Talent Management in Turbulent Times

Published in Indian Gaming Magazine:
With so many challenging workforce issues confronting Human Resources professionals, one might think that talent management would become less of a focus in an economic downturn; however, research shows that companies that endured times of economic crisis have the best developed strategies to manage their talent.
And even though the list of HR concerns includes myriad topics such as:
-        competition for skilled and experienced employees
-        retention of key talent
-        a workforce of multi-generations presenting issues related to baby boomer retirement and their ability to communicate with generations X & Y
-        assessing and controlling the cost of turnover
-        managing global workforces
-        addressing low levels of employee engagement
-        developing succession planning
-        remaining abreast of outsourcing trends and surviving in a bad economy;
HR leaders realize that successful talent management is a major driver of organizational performance and competitive advantage.
During an economic downturn, attention turns to protecting revenue and trimming expenses. Management strategizes on how to cut costs without cutting jobs and how to increase productivity, morale and staff engagement. The increased focus on business efficiency can erode employee trust in the organization and increase insecurity, leading to reduced commitment, effort and performance.
At this point in the business cycle when companies need employees to be flexible, adaptable and fully committed, they run the risk of creating the opposite reaction.
Employees can’t help but respond to the negative media and signals in the workplace with fears of company bankruptcy or merger/acquisition. They are concerned that their position may be lost to downsizing or a workforce reduction, or that they will be asked to take a cut in salary, work hours, incur the cessation of 401K contributions, or a cut in benefits.
Most HR executives understand that their goal is to maintain a workforce of engaged employees who are enthusiastic about and highly committed to their jobs and their organizations; who take ownership for, and pride in the quality of their work and who constantly look for ways to improve quality and productivity. Their challenge is to implement effective talent management programs.
Talent management encompasses strategic HR programs designed to maximize workforce productivity. It covers a range of HR functions focusing on attracting, retaining, managing, and developing high quality workforces. It includes performance management, staffing, compensation, learning management, employee development, and succession planning.
Steven T. Hunt, Director of Business Transformation Success Factors Inc., enumerates “common sense” factors for designing and evaluating talent management methods which increase workforce productivity, in his white paper titled “Common Sense Talent Management - Twelve fundamental principles for increasing workforce productivity.”
Hunt contends that the “end goal of talent management initiatives is to help get the right people in the right jobs doing the right things to make a business succeed.”
Gaming industry managers understand that business results are driven by factors within and outside of the control of the organization. Competitor activity, economic market conditions, or government legislation cannot be controlled. However, they can manage business strategy, organizational structure, and workplace policies.
The basic goal of talent management is influencing the behavior of employees to support the company’s business strategies and objectives through effective staffing, compensation, performance management, and career development programs.
Hunt suggests that there are twelve (12) principles that should be considered when developing any form of talent management system.
• Respect Employees
• Clarify Objectives
• Increase Awareness
• Create Dialogue
• Maintain Accountability
• Integrate Development into Work
• Provide a Picture of High Performance
• Give Your Employees Visibility to One Another.
• Support People at Different Phases of Career Growth.
• Evaluate Potential and Experience
• Help People Figure Out What They Want
• Create Processes that Strategically Engage People’s Attention.
Respecting employees involves being sensitive to their interests, needs, and goals. Simply listening to employee concerns is often enough to give employees a sense of being respected. Most employees recognize there are limitations to what an organization can and cannot do to make their lives better.
Clarifying objectives requires clearly defining and communicating the goals employees are expected to achieve in their jobs. One of the most effective ways to maximize workforce productivity is to tell employees exactly what it is you want them to do and to involve them in the goal setting process.
Providing performance feedback gives employees information that both increases their awareness of what they need to change and increases their confidence in their ability to change. Feedback must inspire employees to become more effective by providing suggestions on ways they might be able to change or modify their behavior to improve their performance.
Companies must strive to keep the lines of communication open between managers and employees. Technology is playing an increasing role in meeting this challenge by providing their team members with tools to exchange information about job roles, goals, and performance. However, be careful to ensure that technology does not replace face-to-face meetings and dialogue between managers and their staffs.
Maintaining accountability increases employee commitment toward the company by creating an organizational culture that is perceived to be more fair and equitable. People need to understand the connection between what they do on the job and the rewards they receive from the company. This requires establishing, communicating, and following processes that directly link employee performance to pay, job opportunities, promotions, and other employment decisions.
