For those of you old enough to remember cassette tapes, you may recall the somewhat painful task of ejecting your tape, flipping it over, and pushing play again only to suffer through a sub-par filler-type collection of what were clearly the worst songs on the album. Every now and then though, especially from a great artist, you might have discovered a hidden gem or even a secondary sort of collection that truly rounded it out and made the entire thing better. Despite these songs probably not rating from a chart-worthy perspective, their inclusion seemed to make the entire album stronger. Had they been left out, listeners would have felt short-changed certainly and maybe even unfulfilled, and the artist’s reputation would have suffered.
The B-Side, B-List, etc. gets a bit of an unfair reputation. The Alpha is usually king and organizations are not immune to applying these limited metrics when measuring their people. Recent large-scale research efforts from McKinsey (2008) and Ernst & Young (2010) however have attempted to guide HR professionals towards more inclusive talent management strategies that recognize the contributions of mid-level, steady performers in addition to the traditional high potential focus. Terms like “the vital many” in this research emphasize the idea that organizations are made up of more than a few rising stars, and that companies who embrace their talent in a full spectrum way will outpace their competition. In other words, attending only to the A-List, while alienating the bulk of your workforce, is just so last decade.
Paying attention to high potentials has become second nature to organizations with established Talent Management practices. However, HR leaders who want to add a second layer to existing programs may find that it is not as easy as throwing a few more names in the hat. Oftentimes, new initiatives will need to be launched to support the talent population on a larger scale, and only then can high-potential programs be placed alongside and complimentary to the more comprehensive programs.
viaPeople Consultants have worked with organizations who have accomplished this in a myriad of ways. Most use some combination of Performance Management, Development Planning, and/or Career Development, and tie the multitude of this data to their Talent Assessment and Management applications. The strength of this multi-pronged approach is in the attention paid to both employee and organizational goals, and how they are linked together. Employees are shown clear maps/paths to organizational roles, as well as the related position requirements (e.g. performance, experiences, other prerequisites, etc.). Organizations now have a talent pool in charge of their own progression, and can focus on providing development support to help employees move between the designated paths/levels. Leaders can help guide talent towards their optimal path: direct paths for high-potentials to higher level positions, and more realistic paths for steady performers that will give these essential employees more time to develop, greater support with challenging experiences, and mentors who can invest in their longer-term improvement.
Organizations who are ready to implement Talent Management for their entire workforce can start simply – by listening to the B-Side. Oftentimes, a few small focus groups tapping the opinions of various departmental representatives will uncover exactly what types of career and development planning programs are desired. Combined with HR and leadership’s input into the essential learning experiences, performance thresholds, and role exposure that it takes to promote internal growth, the organization will have the makings of a true Talent Management program that embraces the potential of all employees.