2016: The Year of the People

If you subscribe to Chinese astrology, you know that 2016 is the Year of the Monkey. While monkeys are generally described as ultra-smart and very clever, relying on the Chinese Zodiac won’t be what the cleverest CEOs are focused on in the coming months. I can assure you that if business success is your goal, then next year will be what I call the Year of the People.

Let me explain. Year over year, when our research surveys ask which strategy is most important to achievement of business goals, the number one prevailing answer is business strategy.

Not this year. For the first time ever, the organization’s people strategy supersedes the organization’s business strategy, and in fact all other strategies, in regard to its importance in meeting business goals.

In Brandon Hall Group’s 2016 State of Talent Management Study, key results of which will be released the week of Jan. 4, 30% of organizations held up people strategy as the single most important conduit to business success. Business strategy took the second spot at a full 10 percentage points behind.

People Strategy Is the Most Important Lever For Business Success

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Source: Brandon Hall Group, 2016 State of Talent Management Study

Plain and simple, talent is the key differentiator between a business plan and effective execution of a business plan. And this year, the best organizations will take a stand to create high-performance workers, leaders, and teams. And who’s driving this stand? The C-Suite and the Board of Directors. No longer are they just the owners of talent strategies; they are driving them.

3 Talent Imperatives Most Organizations Are Overlooking

Within the very best people strategies, there are three ultra-essential dimensions that most organizations are overlooking.

Know Your Workforce

The foundation of all people strategies is intimate knowledge of your talent segments full-timers, contingent workers, alumni, Millennials, women leaders, emerging leaders, high-potentials, and seasonal help. This includes savvy about the nuances that come with each segment – or what I call personas, including:

  • Boomers are not necessarily retiring now as predicted. When they do retire, they aren’t planning to check out completely like traditional retirees have.
  • Millennials aren’t the only ones who expect open use of mobile devices and other technology in the workplace and during the workday. So do more senior peers, believe it or not.
  • Contingent workers are not the traditional 1099 contract worker. They expect to be treated just like any other full-timer, offered the same developmental opportunities and rewards.
  • Hiring Millennials doesn’t mean posting job openings on job boards or web sites and hoping for applications. It requires your acquisition team’s participation in Millennial-specific events and immediately following up with texts on next steps, not emailing days later.
  • Recognition is important for everyone and often looks different for each persona. Boomers may enjoy a periodic spot bonus; Millennials want regular attention, appreciation, and social recognition.

Effective execution of people strategies requires that you have intimate and precise understanding of your existing talent supply, its capabilities, and the future demand for each talent segment. That intimacy comes from the use of predictive analytics – in other words, forecasting turnover and knowing key sources of high-quality talent, and predicting revenue by talent segment or key job role. Here is why this is such an opportunity:


64% of organizations told us that using talent analytics is important or critical to the business


4% are prepared and ready to use talent analytics


Organizations with the best business results are in the court of intimacy with their workforce and take responsibility for using predictive analytics to appropriately and sensitively develop and energize each talent segment; they are not in the corner of operational hiring to fill open requisitions breeding mediocrity and acting with ignorance hoping employees and leaders bloom.

Create an Employee Experience

High-performance talent management as traditionally defined is all about the integration of all workforce and talent management processes – acquiring, developing, managing, and optimizing the performance of your people. At Brandon Hall Group, we prefer to think of high-performance talent management as perpetually better performance with perpetually lower risk. That means designing your talent strategy and talent processes as a true end-to-end employee experience. It isn’t about the steps an applicant goes through to apply for work at your organization, or the courses that your supervisors complete to get their new supervisor certification, or the career interest inventory that your employees access on your career portal, or annual talent calibration meetings and what names land in the upper right hand box.

I’m talking about how your employees, or a prospective employee, experiences your organization:

  • How do they come into your website?
  • What does it feel like to navigate your website?
  • Does your website amplify your core values?
  • How do your employees describe working at your organization?
  • Do they feel proud to be an employee there?
  • Do they feel appreciated?
  • Do they describe your workplace as fun?
  • Are they given personal attention?
  • Do they feel they have a leader who really cares about them?
  • What about your retirees? Are they truly alumni with a significant role still to play in your business? Or are they basically out of sight, out of mind?