Integrating employee development into work provides goals that employees can only accomplish by building new competencies, learning new skills and developing new capabilities. The company should demonstrate a commitment to helping the employees learn the new competencies and skills they will need to achieve these goals by providing coaching support, training materials, and other learning resources that allow them to develop the capabilities they need to succeed.
Pictures of high performance should clearly indicate the multidimensional nature of job performance and range of behaviors that impact job success and reflect the multi-cultural makeup of the company. This includes communicating the behaviors the company wishes to encourage and explaining how these are different from behaviors shown by average or ineffective employees.
Companies create teamwork by encouraging their employees to establish connections with coworkers that share similar interests and goals. Corporations are using internet based social networking technology to help establish and maintain connectivity among employees within their workforce. When employees view their coworkers as friends they tend to be more willing to invest their time and energy into supporting the company.
A multi-generational work force consists of employees who are in different phases of careers growth. Younger employees work in different positions as they attempt to find the type of position that best suits their talents and interests. This is followed by employees who are pursuing career advancement by developing specialized skills and moving to positions of increasing responsibility. As employees raise and care for families, they may be reluctant to pursue opportunities that require making major changes to their lives outside of work. When employees are tenured and comfortable in their jobs, they may transition their focus away from work to other interests outside of the workplace.  Companies can accommodate the needs of employees at different career stages by demonstrating flexibility and understanding that what their employees want and need from a job changes as they progress through life.
The goal of talent management practices such as staffing and succession planning is to predict what employees will do in the future if placed in certain positions. When appropriately designed and applied, these assessments can assist in predicting the employees’ future performance.
Employees reach peak performance levels when they are placed in jobs that match what they can do and what they want to do. One element of effective talent management is helping employees understand what job opportunities exist in your organization and how these opportunities relate to their needs and interests. A company can use their career site to feature employees sharing what their jobs entail. They can provide cross-training and access to standardized assessments that help them define and clarify their job interests and goals.
There are few if any talent management methods that could not benefit from some level of automation and standardization. But consideration should be given to balancing the efficiency gained by performing things in a consistent, routine manner against the benefits gained by performing things in a less automated manner that requires more mental energy and effort so as to strategically engage your employees’ attention.
Some of the questions Taleo, a provider of on-demand talent management solutions, offers to HR professionals to assess their talent management strategies include:
Can you efficiently adapt to business changes and ensure organizational flexibility by leveraging an internal talent pool?
Can you quickly attract and onboard the best talent from outside the company?
Do you need to retrain your employees for new tasks and anticipated business changes?
Do you believe that providing essential training to your key employees will have a positive impact on their motivation and confidence in the future?
Are your learning and development programs integrated with performance and succession management?
Can you save money on training personnel, travel, and facilities by making use of e-learning and virtual classroom capabilities, especially in the case of a global workforce?
Do you know all key positions in your organization and what their bench strength looks like?
Do you have the required insight into the skills of your workforce?
If key employees leave the company, do you know with whom to close the gaps in your organization?
As your business objectives change, are your employees aligned with the new objectives?
Does each and every employee know how to contribute to your corporate goals individually?
If need be, do you know whom to keep and whom to lay-off?
Do you know how to allocate tight bonus budgets to the right people?
Do you know which employees are committed to the company by long-term incentives and who are not?
The challenges HR professionals face require innovative thinking to achieve business success. They need to align employees with corporate goals. They must evolve from policy creation, cost reduction, process efficiency, and risk management to driving a new talent mindset within the organization.
Instead of focusing on processes, forms, and compliance, HR becomes the strategic enabler of talent management processes that empower managers and employees, while creating business value.
An effective talent management program implements integrated strategies and systems designed to improve processes for recruiting, developing and retaining people with the required skills and aptitude to meet current and future organizational needs.  
Beth Deighan is the President of Casino Careers Online (www.casinocareers.com), which provides Talent Acquisition Strategies and Resources to Employers in the Gaming-Hospitality/Technology industry, as well as to regulatory agencies and gaming industry vendors & suppliers. Casino Careers also provides Job Seeker assistance, such as resume enhancement and career transition tools. Beth can be reached at info@casinocareers.com or 609-813-2333. Job Board & Resume Database Access recruitment package information can be obtained at: http://www.casinocareers.com/services/pricing.cfm