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Getting Leaders To Own Talent Strategy Is Key To Success

Integrated talent strategies are not the same as embedded talent strategies. Here's how to make the latter happen.

I’ve encountered many HR leaders who become frustrated when line leaders promote individuals who are not in the coveted “succession box” in the succession plan. Similarly, I’ve had many line executives tell me they never received coaching on their company’s so-called critical competencies and behaviors—and wish they had recognized their gaps and worked on developing new behaviors much earlier in their careers.

Why the disconnect? It comes down to the fact that integrated talent strategies are not the same as embedded talent strategies. Only when business leaders and functional leaders own the talent strategy and leverage it on a day-to-day basis will they see the impact on the business they desire.

Embedding talent strategy is a critical change-management endeavor. The key is to understand how to influence and change aspects of the operating culture that will get leaders, frontline managers and employees aligned and using the different levers of the talent strategy on a consistent basis.

While each organization’s operating culture is different, here are some key steps to embedding talent strategy:

1) Feedback, feedback, feedback

CEOs and senior teams are typically the final arbiters of new leadership competencies linked to the business strategy. They need to buy into the language and be role models for the rest of the organization. Ultimately, however, they have to live the competencies consistently on a day-to-day basis.

While HR will often introduce formal mechanisms for leaders to provide feedback on leadership competencies and behaviors, the truth is that without informal use of the language within the competencies and behaviors, they get little traction. CEOs need to call out their direct reports when they see behaviors inconsistent with leadership expectations, and senior team members need to do the same with their direct reports.

2) Recognize those who are ready to scale

Nothing embeds and energizes a talent strategy more than hiring someone into a critical leadership role who may not possess all the requisite experience but who embodies all the desired leadership competencies. (On the flip side, watch for the lukewarm reaction to the tenured, experienced hire who displays some but not all the leadership requirements.) The symbolic nature associated with a well-thought plan for promoting or hiring a new kind of leader can signal that the organization is serious about the shifting leadership requirements.

More importantly, this type of decision motivates high-potentials with the desired competencies by conveying that there is room to professionally grow and develop and eventually have a shot at broader leadership roles in the future. Encouraging calculated risk-taking at all levels over time can shift the operating culture such that people want to learn how to develop the leadership competencies and behaviors they see in leadership roles across the company.

3) Get out of the room

Finally, the HR function is often too associated with talent-management initiatives or processes. How many times do we see HR leaders facilitating talent-review sessions as part of succession-planning initiatives? Similarly, while it is commonly recognized that business leaders need to play a significant role in the delivery of leadership development programs, how many are involved in the design and planning? We need to get out of the room more frequently and encourage business leaders to lead talent-management endeavors.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t help educate business leaders and help them prepare for this type of leadership. We simply need to be more cognizant of the subtle ways that we can involve leaders across the company in efforts to grow people capabilities. By doing so, we can further shift the operating culture such that the importance of the talent strategy and talent-related initiatives is a shared value and just “how we do things around here.”


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