Global Thought Leader Marc Effron on New Talent Strategy

Global Thought Leader Marc Effron on New Talent Strategy
The talent development challenges post-pandemic are primarily rethinking some of the primary levers that we’ve used for development in the past.

Marc Effron, President, Talent Strategy Group on New Talent Strategy & Future of HR

Marc advises the world’s largest and most successful companies on how to improve the quality and depth of their talent. He leads the Talent Strategy Group’s global consulting, education and publishing businesses.

Marc co-authored the Harvard-published best-selling book One Page Talent Management, often called the “talent management bible.” His new book 8 Steps to High Performance is quickly reaching best-seller status. He previously served as an HR executive at Bank of America and Avon Products.

Marc co-founded the Talent Management Institute at the University of North Carolina. He has been featured in the Financial Times, BBC, Harvard Business Review, Knowledge@Wharton, and some of the world’s most popular podcasts. Marc earned a M.B.A. from the Yale University School of Management.

How do you see the talent development challenges post-pandemic?

I believe that people have grossly overestimated how much the world of work will shift post-pandemic. The largest (and perhaps only significant) change is that far more organizations will have a workforce blended from those who work at a company location, at home and some combination of the two.

The past year has demonstrated that there are few productivity challenges to WFH. That is a welcome and likely surprising finding for many people. However, the larger challenge will be the very high risk of increasing inequality at work when more companies make this arrangement permanent.

It would be both naïve and shortsighted to believe that there are not benefits to either random or purposeful face-to-face contact. I don’t care how big your computer screen is or how strong your Internet connection is, you cannot create the same level of human closeness with bits and bytes as you can with actual contact.

For that reason, it is very likely that will see an increasing distinction in the workplace between those who exclusively work from home and everyone else. Those who exclusively work from home will likely be seen less as high potentials (a recent survey I did confirms this) and less likely to be active participants in creative team activities. If you are virtual, you won’t be part of the “meeting before the meeting” or “meeting after the meeting” where we know that critical decisions or reconsiderations happen.

Work from home will also exacerbate class divisions. It is primarily wealthy and well-educated who are able to take advantage of this option. You can’t drive a bus from home. You can’t make a hotel bed from home. You can’t prepare idli for diners from home.

I’ve tried to caution those who are waving the flag for every company to be exclusively WFH  to understand there may be some meaningful disadvantages to that arrangement. Unfortunately, many people are projecting their personal preferences for WFH as the “right” choice for everyone.

The talent development challenges post-pandemic are primarily rethinking some of the primary levers that we’ve used for development in the past. We know that experiences are the largest lever of development. For many global companies, a key development experience has been an on-the-ground assignment outside of your home country.

Will people still be willing to pack up from London and move to Mumbai or vice versa in the new world of work. The good news is that those who are still willing to be mobile will be rare, and scarcity drives up price. If I’m willing to be a global nomad in the new world of work, I’m likely to be far better compensated than I was in the past.

How to optimize talent strategy to meet business vision?

There are two key steps that we recommend to help companies do this – both are straightforward and both are often not done. The first step is to prioritize the big three or four talent deliverables that will best support the business over the next 2 to 3 years. Too often, talent strategies are a list of activities organized by headings like “Development” or “Engagement,” rather than the few big deliverables that the talent group is going to provide to help the business achieve its strategy.

A great talent strategy plank should sound something like, “Deliver one-deep succession in all critical roles by 2024.” That activity is highly likely to add value to the business. There are many sub-steps required and it’s not 100% controllable by the HR team. So, there’s some risk. For that reason, some HR leaders choose safe goals like “Implement new Workday system” or “Deliver sales training program” that is wholly controllable but not likely highly valued by leaders.

The second step is a straightforward process that we lead our clients through called the Executive Fit Matrix. The point of this process is to predict the company’s strategic direction and find the three or four differentiating capabilities that will be needed to win in that future state. We then help the company to assess their leaders against that future vision, understand the gaps and make decisions about personnel changes and development.

By completing these two steps, the HR group or talent team can clearly say that they are focused on delivering outcomes and leaders that best fit with the future strategy.

What is the best strategy to develop and retain the top talent?

Top talent wants big, juicy experiences and the recognition that comes from delivering high-quality results. As long as your company is able to continually challenge them and grow them, high potentials are likely to stay with you. But the moment they get the sense that your organization will not be the optimal place for them to learn and grow going forward is the moment that they will look for their next opportunity.

This means that you need to make a chart of all of your high potential leaders and assess if they are in the largest, juiciest assignment that you currently have available. Then map for each of them what the next big, juicy experience is that you want to give them.

What are the new trends in succession planning?

The new trend of succession planning should be to actually have an accurate list of successors. It is very common for me to hear from my clients that their succession lists are more fantasy than reality. This may be a result of leaders not accurately assessing talent or feeling that a filled-in succession chart is better than an empty one no matter what the quality is of those listed. Either way, in many organizations, the succession chart is never dusted off before a new leader is selected for an open role.

How do you see the future of HR and learning professionals?

We have an incredibly bright potential future as drivers of company success if we do two things better than we do today. We need to fully understand the business and we need to love the business. The first half of those two is the easy one.

In most organizations, regular financial reports are made and there are presentations to stock analysts that provide insights about opportunities, challenges, strategy, and more. We should not only be regular and voracious consumers of that information but also “wade into” the business by visiting factories, going on ride-along with salespeople, working in an operations center, etc. We should know the business, as well as the CFO, knows the business.

The second half of that challenge is what trips up many HR leaders. Many people in HR work with the business the way that a scientist works with bacteria. They love to observe it in a petri dish but they certainly don’t want to get any of it on them.

The best HR leaders are “at one with the business.” They love the fact that your company makes something, sells something, has customers, makes money, and provides jobs in your community. That is their draw to the HR field — the opportunity to help sustain a company success.

Our research shows only about half of HR leaders profess that mindset.

Any concluding remarks?

Your human resources group has the potential to be the team with the single largest impact on the success of the business. To get there, however, means that we need to know business, love business, and ensure that all of our activities are seen by our toughest business leaders as adding tremendous value.

This is eminently possible, and I have seen it in existence in top companies around the world. The question for those of us in HR is, do we care enough about the business to make that outcome happen?

Thank you, Marc!


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