Why do businesses consistently go to the trouble of hiring new workers instead of developing the talent they already have?
The reality is, hiring good talent—for skills as well as cultural fit—takes time. Onboarding slows down productivity and results. Not only that, looking externally for new talent feeds a perception that your company does not invest in employee career growth. That, in turn, reduces engagement and increases turnover, creating a vicious cycle.
Letting current workers’ skills “go stale” can also necessitate layoffs, hurting your employer brand and decreasing the morale and effectiveness of remaining staff.
So again, why does everyone prefer to hire? On the surface, it’s “easier.” A process already exists. “Talent alchemy,” on the other hand — the reshaping existing skill sets — is difficult to implement at scale. But with a little foresight, HR leaders can make internal talent development more successful and measurable.
Let’s look at three major inhibitors of internal talent investment.
1. We don’t know the current state of talent.
The vast majority of talent data accessible to organizations today is obsolete, missing, or wrong. A big part of the problem: Internal talent systems don’t inspire employees to share data. But it’s impossible to begin an effective retooling discussion without an accurate assessment of the tools our employees have.
Most talent development systems still rely on top-down management to incentivize employee adoption and utilization—which does not work. Instead, give employees a clear reason to participate: mobility, flexibility, career ownership, and advocacy from management in career mobility. The only way workforce planning works is when employees freely give you data, and people don’t give data unless their getting a lot in return.
Remember, while you’re apprehensive about how your business will remain competitive with its current skill sets, your employees have the same concern about their careers. So launch a program that delivers mutual benefit.
2. We don’t entirely understand what talent we need.
A hiring manager will tell HR what talents she needs (skills I require this person to have) to satisfy her user story (what I want this person to do). Too often, that list leaves the HR business partner in the dark about the full function of the role. That makes it difficult to effectively fill the position, especially from within.
Thus, we get the default pattern: That under-resourced hiring manager adds a few new skills to an out-of-date job description. (This helps assure that the role doesn’t challenge status quo on compensation structure, which is generally a whole other headache.) Now the HR partner is set up to search for the skills easiest to find, compromise on those skills that are most valuable, and deliver a new hire whose full function, actual value, and long-term potential he doesn’t clearly understand.
Instead, organizations should take the same scenario-planning approach to talent as they would any other investment. Competitive analysis, industry benchmarks, trend and projection data, and geographic availability drive better decision making. This level of diligence not only provides better insight into opportunities for internal training, it improves the hiring process, too.
3. We can’t measure the gap between the current and desired state of talent.
Today’s processes consider skills as a collection of equal, individual attributes. People can recognize thematic similarities between skills, but our systems and processes don’t. The scale of talent management forces organizations to look for exact matches on skills and competencies, rather than seeing approximations—and potential.
If you measure how many of your developers know Python, your system will overlook the developer whose competency in four other programming languages suggests she could quickly learn the new skill. And QA engineers will not describe their product management experience, but good test scripts are built on user stories and prioritization, two key elements of working in product.
Businesses can’t manage talent this way. Just deciding it’s easier to hire a Python developer for a key project, or bring in a new PM, dismisses the organizational and cultural knowledge existing employees would bring. And recognizing opportunities to develop internal talent lets you focus your hiring process on areas you genuinely can’t develop from within.
Transforming Talent Opportunities
Businesses have to evolve quickly against an ever-shifting technological landscape in which digital disruption is a constant fear. You can’t hire your way out of every strategic challenge, because a core requirement is a culture that adapts to change. For that, you must understand and develop your base of talent.
This approach comes with numerous positive side effects:
Ancient alchemists sought to turn lead into gold. Today’s HR leaders need to work a similar transformation, helping employees turn outdated skill sets into high-value new competencies. Fortunately, the process doesn’t have to be a mystery. It requires nothing more magical than a focus on the opportunities at hand.
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