The Importance of a Defined Talent Strategy: Q and A with Al Adamsen

April 5, 2016 Debra Auerbach

“Talent strategy” might not be a four letter word, yet many organizations are still afraid to use the term, according to Al Adamsen, founder and executive director of Talent Strategy Institute. That may stem from the inability to define what it truly means and understand how it fits into a company’s overall business strategy. Yet having a clear game plan for acquiring and keeping top talent is crucial to a company’s success.

We interviewed Adamsen to gain insight on how organizations can build a winning talent strategy and the key role workforce analytics plays in its development and execution.

CB: Companies that want to stay ahead of the competition need a talent strategy in addition to other key business strategies. Where do you see data coming into play within a company’s talent strategy?

AA: When talking to business leaders and HR executives, ask them, “Do you regard people as a key asset? Do you have a people strategy? Can you share with me how you formulate, manage and message?” It’s likely that no one will share this information because they don’t have it.

Let’s talk about how to do this – how to consciously create the candidate and employee experience. Some of the questions you need to ask include:

  • Where do analytics come in to play? You have to know what is and isn’t already in place.
  • Who are your high performers and how are they identified? No one is happy with their performance benchmarks.
  • How do you understand what is keeping people at your company? Historical measures might not be appropriate. Let’s track this through the life cycle.
  • What is the best source for this data – internal, external or both? How would you value each of these sources?

 

When it comes to turn around, think about what your leaders want or need to know. Some might be focused on the wrong things, so you need to prioritize and then find out what data you need.

CB: Why is it so important for organizations to understand what a talent strategy is?

AA: I often cite the quote, “The beginning of wisdom is starting with the right terms.” “Talent strategy” is rarely used as a term by an organization. Really defining what a talent strategy is and how it fits into your business planning cycle is crucial. The organizations that are creating workforces well are measuring and finding ways to manage the success of the process. Organizations must focus on data, technology and people – if you only focus on one of these pillars, the boat is not going to float.

CB: Do you think companies should be establishing workforce analytics teams within HR, or should HR teams skill up to do more data analysis for talent forecasting?

AA: In today’s market, not many truly get this and fewer are addressing it. It’s one of the reasons why our discipline hasn’t matured. The person doing this work needs to have the internal cache to say, stop – we need to take a look at our performance management.

HR teams need to hire someone responsible for all four buckets of workforce intelligence capability: HR metrics, surveys, analytics and workforce planning. You need all four buckets funneling through one person, otherwise you’re just creating a lot of noise. This person shouldn’t be too senior or too junior. If they are too high level, they might not be willing to get into the “weeds.” If they are too junior, they may not have the ability to tell the story with the data.

CB: You mentioned that while workforce analytics is a hot topic, only about 20-25 percent of all companies are actually using workforce analytics data to drive decisions. What holds those other organizations back?

AA: Two things hold them back. The first is leadership involvement, and a leader’s decision to do the work. Many sit back and ask for insight, but they don’t support HR or the owner of the process with the right resources. Leaders have to make a conscious decision to make it a priority.

Also, organizations need someone to focus on this effort. Creating a story around the data is a full-time job – not a part-time one. If you are a large enterprise, five key roles are needed to be committed to it.

CB: Why would a company want to consider using a partner for external workforce analytics data vs. having an internal team do the work?

AA: Even if you are large company, this might be too much for one person. It might make sense to ask for help from an external team with more expertise. Smaller companies should really consider going externally. For this to take hold, there needs to be a reoccurring event where this data is displayed, whether that’s through a quarterly meeting, event, etc. If you use an external partner, it’s still important to have someone internally to lead and manage the process.

CB: How do you recommend telling a story with data, and how can this practice help HR when having conversations with key stakeholders who don’t understand workforce planning?

AA: When telling a story with data to stakeholders, it should come from an advisor who can build trust by offering ideas based on insights that have been empirically derived. Leaders often don’t know what questions to ask, so analysts need to do the work for them. It’s an analyst’s job to test new hypotheses and either validate facts or bust myths.

Al Adamsen is a globally recognized thought leader, advisor and educator in the areas of Talent Strategy, Workforce Planning and Analytics, Talent Measurement and Organizational Change. He’s the founder and executive director of the Talent Strategy Institute, a global association committed to expanding the production and use of meaningful workforce insight. For more on Adamsen, check out his LinkedIn profile.

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