HR Learner in Development

Books are not the only resource in an academic library. The talent management process of librarians is vital to the success of the student body.

I recently finished reading “Talent Management: Cases and Commentary” as edited by Eddie Blass and found it to hold an exercise that I could produce for the organization that I work in.  As it is structured, the book goes through several talent management philosophies and processes from several different organizations.  Following are the results I deduced for an academic library.  Feel free to flush out the talent management structure of your company by following the same structure.

For the purposes of shared understanding, ‘talent’ as it applies to those individuals deemed as potentials for organizational leadership and success.

Talent Dimensions:

Size of Talent Pool –  In some organizations the talent pool can be quite large, but for the University Library, talent is limited primarily to the librarian roles, which is where I will focus my analysis.  Of the near 300 full-time employees working within the Division in staff, administrative, and technical positions, only 10% are the faculty talent.

Entry Criteria – Becoming a librarian within the Division is determined with great scrutiny.  The interview process alone has several stages where an individual must complete a rigorous interview process and present their current research and how it relates to the librarian position available.  The rate of entry seems to be roughly 1% for every librarian role.

Decision Process – The search committee initially determines entry into the Library Assistant rank.  A search committee can range from 4 to 8 individuals with vested interest in the success of the role.  On top of the search committee, the candidates are approved by both the Division’s Director of HR as well as the Dean of the library.  Reaching the Assistant level and Associate Curator level requires additional scrutiny by tenure track faculty members.

Permanency of Definition – The talent pool is not completely permanent here.  If a librarian is not staying current within the field or is not publishing (publish or perish) they will not move on in the ranks and will be managed out.

Recruitment as a Source of Talent – Talent can be recruited from both internal and external candidates.  The percentages for the past three years has shown roughly 20% internal and 80% external in placing librarians, although once in the librarian roles, these individuals may expand their responsibilities beyond the specialty they were brought on to advise in.

Transparency – The talent management process is made clear to all faculty members.  The Division aims for transparency in this and all other processes.

Development Path – The career path for the librarians is laid out with specific guidelines and milestones.

Development Focus – The focus at the library is on the strengths of our librarians.  As a leading academic library, our librarians need to be current and at the top of their field which demands a high degree of specialty within their subject areas.

Support – Support comes from the organization and within the talent pool.  The atmosphere is collegiate, so knowledge-sharing and collaborative innovation are the norm.  Talent is allowed leave in order to work on further research and they are supported financially while travelling to area-relevant conferences.

Influence on Career – At the end of the day, it is up to the individual to put in the effort to remain current and on top of their field.

Connected Conversations – Our librarians can speak to line managers, directors, and HR for suggestions on conferences or other ways to further their own personal research or publishing.

Organizational Values – The organization values supportive teamwork and collaboration.

Risk – The structure of the university creates a low risk promotion and succession planning model.  Hiring decisions are made by many individuals as a group and are not taken lightly.

Performance Management – Performance management varies in that some degree of output and input is necessary in the operation of the library and its departments.

Talent Management Process – The process is explicit to those who are within the talent pool, but more vague to those outside of it.  While the procedural documentation does exist, those who are non-facutly members do not generally read the faculty manual in order to discern what the success factors of being faculty would entail.

Use of technology – Counter-intuitively, technology is rarely used in the talent management system.  It is upon managers to communicate with employees directly and use paper based evaluation processes to determine the success of the talent pool.  Within the development aspect, however, technology is used as a learning method.

Systems Flexibility – At this point the system is somewhat inflexible.  University protocols call for certain measures to be taken and for the most part, status quo remains the norm for talent management, except for on a case by case basis.

Ownership of talent – The division wants its talent to flourish, but ultimately, it falls on the employee to produce results.  Front line managers may play an encouraging role, but it is up to the employee to fulfill all of the requirements and expectations of their role in order to succeed and move on in the organization.

Peak periods are the ideal times to discover inefficiencies and revitalize the way you do the same old tasks.

