The talent management cycle involves multiple distinct and interdependent processes including sourcing, hiring, developing, deploying and retaining human capital. But what is the role of the workplace environment in talent management? In this interview, Dr. John Fleming examines the relationship in more depth.
Dr. Fleming serves as Chief Scientist, Subject Matter Expert & Author at Gallup. He is a worldly renowned thought leader, author, and speaker on the science of customer & employee engagement. Dr. Fleming coauthored the book Human Sigma: Managing the Employee-Customer Encounter (Gallup Press, October, 2007) and the Harvard Business Review article Manage Your Human Sigma (July/August, 2005).
Before joining Gallup, Dr. Fleming served on the psychology faculty at the University of Minnesota where he published more than 20 research articles and book chapters in such prestigious publications as the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Social Cognition, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
ExcelTrek: What is the link between talent management and workplace environment?
John Fleming: Our research shows very clearly that employees who have the opportunity to do what they do best every day at work are more engaged and productive, and tend to be more strongly connected psychologically to the companies they work for. Talent management obviously plays a pivotal role in this because identifying individuals with talent for particular roles and positioning them in those roles allows them to do what they do best every day.
Few aspects of workplace management impact individual employees – and workgroup performance – more than “fit to role.” Now role fit is not the only thing that affects individual and workgroup performance; the quality of one’s manager also has a huge effect. But if I am not a fit to my role, work will be a struggle and I will not be engaged. Our research has shown that disengagement at work has serious effects on psychological and physical well-being, including higher levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the blood.
ExcelTrek: What aspects of the workplace environment contribute the most to effective talent management?
Fleming: In the workplace per se (as opposed to talent management at the sourcing and hiring end of the pipeline) talent management is a function of managers or supervisors being able to individualize their perceptions of each employee, offering tailored feedback and developmental opportunities appropriate for each individual. In addition, our research has found that performance development rather than performance management approaches tend to bear more fruit with respect to employee performance.
Performance development is an approach that combines clear work expectations with a focus on individual development within a role. Supervisors are asked to behave more like coaches than managers, engaging each employee in fruitful conversations on a regular basis that focus on what they do well rather than what they do poorly. These conversations arm managers with knowledge about the best ways to recognize and reward each employee, what the employees’ aspirations are, what developmental opportunities are the best fit for them, and so on.
ExcelTrek: It’s interesting the distinction you make between “performance development” and “performance management”.
Fleming: There is a revolution going on in the performance management space. Companies like Accenture and others are abandoning their traditional PM systems and replacing them with something radically different. This is because these companies have begun to recognize that traditional performance management systems have failed along three lines – feedback is provided too infrequently (26% of employees receive performance feedback less than once per year); feedback is vague and not tied to clear performance indicators; and feedback is subject to manager bias where “liking” an employee substitutes for judgments of high performance.
For example, our research finds that only 2 in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. Only 14% of employees strongly agree that the performance reviews they receive inspire them to improve. Just 29% strongly agree that the performance reviews they receive are fair, and 26% strongly agree they are accurate.
Performance development is radically different. Instead of ratings and evaluations that happen once per year (or less often), performance development provides a practical framework for how and when to execute the fundamental elements of the development cycle: establish clear expectations, continually coach, and create accountability. These elements require manager-coaches to have at least 5 conversations with their people on a regular basis: one to provide clear performance expectations, three to coach, and one to drive accountability in review.
ExcelTrek: From your research in employee engagement, how do top employees define a great work environment?
Fleming: Our research has identified 12 workplace conditions that, when maximized, define a high performance (or engaged) workplace. These 12 conditions array themselves in a sort of engagement hierarchy, with conditions lower on the hierarchy serving as building blocks for conditions higher up. The foundation concerns clarity of expectations and having the resources to do one’s work properly. These are essential conditions, but ones that rarely receive the focus they require. Clear expectations are especially important because without them, employees do not know what really matters in their workplace and their jobs. One of the most important conversations managers can have with each of their direct reports is a regular conversation about expectations.
Next on the hierarchy are a set of issues around management (and workplace) support: Is there someone who encourages my development? Does my manager care about me as a person? Do I get to do what I do best? Am I recognized regularly for doing good work? These conditions provide the supporting infrastructure for employees to perform at their highest levels and unleash their natural talents.
Next up is the issue of teamwork: Do I feel like my opinions count? Does the mission or purpose of my company make me feel my work is important? Are my fellow employees committed to doing quality work? And possibly the most contentious of the 12 conditions, do I have a best friend at work?
These workplace conditions determine whether an employee is embedded in a productive workplace environment where their contributions can be fully maximized. Incidentally, having a best friend at work tends to act as a sort of insurance policy for employees where they feel that “someone has my back” and someone is there to look after their best interests. The last two rungs on the engagement ladder concern personal and professional development: Is this a place where I can learn and grow and has someone sat down with me to discuss my progress? As it turns out, these last two conditions are extremely important for millennials. To manage and develop this large group of employees, we need to understand what drives them and these two conditions turn out to be more important for millennials than for any other group.
ExcelTrek: Do companies understand the relationship between effective talent management and workplace environment?
Fleming: I think they are beginning to fully realize the critical importance of the workplace in the total talent management process, but it has been a slow climb. Part of the reason for this, I believe, is because workplace engagement has long been viewed as a separate activity from talent management. Workplace engagement has been viewed as a productivity and efficiency enhancer, which it undoubtedly is. Our perspective linked the two initiatives from the start, recognizing that “fit to role” and individual development go hand in hand with employee retention and individual high performance. These days, in the so-called “war for talent,” companies are realizing that – more than just a platitude – their employees (and their customers to an even greater extent) are truly a core asset that must be invested in and nurtured.
Fred Machado is the founder and CEO of ExcelTrek.