. That makes us a lot smarter.
The other is to understand our corporate mission clearly and then focus on finding the people who really fit – in their bones – that mission. This is what I am speaking about on 16 Jan ( Not a new idea at all, but as long as business schools keep teaching the primacy of strategy and decision making, telling the larger truth, that right people comes before right plans, will continue to be a very relevant idea for CEOs and other leaders.
Finding the people who make us all a lot smarter; now there’s a resolution for 2013.
Have a great Christmas and New Year, from all of us at Elaura.


Creating Shared Value in Talent Management

10 12 2012

Good friend pointed me to Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s 2011 HBR article “Creating Shared Value” last week. I seem to remember their original 2006 article on this subject and not quite getting the point; certainly understand it now.

What is particularly interesting to me is that it perfectly describes one of our three strategic anchor-points for Elaura, namely that our corporate engagement has to be fully synchronised with the work we do to help young people (teens and young adults) find their way in life via our hoozyu programme.

So here is Creating Shared Value in Talent Management in an (I’ve-got-a-few-minutes-on-a-Monday-afternoon) nutshell.

Inside the Corporate wall, companies struggle to find the young talent they need through a pure “graduate recruitment” approach. Internships and summer placements give a better chance to fully qualify prospects into genuine candidates. The problem is that the attrition rate is significantly high, so to acquire 100 fully-qualified recruits can mean several thousand short-term placements. The attrition is not at all because those engaged in the short-term placements are sub-standard in any way; it is far more to do with mismatch between the particular corporate mission or culture and what engages the candidate.

On the other side of the wall, Corporates invest Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funding into various aspects of youth training and guidance, whether within schools (e.g. work experience programmes) or outside (e.g. helping young entrepreneurs, young offenders, at risk youth etc). The size of the effort is anything but tokenistic (some large companies are investing phenomenal amounts of time and money in these programmes); but the results can be. Comparatively few of the young people so helped ever end up with a real job in a large business.

Now compare what Porter says about Cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire. Fairtrade – which is a redistribution or reallocation effort – boosts farmers’ incomes by 10-20%. Efforts that create shared value, on the other hand, boost incomes by as much as 300%. Instead of changing the share of a static pie, CSV (Creating Shared Value) builds a bigger pie so that everyone gets a bigger piece of pie, whatever their share.

A Shared Value approach to Talent Management starts by recognising that this is bigger than simply the Talent needs of one’s own enterprise. If you are International Edible Widgets, your success depends on an entire ecosystem of suppliers, distributors and customers, all of whom need their own Talent in order to succeed (and enable you to succeed). And here’s the thing – your suppliers and customers almost certainly need different Talent than you do; you are not locked in a zero-sum game with them when it comes to Talent. The person who doesn’t fit at IEW may be exactly the person Widget Express is looking for.

  • So a Shared Value approach to Talent Management, aimed at helping those currently in preparation to join the workforce, could and should be able to pull together effort and investment from the entire ecosystem.
  • Secondly, it needs to identify and develop Talent using the same tools and approaches used in industry, in order to avoid creating failure. Why use a mickey-mouse approach in school and university to tell a teenager they should become an actuary when they won’t make it through the first day of an assessment centre using a robust approach? (If you are in any doubt as to what I consider a robust approach, please read this!)
  • And finally, success has to be framed in terms of helping any given young person to identify their Talent and then develop and place that Talent appropriately. That means if IEW (to continue our fiction) is investing time and money in a programme for schools in a particular city, and Sarah Chan discovers that she was born to do logistics and follows that through, becoming in time Widget Express’s newest recruit, then IEW has had a double win: their key business partner just got better and smarter; and they – IEW – have avoided the nightmare of hiring the brilliant young Miss Chan into a role in which she could never shine. Actually it is better than that – many of Sarah’s peers have found their path in life too, so all of IEW’s ecosystem has been infused with real Talent; IEW has acquired Talent it needed; and – guess what – the number of kids with real jobs who can now afford to buy Edible Widgets increased too.

A bigger Pie all round.

What the heck is Talent Management, anyway?

9 10 2012

The only thing that HASN’T happened to the term Talent Management yet is a starring role in the Dilbert strip (I just double-checked). Otherwise it has the full set of “buzzword markers” – overuse in Powerpoint, conference titles and consultancy web-sites plus a burgeoning software industry, with very little coherent in the way of agreed content (wonder what that software does?).

Wikipedia has this: “Talent management refers to the anticipation of required human capital the organization needs at the time then setting a plan to meet those needs”.

