As consultants who stake our reputations on really making a difference in employee engagement and business results, we are frequently asked “where should we start to drive engagement and performance?” Or, from executives of companies with very established talent practices: “why are we spending so much money on our talent programs and getting so little for it?” Whether its a newbee to the talent challenge or an experienced company seeking our help, the answer is always the same: “start with these 4 steps to really make a difference, then build from there.” Here are the steps:
1. Get the Commitment of Senior Leadership
This is not easy to do. Senior leadership will always express a general commitment to talent. However, the key is to secure specific answers to two questions. First, what are we committing to do for our people? Don’t accept generalities in response to this question. Get agreement on quantifiable amounts of training, development, rotation, etc. Leadership needs to put a stake in the ground and be willing to back it up with actions. This means financial resources, even in lean times. It also means making the commitment a priority, not a nice-to-have that always gives way to competing demands. Finally, it means holding managers accountable for delivering on this promise.
Second, what will we demand of our people, particularly our managers? This refers to culture and values — the fit side of the equation. Some thoughtful, facilitated effort needs to be given to answering this question. But, once agreed, there can be no compromise. From this point forward, people either fit or they don’t. And, if they don’t, they need to adjust quickly or move on.
2. Train Managers and Employees in Expected Behaviors
We can’t emphasize enough just how critical this step is. This second key to effective talent management is teaching managers how to engage employees. This needs to be done with serious training, including role playing. It’s very important that line management participate actively as instructors. The training needs to be coupled with clear messaging about leadership commitment to the process as well as accountability of managers for the new behaviors.
Employees also need to be trained because it’s critical to set their expectations as to how managers are required to behave. Taking this step is important evidence that leadership is really committed to change, putting itself out there with the broader workforce. Today’s Millennials will take this very seriously and expect managers to deliver. Don’t take this step if you aren’t dead serious, because instead of engaging the workforce you will lose its respect.
3. Measure Employee Engagement
Once you take steps 1 and 2, get a fresh baseline for employee engagement. Don’t use established cookie-cutter surveys. Design your own based on your goals. This is not difficult to do and is quite meaningful. Starting from the baseline, set targets and work toward them. Use focus groups to go deep in understanding where the weaknesses are and then take corrective action. Make engagement targets as important as financial targets and hold managers accountable for meeting both.
4. Measure Performance and Reward the Right Behaviors
The key to this step is validation. It’s easy to validate financial measures. It takes courage to validate behavioral measures. Insist on it. Make courage a key element of fitness for the organization and reward it as a key behavior. Speaking up is not tattling. It’s insisting on accountability and transparency, both attributes of a winning culture. It will take a few cycles, but once it sticks, weak managers will have no place to hide. In fact, they won’t want to stay!
Once you take these steps, formal talent processes can follow. If talent processes are already in place, these 4 steps will finally make them effective.