April 16, 2012
By Pamela Williams
Recently, several of cable’s top HR executives explored the concept of talent on demand with Dr. Peter Cappelli, Professor and Director, Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School of Business and author of Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in an Age of Uncertainty. He pointed out that current economies and markets are expanding and contracting within shorter cycles, thereby making it difficult for many organizations to predict their staffing needs with any degree of certainty. Of course, this constant ambiguity also provides a perplexing environment for employees as they seek to chart successful career paths.
In a follow-up conversation, I asked some of CTHRA’s members to tell us how their companies handle the challenge of having the right talent at the right time to create, facilitate and deliver value to their customers—and in the process providing employees with the tools they need to navigate uncharted waters. The response to my first question, “Is talent management a formal process in your company?” was a unanimous “Yes!” Although the programs differ in details, they all share a common goal. That is, as Natasha Tharp, Senior Manager of Organization Effectiveness and Human Resources at Time Warner Cable, put it, “to support internal mobility through placing the best talent in critical roles while managing current and future talent as an organizational asset.”
In other words, talent management is part and parcel of the succession planning process. That process begins with a thorough knowledge of current employees. Erin Hand, Vice President of Talent and Development for Cox Communications and President of CTHRA’s Board of Directors said, “We maintain an inventory of our talent, their experience, strengths, development opportunities, potential future moves and successors. This, along with annual conversations with leaders and HR teams, allows us to identify critical roles, top talent and emerging leaders. The data is used to define development activities and allow us to fill key openings quickly. The process has been invaluable over the last several months to support growth and changes in our business and organization.”
One element that makes predicting talent requirements especially tricky for cable industry management is the fact that many of the roles they will need to manage down the road don’t even exist now. So how do they handle that uncertainty? Eric Hawkins, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Discovery Communications, admitted that predicting criteria for nebulous jobs is dicey at best. But he said that in his company, “We build talent pools and a pipeline of top external talent for key roles within our organization. Networking from all angles is critical for both corporate leaders and the HR talent management team. We continuously seek out talent and opportunities to build relationships with future leaders.”
One would expect that the changing economic and regulatory environment of recent years would have an impact on the talent management process, and it has. For Time Warner Cable, said Janet Manzullo, Vice President of Talent Acquisition & Movement, the effect has been positive. “We are able to recruit more readily from a broader spectrum of organizations given the effects of downsizing in other industries. We have also experienced fewer exits, which we continue to closely monitor. And we make an intentional effort to support the influx of military veterans in our talent acquisition and workforce planning practices.”
Uncertainty also colors the action at Cox. According to Erin Hand, “The biggest shift in our talent strategy is anticipating future needs and thinking about how current experiences can be leveraged for future roles. We now make it a point to move people every two years rather than keep them in the same role or function essentially for their entire careers.”
It isn’t only the uncertain economy and increasing government regulation that keeps talent management an evolving process. Scott Katz, Director of Talent Development at Turner Broadcasting System, added, “The ever changing media landscape also continues to impact our strategy. It has been critical for us to consider our current and future talent needs and how we can continue to be nimble and flexible to meet them effectively.”
The fluctuating nature of both cable and the overall business world has even caused many companies to completely revamp their performance review and talent management processes. Rather than relying on formal, annual performance reviews, said Lisa Kaye, President and CEO of greenlightjobs.com, “Some companies are opting for a more informal process without all of the heavy documentation. Managers simply sit down with employees on a regular basis and provide verbal reviews. The feedback from both employees and managers who have to review many people, usually at one time, is encouraging. This is a positive trend that seems to be catching on.”
Targeting Future Superstars
One of the keys to success of any talent management process, especially in an industry as tumultuous as ours, is the ability to identify the major leaders of tomorrow. Like many companies, Comcast Cable relies on several tools to evaluate talent. One leveraged by Comcast Cable is a nine box matrix which facilitates conversations by providing a common platform for discussing potential and calibrating talent year over year. Employees at the director level and above are further assessed according to 10 leadership competencies, which include such factors as customer focus, relationship building, functional depth and breadth, and strategic thinking. Once these two tools are employed, said Grace Killelea, Senior Vice president of Talent, “We identify the two competencies that we consider to be the employee’s greatest strengths in leadership—the areas he or she can leverage in the coming year. This data may provide insight into how we can use the person’s strengths to develop and influence others.
“We also identify the two areas in which we feel the employee would most benefit from focused development in the coming year. Bear in mind these are not ‘weaknesses.’ Rather, they are simply areas where additional focus would help lead to the next step in the individual’s career. It helps us as we work on the person’s development plan, and also assists us in identifying organization-wide trends.”
While it is only natural to put a strong emphasis on pinpointing tomorrow’s key movers and shakers, HR pros also know that not every valuable employee will—or even wants to—make it to the executive suite. For example, said Pat Crull, Group Vice President of Learning, Development and Inclusion, “At Time Warner Cable we consider everyone to be a leader. We offer a full leadership curriculum with aligned success factors to address the skill gaps of our individual contributors, people leaders and our enterprise or executive leaders. Our Talent Acquisition and Movement team continues to focus on the future career opportunities for our employees by ensuring we are building an effective process for internal movement across the company.”
Despite high unemployment rates, competition for key talent at all levels remains fierce. That means that companies need to focus attention not only on identifying and training top performers, but also on keeping them. For WOW! Internet, Cable, and Phone the retention effort starts with the first interview. Patti Rowe, Director of Organization Development, said, “Our highly distinctive culture is the reason employees stay with our company. We spend considerable time ensuring that those who join the organization measure up to our values so once they are here, it feels like ‘home.’”
Beyond that, she noted, “Statistics show the key reason people leave jobs is the working relationships they have with their managers. We work very hard to support our leaders in developing solid working relationships.”
In short, throughout our industry, employers place premium value on their people and their development. Thanks to the constantly changing environment we operate in, companies are managing their talent with the same focus, analysis and continual monitoring they devote to their core business offerings. Without a doubt, in our industry, people are the priority.
(Pamela Williams, CAE, is Executive Director of the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association (CTHRA))