That is fine as far as it goes – but I disagree with the unspoken premise, namely that Strategy comes first, and then we work out what Talent we will need and plan to put it in place.

Here’s my take, in its most condensed form.

1) The old management saying holds true: “You cannot MANAGE that which you do not MEASURE”. Talent Management without objective Talent Measurement is impressionistic at best and delusional at worst.
2) Talent Management must include all aspects of acquisition and management of Talent; the position of some that Talent Management doesn’t include Recruitment (for example) only demonstrates the general lack of effective means of measuring talent (other than by observing performance).
3) With appropriate tools for Talent Measurement in place, Talent Measurement is all about mapping the Capacity of the Organisation to execute its Organisational Mission. (And NOT its Strategy). Strategy comes after Capacity. Strategy should be developed in the light of Capacity – and the job of the CEO is to ensure that the Organisation has the Capacity to execute its Mission. Strategy at any point in time must be tied to the Capacity that is in place.

Here’s why that final point is so important. Most Strategy is made without reference to Capacity, which means that Strategy can only succeed if the missing Capacity is rapidly acquired. Unfortunately, it takes time to build Capacity – hiring is hard enough, but Capacity is the right people in the right places working together in the right way. Good luck to you if you think that can happen over a long weekend.

So in the real world, most Strategy fails – bits of it deliver some results, but rarely the results that were envisaged. In the meantime, some person tasked with Talent Management is working their socks off trying to identify and then acquire the Talent required. By the time they are halfway there, the CEO has finished their 3 year tenure and left with their golden handshake, Strategy is up for grabs again and so the whole senseless cycle begins again.

Talent and Capacity Building is a long-term commitment; Strategy changes too often for Talent and Capacity to be subordinated to Strategy. Mission is for ever (more or less; if you change your Mission as often as your socks you have sorely misunderstood what it is about). Build Capacity to execute Mission and Strategy will then find its place as a non-random, Mission-aligned and realistic, executable response to current Environment and Opportunity.

Simply No Comparison

5 10 2012

One question I have been asked a lot this week is about the core tool we use in our Talent Management services, the Birkman Method®. “Why is this any different from any of the other 1,500 tools out there?”

There are plenty of long answers to that question, but let’s answer the question with some more questions. These are my top three questions you should ask of whatever tool you are using at the moment:

  1. What is its shelf-life?

    In other words, once a person has completed this instrument, how long can you keep using the data with confidence? Typical answer will be 12-18 months. Birkman shows exceptional stability in adults at 5, 10 and even 20 years. For an organization, this makes Birkman a “deploy once per employee, use forever” tool. And yes, the inference is correct: a Birkman profile is generally not influenced by current situation or context; rather it gives a reading of individuals which will be true over time, regardless of the context in which they find themselves.

  2. Does it prevent recruitment shock?

    I meet no end of HR Directors and others who really rather like their current tool or tools. But when I ask this question, they invariably say, “not really – we still get people who profile well, interview beautifully – and then behave quite differently when they get on board.” That isn’t the experience we have using Birkman. Most often we hear “your predictions were spookily accurate”. Birkman is highly predictive of actual behaviours in role. Worth something to you?

  3. If you stack up 10 or 100 (or 10,000) of these profiles, what do you get?

    Although some tools have some element of team reporting (normally maxing out at 10-12 individuals), most don’t. 100 DISC or MBTI or Belbin or StrengthsFinder reports is just a big stack of paper – and pretty incomprehensible at that. 100 Birkman Profiles put together is instant organizational insight, because unlike every other tool we have reviewed, Birkman was built from the ground up as an organizational performance tool. By considering the individual as someone who will have to operate in a social and organizational context, Dr Birkman produced a tool which is uniquely able to map organizational strength, culture and capacity.

Like any powerful specialist tool, you need skill and understanding to use Birkman effectively. At Elaura we have focussed relentlessly on developing those skills and understanding over the past dozen years. As a result we can provide you with the Birkman expertise you need; or we can train your people in the use of Birkman. Want to know more? Email us

Friday Fun: Our new HR Policy?

21 09 2012

Happy Friday from Mr Mason & co

Jack’s Performance in a Mission-Critical Role

6 08 2012

We have all met them; many of us are them, at least to an extent: the Jack of All Trades. The old saw, “Jack of all trades, but master of none” is unkind as well as unfair. Many people do manage to master several trades or areas of expertise (although it does tend to be serial rather than parallel).