Designing and implementing your talent strategy and talent processes as a perpetual end-to-end talent upgrade and with the “applicant-employee-alumni” experience at the heart is the make-or-break of high-impact talent strategies.

Offer Employees Choice

At the core of the highest impact talent retention strategies is choice. Choice appeals to individual differences and desires and unlocks capability. Choice is relevant and unique to every persona in your workforce – choice for Boomers, for Xers, for Millennials, for emerging leaders, for new hires, for all. Each persona has different needs and expectations and desires.

Consider flexible working arrangements. The Boomer may want it to care for aging parents; the Xer may want it to attend their kids’ functions; and the Millennial may want it for travel or to balance the addition of a new baby to the family.

Or maybe it is about technology – some want to use mobile devices more and some will only use mobile devices. So what does your technology policy look like and is it sensitive to the needs and expectations of each of your talent segments? Have you figured out how to let those who want to check Facebook during the day do so without giving them the proverbial black mark? Have you equipped or enabled your more senior employees to have mobile devices or just assumed they are not interested?

Sure, every talent process should have some degree of consistency across all employee groups and the enterprise. But at the same time, every talent process should build in choice – to one degree or another — around working arrangements, development options, work assignments, performance goals, and everything. The bottom line is this: the more choice you offer, the happier your employees. The happier your employees, the better your talent retention metrics. And the better your retention of top talent, the better your odds of business success.

Talent Retention Rates Still Struggling

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Source: 2016 Brandon Hall Group State of Talent Management Study

Taking Action on 3 Talent Musts

It’s one thing to be aware of the changes ensuing, it’s quite another to act on them. The best organizations are already taking action on these 3 talent management “musts.” Here’s what they are doing:

Using predictive analytics. At the root of intimately knowing your workforce is the use of internal and external data to support predictive analytics. Predictive analytics creates a well-informed senior leadership team that drives the talent agenda; a team that recognizes its accountability for the people strategy, not HR.  Accordingly, as talent and HR leaders, we have accountability to arm leadership with science-based research and benchmarks that educate about the nuances, expectations, and experiences of all the diverse groups within the organization.

Creating an “it just feels good to work here” organization. The key to accomplishing this type of organization is a commitment to empowering employees to be proud of their personal contributions and the contributions their organization makes to social responsibility. Start with understanding what interacting with your organization looks like and feels like from the perspective of the candidate, the employee, and the alumni. Some examples:

  • Offer developmental opportunities that are immersive and thought-provoking, going well beyond the traditional learning events bound by time and space of traditional classroom-based events.
  • Empower employees to give and get thanks regularly, often, and in ways that have meaning for each individual.
  • Communicate regularly and be sensitive to how your messages are engaging each persona in your workforce.
  • Build a collaborative culture and do so by inviting your employees to help shape what fun looks like in your organization.
  • Engage your alumni to spread their commitment to your brand and “great place to work” culture.
  • Be committed to making a contribution to society and empower employees with time to “give back to the community” or contribute to social responsibility in any other way personally appealing.

Giving every employee the best shot at great performance every day. At the root of offering employees choice is an agile, flexible, and nimble culture that embraces change, innovation, diverse thinking, and inclusion:

  • Are you knowledgeable and sensitive to what choices each talent segment aligns with?
  • Are you providing development opportunities that build experiences and have real meaning to each employee and each persona?

This doesn’t mean that if you have 6,000 employees, you need 6,000 different development options or 6,000 different benefit options. It does mean that you create options that have an element of consistency and have a broader element of choice in every dimension of your people strategy.

If you are serious about business success, get serious about these strategic talent decisions and actions. Leadership in the best organizations is paying attention to what most everyone else is now ignoring:

  • Knowing your workforce intimately
  • Creating an end-to-end employee experience
  • Empowering choice at every opportunity

Until next time …


Laci Loew
VP and Principal Analyst Talent Management
Brandon Hall Group

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