Creating a talent pipeline for critical employees

Critical talent
General support staff are critical to the ongoing operation of Disneyland. REX/David Fisher

Talent pipelines aren’t just for senior staff or leadership roles. Sue Brooks, chief innovation officer at recruitment process outsourcing company Cielo, argues that employers should find out who is really critical to their business and plan accordingly.

It is a common misconception that the most important part of workforce planning is getting the pipeline for senior professionals right. But at Disney, the opposite is the case.

As outlined by Harvard Business Review, the business assessed which roles would cause each of its theme parks to grind to a halt should they be lost. The answer is perhaps surprising.

It was not the advertising staff, senior teams or even the employee that dresses as Mickey Mouse. The talent critical to the company’s ongoing operation was its general support staff – from street sweepers to those directing people to the best spots to see the parade or shady locations.

Without this team on the ground, customers would not be able to get around the parks, money would not be made and the remaining staff members would not be required.

As a result of this revelation, the business understandably ensured it had a pool of candidates ready to jump into these roles at any time.

Any talent management expert knows that it can be difficult to identify what skills are needed and when, making many workforce plans irrelevant, particularly in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment.

So how can HR teams follow Disney’s lead and discover their critical talent?

Who is critical?

To start with, there needs to be company-wide recognition of what critical talent really looks like. HR professionals will most likely need to referee this process, as it is only natural for senior teams to justify their position by suggesting that their roles are critical.

Ask team leaders and managers what positions would shut down the business if they disappeared. As the Disney example demonstrates, the truly critical roles can be unexpected, so be open minded and ready to be surprised.

Once these critical positions have been identified, determine where this talent is most likely to come from, both internally and externally.

Review existing succession plans – do they cover this talent pool? How many employees are being lined up to move into these positions? And how ready is this talent to progress into the role?

Looking externally, where have candidates historically come from? How available is this talent pool? Where are there potential skills gaps, including possible geographical challenges?

Talent pipelines

Armed with this knowledge, HR professionals then need to identify new pipelines for these resources. Given that these roles could shut down the business should the right talent be unavailable, it is inadvisable to focus solely on existing hiring routes.

Research any possible new sources of talent and begin engagement and pipelining activity with these groups. This may even require a greater global reach than previously used.

Again, given how vital this candidate pool is to the company, do not just focus on existing available talent. Based on corporate expansion plans, identify any possible opportunities to develop the future workforce.

If the business is planning to move into new international arenas further down the line, for example, consider where training can be offered to the local community to provide a steady stream of candidates when required.

Remember that for specialist skills sets, training can take many years, so this process needs to be incorporated well in advance of demand.

Looking ahead

As a case in point, a leading global mining company was required to fill a particular percentage of its workforce with local talent at a Mongolian mine. However, research ahead of the move revealed that there was a significant lack of skilled experts ready to work.

In order to address this, the company carried out a global attraction campaign targeting Mongolians looking for a change of career. The business provided a training programme for all individuals with a guaranteed job at the end of this development period. The campaign was successful and resulted in a whole new pool of available candidates for the business.

Pipelining and pooling talent for an uncertain future is no purely scientific matter and it will be almost impossible to plan for the unexpected. However, by focusing attention on those positions that are most valuable to the business, HR teams can more effectively provide people solutions that will keep the organisation operating.


About Sue Brooks

Sue Brooks is chief innovation officer at Cielo, a recruitment process outsourcing company.
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