One of the easiest ways to spot inefficiencies is to analyze peak time transactions.  During the busiest time of the year, it is especially noticeable what processes take the most time and perhaps what wastes the most time.  It is during these periods of extra work when it is crucial to take a step back and try to think of ways in which to complete the work better.

This of course is easier said then done.  Work done in peak times are not often accompanied with many periods for innovative thought or development.  However, managers can lead this innovative thought by making it a priority for the team, and insuring time for experimentation.

While it may not be prudent to implement widespread experimentation during the peak period, small-scale experimentation may lead to a vital change which could impact speed and accuracy of peak time processes.

Therefore, managers should make it a priority to give their team members the room for experimentation. I read recently in the Harvard Business Review about the function of the boss as a human shield.  I agreed wholeheartedly with the article (“The Boss as Human Shield” by Robert I. Sutton, Sept. 2010).  By limiting the demands of both the manager and outside leadership, customer demands, and other departmental distractions, the manager is in a key position to insure that his or her people can focus and experiment on these side projects, which can surely lead to the improved functioning of the department/organization.

Depending on the function of the department, managers can limit interruptions by sending calls to voice mail, turning off internet or email receiving functions, offering to close access to the public early or open it late so that staff can work in peace, and a number of other options.

Of course, innovation in peak time can not be completely separated from peak time responsibilities. One strategy that I have found useful is to set aside a certain amount of time over the course of the week just to focus on the special project at hand. Seeing as people will likely not be able to brainstorm, experiment, and implement in a short period of time in one session, breaking it up in short bursts not only accomplishes gradual progress on a large project, but it also insures time for breaks, allowing the experimenters to come back to the project with fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, and potentially additional information about the problem that they may not have had before.

The busiest time of the year can be a time where people pound their heads against the wall, complaining about how lengthy, complicated, or stressful the overall tasks of the time can be, or it can be a time where people create strategies of ways to improve those tasks. In my humble opinion, encouraging the team to take those times as opportunities for improvement is definitely the path to take.

In putting a Rewards and Recognition system in place, pay special attention to how the system is playing out. Some of what you are doing may be working against your goal.

I have been reading a bit about Talent Management in a book called “Talent Management: Cases and Commentary,” edited by Eddie Blass and published by Palgrave Macmillan. I came across a passage that struck me as being both counter-intuitive and valuable.

I come from a department that has spent a great deal of time rethinking rewards and recognition, finding it something to strive for as a Division, following our strategic objectives.  However, rewarding talent can also have a dark side.  If the rewards structure is built in a way that pits people against eachother, negative cultures can emerge as follows:

1. Mercenary – Money comes before, and often at the expense of, teamwork

2. Networked – This culture is highly politicized and people know how to manipulate and backstab in order to compete internally

3. Performance – This culture is demanding, with no break for the employees who must always hit the right numbers for the bottom line

4. Communal – Everybody wants internal approval and no body wants to rock the boat making th decision process slow and innovation next to non-existant. 

5. Communication – There is little feedback and things may not be done as said.

The goal, therefore, is to find a framework that provides a proper amount of encouragement and support for people to work together towards the greater good of the group.  Above all, if you are trying to implement a successful rewards or recognition program, always remember to make the process transparent and fair so that people can understand the decisions, and perhaps strive to be in the favored group down the road.

While thinking about the culture of your organization may seem a no brainer, starting the conversation can be quite puzzling.

Culture, as dictionary.com puts it, is defined in part by  “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture”.  Every business, company, branch, department or any subsection of an organization has a culture of its own.  Thinking strategically, the organization’s culture should trump all other subgroups in a way that creates a coheisive culture for the whole.  Of course different branches or departments could have different ways of carrying out what needs to be done, as they should.  However, making a coheisive culture throughout is a bit more complicated.

But how is a company’s culture formed?  Following best practices, the culture should come out of the strategic plan for the organization.  If you don’t have a strategic plan, business plan, or other company goals, now would be the time to rethink your business strategies.  Take the time to understand your business and the needs of your clients. From there, you can determine what sort of people and what sort of behaviors fit within your organization.