But what about in a recruitment setting. Recruitment is all about risk; you have all this information – track record, references, interviews, maybe assessment centres etc – but what do you believe? What will predict performance in role? So you try to minimise risk. Does Jack – who could potentially fit many roles in your organisation – represent a better risk or a worse one?

The answer is, it depends. Are you looking for someone who can handle and integrate information from a wide range of disciplines, or cross functional boundaries with ease? Well then, Jack may be a good risk. But if you are looking for someone who will deliver results within a highly defined area, he (or she) may represent a significant risk.

Here’s how it would present, using the core tool we employ in our practice. This gives us something over 200 highly detailed matches for the individual to specific job titles and families of jobs. Most people will score very strongly on somewhere between 5 and 15 of these. Jack (of All Job Matches, in this scenario) has many more strong matches, and particularly scores strongly across diverse job Families. So far so good – Jack has the world at his (or her) feet. But Jack has some challenges too.

How do colleagues “place” Jack? One moment he sounds like the FD, the next the COO. By the time he has finished with some grand Strategy and a side-order of Sales Director realpolitik, his colleagues don’t know what to think. “Who was that masked man?” they say. Pretty hard to collaborate with someone you can’t place.

And here is the bigger risk. Let’s say Jack is your new Production Manager or maybe responsible for a key Sales segment. Jack interviewed better than anyone else, his track-record in a whole series of related roles was unmatched and he engaged better than any other candidate with the existing team. And now he is happy, loves his role and is completely failing to deliver the numbers. When challenged he points out all the value he is adding in all kinds of ways, all of it true. It just doesn’t include the one reason you hired him – to make the numbers.

What has happened? Well, that track record represents a time at the dawn of the world, when Jack was young, hungry and focussed – and working in a narrowly defined funnel. He is a little older now, life seems a bit shorter, the whole range of his considerable and diverse interests reach out to him; and suddenly there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your Production or Sales Manual. In the worst case, he has also managed to surround himself with other similarly rounded characters. All of them score high for the roles they are in. The only problem is that they score high for hundreds of other roles too, and they can’t decide which one they love best.

So what to do? Hard question. It may be you can reignite their former passion and focus by adding one or more people who don’t have their range, just a relentless focus on the one thing that matters (to you). More likely, you have to let them go and replace them with someone who has the necessary focus. Ouch.

And if you are just at the selection stage and I have just rained on your star candidate? The one with the track record, the great interviews, the great references – and the huge scores across every phase of the Organisational cycle. What should you do?

First, acknowledge the risk; this person could lose focus and fail to deliver. Then set about managing that risk. How can they evidence that the fire still burns? Have they recognised the danger of loss of focus for themselves and if so, how do they manage that? Do they understand that there will be opportunities to contribute more widely but that they will be held accountable for this particular set of results, and this alone?

And if they can give you the answers you need, there is one more thing you need to do, in order to manage the risk Jack represents: be ready to actually hold them accountable, and to let them go if they can’t deliver.

Invest where it makes the biggest difference

14 07 2012

Simple question: where do you invest the most money and effort when it comes to recruiting for your business or organisation? We have seen this well illustrated recently.

On the one hand, we have seen a string of leaders of banks and other major business organisations who have had to step down. Despite having been recruited with almost infinite amounts of money and effort, they have essentially argued “I knew nothing about this” [insert fraudulent or unethical behaviour here]. Perhaps they are right – perhaps the CEO knows nothing and can impact nothing. (I don’t believe that for a moment, but it is a remarkably self-effacing ploy!)

On the other hand, we have seen – thanks to a whistleblower – the apparently complete lack of time and effort which had been put into recruiting and training security personnel for the London Olympics. After all, they are only to be paid peanuts, so fine if they turn out to be monkeys. The fact that the personal security of many of us will depend on their alertness and skill doesn’t seem to register.

Before you laugh too loud at those revelations in the tabloids, though, you might want to think about how much effort you put, comparatively, into the recruitment of your senior executives versus your hourly-waged, customer-facing staff. Because it is the latter who get to influence your reputation on an hour by hour, minute by minute basis. Their every word and action converts directly to black or red ink on your bottom line. Begging your pardon, but your senior executives generally only impact your reputation after they have driven your ship onto the rocks – or allowed others to do so.

Don’t misunderstand me – I do actually believe that the senior roles in any organisation are hugely important – provided they see their primary role as enabling your people who actually serve customers to get on with the right job, properly resourced and well-led.

My real point is to challenge the under-resourcing of recruitment and training of front-line staff. They are actually the ones who make dealing with you a pleasure – or a never-to-be-repeated experience!