Insights & Ideas

Managing modern talent: An exercise in flexibility

Some days it feels like everything you know about managing a business and mentoring people is changing. It seems like tried-and-true management strategies have changed overnight. Now, talent has new expectations. Business stakeholders have new priorities. What’s a leader to do?

Focus on flexibility.

We’re not talking about breathing deeply and touching your toes (although that might help lower your stress level). This kind of flexibility is about evolving as a leader. Many of the same business challenges exist but solving them will require more emphasis on the people who work in your organization. So, instead of relying exclusively on solutions and processes that worked in the past, look for ways to apply past experience to the people-centric needs you’re facing today.

Want to flex your flexibility muscles? Start with these with these key people-management issues:


Measure success with traditional metrics and people-focused metrics

Traditional businesses metrics (e.g., bottom-line profitability) aren’t going away, but people-focused metrics need to be added to the mix. Since people fuel the organization and drive returns, people-focused metrics—such as talent retention, engagement, diversity, and mobility—are a good gauge of progress toward bottom-line business goals. Think about how your organization can find flexible and innovative ways to combine traditional and people-centric metrics to measure success.

People-focused metrics used to live in the HR/human capital department, but now they live in all departments. That means everyone—from finance and IT to marketing to operations—is now responsible for people metrics in addition to their business KPIs. So, leaders in each functional area need to be flexible, too, learning to value people metrics as much as productivity goals.

Make talent pipelines just as important as sales pipelines

We all know how important sales pipelines are to a business, but in today’s competitive workforce, talent pipelines are just as critical. With talent shortages at an all-time high, you need a plan for finding the right people.

Talent is your business and drives your business potential in the market. Think about a trade, like plumbing. Trades provide services bill hourly. If they don’t have enough skilled employees, they can’t meet business demands. Although it’s not as obvious, all businesses depend on talent to succeed, from innovation to customer service. Being a high-growth organization isn’t enough, you need to create a work environment and talent strategies that excite people to join your company.

Rethink the corporate career ladder

Gone are the days where there was a clear path to promotion. Today’s businesses need to be more agile, and employees want more options. Today’s talent is looking for meaning and choice—when employees feel limited, they look elsewhere. Cultivating creative career paths takes flexibility, but it leads to more satisfied employees and better business outcomes.

So, create opportunities for “zig-zag careers” where people can follow their interests and employers retain top talent. For example, instead of staying in the same department, an employee can transfer to a different department—whether it’s a lateral move or a step up. At Salo, we have many people who have successfully moved from team-to-team to develop their careers. And the organization benefits from cross-functional collaboration.

Reimagine development and performance reviews

Instead of having an annual performance evaluation, have an open, ongoing dialog with your reports—with a formal check-in every 60 days or so. Meeting with employees more regularly helps pinpoint immediate opportunities for them to gain to strengths/skills or take on new responsibilities. You’re still the same manager and coach, but the employee—and the company—get more benefits.

Flexibility is a distinct business advantage

Although your organization can’t be everything to everyone, flexibility can help you navigate these changing times. Thoughtful flexibility—along with a focus on people-focused metrics—will give you the agility to achieve business outcomes and talent priorities, whatever comes your way.

Need help evolving your talent management practices? Salo can help.

Salo is a nationwide talent firm focused on building a world that works better together. We have HR consultants who specialize in talent management, people-focused KPIs, and related challenges. When we match a consulting expert with an organization that needs their help—we propel both forward. We call these interactions “Meaningful Experiences™.” With every interaction or engagement, it’s our goal to Make it Meaningful™.

Adam Sprecher

Vice President, Strategy and Development

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