Most of all, actions speak louder than goals. It’s great for a strategic plan to have lofty ideals of why the company was founded and where it’s headed.  It’s quite another for business leaders within the company to take some actions to bring those goals to fruition.

But honestly, does the strategic goal make sense?  I mean that in two ways.  First, does it set forth goals that fit with what your company is all about?  Does it address the needs of the organization and the services that it provides? It is important that these questions are asked not only once but on a continuous and routine basis, so that as the company’s need changes, so too will the goals change to fit it, along with the company practices. Second, do people know what the heck it’s trying to say. Strategic plans need to be clear, concise, and understandable to everyone.  Not only that, but the plan needs to be reachable by everyone.  Without theplans being widespread throughout the hieght and breadth of the company, there is no chance that the goals will actually be acheived in any manageable way.

So what kinds of actions need to take place to bring the strategic plan to life? These ideas can and should come from anyone who works in the company, but the final call falls to the leadership of the company. Just thinking, however, about all aspects of a business, the strategic plan should have a grasp on processes all throughout the organization.  The following is just a short list of the many which need to be closely tied to a company’s strategic plan:

Recruitment and Hiring Decisions

Retention Practices

Advertising and Marketing

Research and Development

Company Metrics

Promotion and Compensation Decisions

Learning and Development

Overall Policy Decisions

Of course I am missing many, but I hope to be able to touch upon many of these in future posts.  I have reviewed my Division’s strategic plan, framed it in work conversations, and analyzed it some more with additional reading on my own, and I wish to impart a little of what I have found.

I suggested a while back to take several steps in career development to encourage career growth and satisfaction. A note of caution is that too much focus on developing your career, or any other activity, could have a propensity to be self-destructive, even if it is what you most wanted or loved from your job.Whether you work in a field which requires a large emotional capacity, large intellectual capacity, or large physical capacity, the body and mind can easily be overtaxed if you do not allow it the proper rest.  This is even clear over the course of a work day or work week – you will feel drained by a demanding time.  To avoid this, you can do several things:  

1.  Eat well  

2.  Get plenty of sleep – During sleep, the body has a chance to re-energize and the mind can organize everything you have learned  

3.  Take mini-breaks – During the course of the day, if your work environment allows it, rest your mind by thinking of something non-work related, even if that means having a fun conversation with a co-worker.  Take a coffee break, go for  a walk, do whatever you need to do to break the constant flow of work thoughts.  Believe it or not, you will return to work more energized and more on your game than if you had been focused on the work all day long.   

4. Use your vacation and personal days – For goodness sakes, please!  If this is a benefit within your company, use it.  Get away from the “But my role is vital,” or “Things will just pile up while I’m away” thinking.  Believe me I’ve heard it.  And I’ve also heard, from the same people, that taking that day away or that week away, unplugged, was re-energizing and made them more efficient upon their return.   

All in all, know your limits.  If it is a busy time in your life, adding more to the mix will not necessarily help you.  Keep this in mind as you add development activities to your routine.  Striking the proper balance will get you far.

Be on the lookout for employees to pack up and leave. Keep your team feeling appreciated and challenged to reduce the risk of mass exodus.

A lot of businesses and organizations have seen an increased number of people willing to stay with the company for longer periods of time over the past year or so. 

As the economy starts to improve and people feel more comfortable with the job market, people are likely to start looking around again.  The challenge of the company to retain these valuable resources, or when all else fails, to find better ways to make their talent’s knowledge transferable.

 Unfortunately for organizations, if they haven’t made steps to retain by this point, they are in serious risk of loosing a good number of employees in the near future.  During a period of recession, it is in the best interest of the company to train and cultivate their talent.  If employees are being retained for longer periods of time, people understand their jobs better, and they understand their role within the company.  The true struggle is for the company to get the employees to buy in to their mission, or even just their benefits.

Several key ways to retain your ‘flight risks’ are to:

1.  Identify potential flight risks – It sounds simple, but identifying the groups that are more prone to leave is a vital part in identifying ways of retaining them. 

