Simple Does It

During his HR Technology® Conference closing keynote, Marc Effron will share a model for eliminating complexity and adding value to talent management.

Thursday, July 1, 2010
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Marc Effron is slated to close out the 2010 HR Technology® Conference on Oct. 1 with a simple, but important message: Don't make talent management any more complicated than it needs to be.

Effron, who is president of the Talent Strategy Group in New York and recently co-authored a book entitled One Page Talent Management: Eliminating Complexity, Adding Value, will explore how companies frequently add unnecessary layers of complexity to their talent-management models and thereby undermine their effectiveness. Instead, he says, employers would be much better served to keep their systems as simple, transparent and accountable as possible.

In their book, Effron and co-author Miriam Ort identify four significant barriers that stand in the way of building an effective talent-management model. (Effron and Ort developed their "one-page" approach over a three-year period at Avon Products, where Effron was vice president of global talent management and Ort was a manager on his team. Ort is now senior manager of HR at PepsiCo.)

The first barrier is the tendency for companies to build needless complexity into their talent-management systems. "A simple process like setting goals often becomes a multipage, headache-inducing exercise and, in doing so, puts a huge barrier in the way of increasing organizations' performance," they write in One Page Talent Management.

Second is the fact that talent-management tools frequently add no new value to what the manager needs to do. "In many organizations," they write, "managers have come to see talent-management tools and processes as largely divorced from their day-to-day management challenges."

Third, many organizations frequently neglect the science behind their talent-management efforts. "If companies would faithfully follow this science," Effron and Ort note, "they would find that it performs up to its billing."

The fourth and final barrier is the lack of transparency and accountability. In too many companies, they note, "fear of the consequences or a genuine belief that employees do not need this level of clarity means talent practices are opaque."

Simplifying Performance

In their book, Effron and Ort detail a method for eliminating complex talent-management processes -- "practices that managers had experienced as intensive, bureaucratic, time-consuming exercises" -- and replacing them with much simpler alternatives that include only those components that add value.

To demonstrate the power of simplicity, their book explores how the "one-page" approach plays out in a number of key talent-management processes, including performance management, talent reviews, 360-degree assessments, employee engagement and succession planning.

(Their decision to concentrate on these specific areas was based on the findings of a study by the New Talent Management Network, a global network of talent-management professionals founded by Effron, which showed them to be the most common processes in talent-management groups today.)

Of them, Effron believes, performance management presents HR leaders with the greatest opportunities when it comes to simplification. "Performance is one of the most powerful processes in today's organizations, but it is also one of the most hated processes," he says.

Companies, he adds, need to do a much a better job when it comes to eliminating the bureaucracy that's frequently present in performance management and removing those elements that aren't proven by science.

Effron -- who was senior vice president of leadership development for Bank of America and led the Global Leadership Consulting Practice at Hewitt Associates before joining Avon and then starting his own consulting practice -- points out that businesses need to concentrate on the few things that science says does work, such as setting incredibly challenging goals, and ensuring those goals are in the employees' best interests and are evaluated at the end of the year.

"If organizations can simply do those three things well by removing everything else from that process," he says, "I think you'd see a dramatic increase in the effectiveness and a dramatic decrease in the frustration levels around that practice."

When it comes to adding value, Effron cites employee-engagement surveys as an area that offers HR leaders significant opportunities.

Instead of giving managers reams of data they may not understand, Effron says, employers need to rethink their engagement surveys and turn that data into something that's meaningful to them. "One way we've previously been able to do that is by building an algorithm that can determine what three items on the survey will have the highest impact on engagement for a particular manager," he says.

That way, Effron continues, managers only need to focus on those three questions and not worry about the 30 or 40 other questions that were asked.

"If one of the items is the need to be better at sharing organizational goals," Effron says, "we can tell you that, if you increase the score on that particular item by 5 percentage points, we can guarantee you a 1-percent increase overall in engagement. So we aren't only telling you which factors are most powerful, but also how powerful they are."

Being Transparent

Throughout One Page Talent Management, the authors emphasize the importance of transparency.

Effron admits that employers often walk a fine line when it comes to determining what employees need to know and what they have the right to know. But, he says, the most effective approach is to provide as much transparency as possible.

"It's important to let employees know where they stand, what their opportunities might be going forward in the organization and what their development needs are," he says. "But you can obviously do that in a way that is helpful and doesn't disclose organizational confidences or specific remarks people made in the talent-review session," especially those things that could be hurtful.

Unless there's a very good reason not to share information, Effron says, transparency should be at 100 percent. "We sometimes hear people say, 'Well, if I tell Suzy she's not going to get that factory manager job, she might leave," he says. "And our response is, 'Yes, she might. But how long do you want to lie to Suzy about the fact that she's not going to get that job?' "

In effect, he says, "you're stealing from employees the chance to make independent decisions about their careers. Don't employees have a right to make the best decisions? Shouldn't they be able to make those decisions because you're providing them with honest and transparent information?"

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Similarly, Effron believes accountability has to be a key component of any OPTM initiative. Some organizations, he says, have done an excellent job incorporating accountability into their systems, but not all.

"If you said someone was a successor for position 'X' two years ago, are they in that job now?" he asks. "If we say that a certain individual is our highest potential leader ... we better see some movement in [his or her] career or our prediction probably wasn't very accurate."

Keeping Technology Simple

During his presentation at the HR Technology® Conference, Effron plans to explore the important role HR technology can play -- and should be playing -- when it comes to implementing OPTM.

Effron is quick to point out that he's a "big fan" of technology, especially when it helps employers successfully execute their talent-management practices and generate data for making smarter decisions. The challenge, he says, is the complexity of some of the technological solutions being built today.

"It sometimes almost seems that some vendors are more concerned with having every last possible bell and whistle, as opposed to genuinely being concerned about an organization's ability to build talent," he says.

Effron says he understands the capitalistic motivation for adding more features and capabilities. "It's understandable that, with fewer bells and whistles, vendors will have to charge less money," he says. "But I'm a bit of a purist, in that I believe we should all be focused on doing what's most important to help organizations build talent. And I don't think that hard-wiring complexity necessarily helps anyone build talent more effectively."

A second technology-related concern he has is the tendency for some HR leaders to mistake software applications for processes. "I've heard some people answer the question, 'What's your process for X?' with the name of a software program," he says.

Software should enable talent processes, he stresses, not define them.

If HR leaders decide to embrace OPTM, Effron says, they should expect to encounter resistance and be on the receiving end of comments such as, "It doesn't provide enough information" or "It won't work," especially from others in the profession.

"There are people who have a vested interest in the current system and/or people who have many things on their plate, with talent management being just one of them," he says. "So what you sometimes find are technical experts who are very hesitant to make their systems simpler."

There's an unspoken fear, he says, that were they to roll out something that's really simple and easy to understand, people would question how smart they were.

Effron notes that half the reason these processes are as complicated as they are is because they've been designed to impress others, as opposed to being designed to truly benefit the business.

In contrast, he says, HR leaders are likely to receive a much warmer reception from line leaders. "When you go up to a line manager and say, 'Would you like this process to be simpler and easier and more effective than it is today?' you'll rarely get disagreement," he says. "So it's very rare, if you're going from an existing process to a one-page talent-management process, that line managers are going to say, 'This isn't what we need.' "

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