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The Conference Board–Talent Strategies Management Conference

On February 9th and 10th I had the pleasure of attending an event sponsored by The Conference Board here in New York City. Founded in 1916, The Conference Board is a not-for-profit organization, working with businesses and their leaders to make better decisions–in their words, “to help our members understand and deal with the most critical issues of our time.” 

The event I attended, the Talent Strategies Management Conference, spoke clearly to the organization’s mission. Tight budgets, coupled with lingering economic uncertainty, continue to dictate how leaders use limited company resources. Yet it’s apparent that Talent Management (TM) must be a priority, in order for businesses to remain competitive in the face of constant internal and external disruption. As Valerie Grillo, Vice President of Global Leadership Development at American Express stated, “What got us here today isn’t going to make us successful in the future.” No organization, whether globally recognized or regionally based, can ill afford to ignore this.

So it comes as no surprise that the event’s attendance was high. An informal tally revealed approximately 150 participants, spanning the range from humble blogger/HR Generalist (myself) to senior executives and CEO’s. This mix of business leaders, both on and off the stage, coupled with the beautiful surroundings (the event was held at the world famous Waldorf=Astoria), allowed for a rich discussion of TM centered philosophies, strategies, and tactics. These factors will undoubtedly enable participants to walk away from the event inspired, informed, and ready to put theory into practice.

The two day conference was informative on many levels. All those in attendance understood the critical role in how a robust, well planned and executed talent management program benefited an organization and its members. And while companies approached it in various ways, a few common themes emerged.

  • “Talent Management activities must be be integrated with your business planning activities.” This quote by George S. Barrett, Chairman and CEO of Cardinal Health, Inc., sums up a recurring theme on display at the conference–TM strategies must be explicitly linked to the organization’s business strategy. This seems obvious (at least to me) and yet many companies are not good at talent management. According to Alice Kwan from Deloitte Consulting, in reference to a Deloitte report entitled, “Talent Edge 2020: Redrafting talent strategies for the uneven recovery”, only 17% of organizations consider themselves best in class with regards to talent management programs. 83% reported the need for significant improvement in this area. In order to drive organizational objectives it’s critical for leaders to provide the framework, goals, and tools for its members to succeed. If TM systems and programs are not aligned with business objectives it leads to waste, disengagement, and a decreased competitive advantage. This often involved much organizational soul searching by senior leadership. Assessment of the brand’s position, both currently and where it wanted to be down the road, helped to define what the talent road map may look like. Having a finger on the company’s pulse (whether through external or internal assessments) helped define what people-centric behaviors and outcomes were valued.
  • Human Resources wasn’t the only player on the field. HR was an important partner in the design, implementation, and ongoing development of a company’s talent management initiative. For true success (meaning high quality and sustainable design, execution, and user acceptance) ALL key stakeholders needed to be involved. It was intentional in many organizations to have senior leaders pilot specific TM initiatives in a public fashion. Going back to Cardinal Health Inc., it was mentioned that HR executes the strategies, but all business leaders drive it. At PepsiCo Inc., they utilize a dual 5-point performance evaluation system, broken out by People and Business objectives. Each represents 50% of a leader’s total performance score. As Allen H. Church, PepsiCo’s Vice President of Global Talent Development stated, “How you achieve results is as important as what you achieve.” 
  • Keeping it simple. Almost everyone spoke of the need to have a simple, user-friendly, and most importantly, integrated talent management systems. Some told of having TM processes such as performance feedback as being “folded” into a leader’s day-to-day interactions with staff. For instance, leaders from both Campbell Soup Company and PepsiCo Inc. spoke of ‘Moments of Truth’. These were the commonplace interactions between supervisors and employees that, when done wrong, potentially impacted morale and productivity. Both companies took proactive approaches to coach supervisors on their behaviors, enabling them to have more effective conversations. Technology deployment was also discussed. Many companies found that integration across the enterprise was critical for talent management programs to truly penetrate the culture, particularly for those companies that had a portfolio of product lines and/or were global in nature. This allowed for high user adoption as well as transparency. Many companies present spoke of setting up their respective systems so that, barring certain restrictions, employees, leaders, and executives had access to relevant talent related data. Reviews were no longer hidden in storage, they were out in the open and available across the entire enterprise.
  • Getting the most bang for your buck. Many participants made it explicitly clear that talent management wasn’t a one-size-fits-all process. While it was important for the entire enterprise to pursue effective TM strategies, significant resource allocation (in the form of budget dollars and executive level sponsorship, amongst other things) was targeted to those opportunity areas which would yield the best bottom line results. For example, high potential employees and enterprise solutions were of particular importance to most organizations present at this event. 

The Talent Strategies Management Conference was a great event to attend. I wish to thank The Conference Board for putting together such a well organized event, as well as giving me the opportunity to attend. I also wish to thank the speakers (particularly Lori Pierson and Molly Simpkins) for sharing the good, bad and ugly when it comes to how they were able to effective tackle talent management strategies within their respective organizations.

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