Designing Talent to Align With Organizational Strategy

In our previous blog, we discussed how organizational strategy impacts the design choices organization leaders must make. We also touched on the concept of organization alignment with strategy using our Cube model of organization design, which equates the organization systems (work processes, structure, information and metrics, etc.) of a business to the sides of a Rubik’s cube. Let’s expand on that idea in light of one of the sides of the Cube: People and Rewards.

Successful execution of organizational strategy requires that talent in your organization be matched to the needs of your business. Your people’s skills and competencies must align with the goals of your organization. This takes both planning and courage, especially if you are anticipating or undergoing change transformation.

A good example of this issue can be seen in the area of data and analytics. Many companies at this time are seeking better ways to use their existing data. As a result, a lot of companies are working hard to build their data and analytics capabilities. However, when they get to the People & Rewards side of the Cube, many are finding they do not have talent capable of performing the work. So demand is high at this time for specialists who understand how to mine and work with data.

In a scenario like this, most companies seek to bring the right talent into the organization through external hiring. But the more challenging situation is when an organization takes on a change transformation that involves an extensive reworking of roles and capabilities. It’s not always practical or desirable to fire everyone who is doing today’s work and hire new people to do tomorrow’s. You have to sometimes take your existing talent and help them to build the new skills and capabilities required. That’s where courage and planning come into play.

Designing for Successful Capability Building Takes Careful Planning

The planning part of aligning talent with organizational strategy involves determining where you are today and where you want to be in the future, and figuring out a plan to help people evolve to be able to do that.

Years ago I worked in a company’s call center to improve its customer service. One of the things we decided to do was to eliminate the number of handoffs between agents. Customers would receive an answer to a question and then ask about another product, and the agent would say “I’m sorry I can’t help you with that, I’ll have to refer you to someone else.”  We decided to change the way the call center was set up, to enable agents to assist customers with all products.

Much was involved in implementing that goal, including changes in training people, making system changes so more information was available to agents, changing some of the scripts to the interactive voice response so the routing of calls went to different places, and so on. However, the biggest reason we were successful in our change transformation was because we were careful about how we planned the transition. We didn’t just one day tell our agents, “starting tomorrow you’re going to receive calls on all of our products, good luck!” We said, “you’ve already proved yourself as a competent call center agent, but we’re now going to change the model, and here’s what we’re doing to support you.” For example, in addition to upgrading the system and training the call center staff, we put in some extra senior advisors on each of the teams, so an agent unfamiliar with a product could get coached through the call without having to transfer.

Finding the Courage to Build Your Team Right

In addition to planning for a transition of talent during a change transformation, there’s always a lingering question when you’re going to use existing talent and evolve it to where you need it to be: Can everyone make it? Is everyone motivated? And is everyone skill-wise capable of doing what we ask them to do? That’s where courage comes into play, because the reality is they aren’t always.

I worked with an organization once where we made some significant changes at the executive level. When our work with them was through, we had said to the senior leaders, “If you use the same talent you have today, you’re probably not going to see the changes you want to see. You’re going to have to make some tough calls here, because some of these people, even though they’re very skilled and experienced in the business, think about business in a very specific way, and it’s not the way we want to think about it going forward. If you keep those people in significant leadership roles, as hard as they try they’re still going to run the organization the way they’ve always run it.”

The leaders of this organization didn’t take our advice right away. They moved a lot of their existing executives into new positions and moved forward from there. About a year after they made the changes they seemingly out of the blue let two significant people go from the organization. When we talked to them about it they told us, “We’ve concluded after a year that you were right. These individuals indeed didn’t have the ability to lead our organization in the way it needed to be led.”

So how do you determine whether an individual is capable of making the transition you need them to make? Asking these two questions can help:

  1. Is this person motivated to make the change? Are they motivated beyond just saving their job, even if they have to think and do things differently? If their attitude is one of resistance or primarily self-preservation you are unlikely to get the change you want to see.
  2. Does this individual have the necessary raw skills? Do they have the basic capacity to learn and do what is needed if they’re provided the tools and training required?

If the answer to either of these two questions is no, you’re probably just delaying the inevitable if you don’t find the courage right away to let them go, help them move on, and find someone else to do the work.

Building the right team is an essential element of achieving the goals you set for your organization.  Both careful planning and careful team selection are necessary to ensure success both during and after organizational change.