2.  Identify the needs of these groups – Whether that be more money, more responsibility, more time off, or what have you, try to glean this information from your talent.

3.  Identify the needs of the company – During the economic realities of today, the company may not  be able to support of the needs of those the company wishes to attain.  However, recognizing the amount of latitude a company’s budget and resources has can really point to what can still be done to reward, recognize, and support that talent group.

4.  Review the strategic goals of the company and the department.  If you don’t know what they are, find out.  If the strategy is poorly defined, clarify and make it strong.  In reviewing the strategies, identify areas which can be enhanced.  Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.  Your company may have had to downsize due to economic hardships over the past few months.  You may be tempted to recreate the same structure when the economy does improve, but don’t.  Realize that you now have solid talent that has been with the company for a good amount of time, most likely performing the same tasks for a long time and more.  Some of these people may now be qualified for a position twice the level they are in currently.  Take advantage of their specialties and their knowledge of the company, and restructure in a way that gives the company a better edge.

5.  Align the needs of the individuals with the strategic goals of the company – While the money might not be in place to move your talent to roles which would meet their career goals and intellectual needs, identifying the potentials and giving them the support that they need to get to that future state now will improve the chances that when the growth can be made, the talent is already in place to move up.

6.  Show them you care – By doing the steps above and more, you will be showing your talent pool that you appreciate them and would like them to continue.

The importance of feedback can not be understated.  Occasional check ins  are necessary for getting on the same page about successes and areas of growth.  I don’t say ‘areas of growth’ as a mistake; the term weakness is avoided on purpose.

The danger of feedback lies in the negative.  The presence of too many negatives drives the appraised to disheartedness and defensiveness, anger and resentment, often resulting in less productive work, missed days, and disengagement, on the extreme end.  Even just a few negatives can bring a relatively positive conversation to the ground.  Done well, however, it can  be motivating.

Therefore it is vital for those giving the feedback to truely understand the art of it.  They need to understand it as a tool for re-establishing expectations and goals, a method of providing praise to successes and support to the challenges.  Framing, attitude, and timing are key.  They

Even done right, negatives are powerful.  If you delivery feedback:

  1. Know the job that you are evaluating well.  Proper preparations should be taken in reviewing a job description and other like documents. 
  2. Discuss positive performance first.  Statistically speaking, the person will remain in a self-affirming mood when going into some of the more touchy subjects.
  3. State observations, and focus on specific incidences of specific behaviors.  There is nothing worse than vague feedback – there is nowhere to go from there, and a feeling of confusion or even resentment can come out of it.
  4. Provide enough time for the employee to defend him or herself, or talk about his or her present concerns.  If need be, use similar techniques for interviews in this meeting.  Wait for answers, and rephrase questions or suggestions if the person is not responsive.
  5. Set goals together, that you both agree on, that would benefit the growth of the individual and the department by extension 
  6. Finally, don’t just let this be the last conversation.  If specific actionable goals were discussed, check back in to see how things are progressing.

If you are being appraised:

  1. Don’t take the appraisal personally.  The appraisal is intended to bring everyone back to the same page. 
  2. Don’t make snap judgements.  Allow the information to sink in a little.  It’s easy to get emotionally defensive of the work that you do, so it may take some reflection to acknowledge the truth in the feedback.
  3. If you have to, vent about it, but not to your boss or co-workers.  Venting to your boss is dangerous for you.  Bringing your negative emotions to your co-workers can possible poisin the work environment.  Present your thoughts to your non-work relations, and ask them to support you and give you suggestions as to better the situation.
  4. If you don’t understand where something is coming from, ask.  Get specifics, and get suggestions how to be more effective in what is being asked of you.
  5. Take a negative feedback session as a wake up call, and a call for growth.   Frankly, if it’s important enough, if  change does not occur your reputation and your job could be on the line so a serious look at these.  So what behaviors do you need to implement or abandon?  Do any of your workplace attitudes need readjusting? 
  6.  If there is someone who is excelling in an area where you are struggling, ask for suggestions.