Getting Their Attention

Getting Their Attention

The day has arrived when the “State of Talent” is atop the agenda for the senior management meeting. 

You’ve prepared for months, and you’re looking forward to energized engagement, new sponsorship and, perhaps, a bit of overdue appreciation. Unfortunately, you enter the room and are faced with distracted executives.

 First, these executives have a lot on their minds. While this is our full-time job and we swim in the pool of talent management all day, the line leaders I meet just dip their toe in talent waters from time to time. 

Second, while they have a sense of the importance of the topic, they may not have had a good experience with what HR has produced in the past. Previous talent leaders may not have established a credible connection by succumbing to confusing HR-speak, myopic focus and a shaky track record of producing meaningful initiatives.

To overcome these challenges, consider three strategies.

 Timing Is Everything

Strong talent management ideas and progress presented at the wrong time is often under-appreciated. I’ve learned to sequence when we connect with senior executives based on the overall business cycle of the fiscal year.

The best time for meaningful talent planning is between the company’s long-term strategy sessions and annual budgeting process. The fresh perspective of the new strategic plans can uncover new talent capabilities. Concluding talent session decisions are then detailed as next year’s budget plans are created.   

Through the sequencing of talent reviews, I’ve also learned to forged partnerships with the strategic planning department and the corporate finance team to ensure space on the corporate calendar. These partners also help us direct relevant topics and integrate decisions.

 Something Old, Something New

One of the balancing acts in constructive engagement with busy senior managers is to be consistent with the approach while bringing something new each time.

 The consistent part is a framework of “evergreen” agenda items when reviewing the state of talent. These evergreen items include critical role pool/pipeline health and risks, overall potential profiles, mobility and diversity. 

The new part each year is a “hot topic” that emerges from the strategic plans and other talent trends. These additions have included the shifting mix of entry level vs. experienced hires, lessons learned with recent leadership derailments and talent accelerator profiles of new high potentials. 

 Trade Numbers for Stories

The new human capital systems are producing reports at an increasing rate. The good news is senior leaders are very comfortable with numbers, therefore they resonate when we bring in credible data. The bad news is numbers alone may be interesting, but not necessarily insightful or compelling. 

For a number of years, we were trotting out a set of statistical averages and numeric forecasts of future turnover based on looming retirement eligibility. While we saw the early warning signs in the numbers, our audience didn’t.  

The breakthrough came when we tossed out showing numbers and told a story through a moving picture of what the top 85 positions would look like in the near-term future. Retirement eligible people were color coded red and as the slides advanced the organization charts quickly went from mostly white to quite red. 

That simple visual storytelling approach created more urgency for talent development in three minutes than the last three years of numerical reviews. 

 The strategic lesson is that talent executives are moving to more data-driven decisions, and while we will do well to use numbers, framing the insights as a story is more compelling. 

Getting the work of talent planning front and center with senior leaders can be challenging. Timing our encounters, mixing evergreen with hot topics and framing compelling stories are three of the most effective ways we’ve learned to successfully connect with the senior management.


(c) 2015 Kevin Wilde