Talent management: upwards is not the only way forward

In the past, organisations have often failed to plan effectively for the needs of leadership succession – chief executive Howard Schultz leaving and then returning to Starbucks is a good example of what can happen when a key individual leaves and there aren’t the right people in place to take the organisation forward.

As a business that has also recently seen its founder step away from day-to-day control, Microsoft had particular need for effective talent management. Because we have always recognised the need to ensure continuity, we have had time to plan, prepare and develop the people that will ensure our ongoing leadership of the software industry.

But if you are going to ensure that you have the right people in the right place at the right time, how do you design your talent strategy to deliver?

Tough times, tough choices

In difficult economic conditions making bad recruitment and retention decisions might be the difference between success and failure. As in many other sectors, IT is facing ongoing challenges with the issues of skills and retention. There are key questions such as: do young people leaving education have the skills we need? are they available in the wider talent pool? and how do we ensure that our employees have the skills they need alongside what the business requires?

Creating a successful business means recruiting the best and the brightest. If you do that, then you have to give them challenging roles if you want to retain their services long-term, especially in industries such as IT where the battle for talent is fierce.

Effective talent management needs to embrace a core set of principles:

  • Know your business strategy and align your talent development strategy to it
  • Get your hiring right – the right skills for now, the right potential for the future
  • Maximise career opportunities
  • Give people the best managers you can
  • Measure and reward great people managers
  • Be an ‘authentic’ employer.

By working within these guiding principles it is also possible to break away from usual corporate practice. Generation Y jobseekers are less interested in linear careers based purely on title and salary they seek careers with a much broader range of achievements and aspirations, which can satisfy emotional as well as financial and status goals.

New model

The traditional corporate model describes career growth as ‘moving up’ through levels of management.

However, Microsoft’s model is a framework for employees and managers to partner on career development with transparent information about company-wide career paths. The model helps us identify a talent pool and develop people through appropriate activities and jobs.

Career development for our staff can happen along two primary career paths: ‘professional/individual contributor’, which leads towards recognition as an industry expert or ‘manager’, which can lead to board positions and others in-between.

This recognises that being successful doesn’t necessarily mean ‘management’. It can entail becoming an expert in a particular technology, skill or market, or gaining a broad expertise in many areas. Either path can lead to rewarding careers of professional achievement and personal growth. By identifying what stage an employee is at, and by reviewing the results expected of them in the future, individuals can better assess what they need to do to advance.

Happy conclusion

Microsoft’s career model is already paying dividends, with last year’s attrition rate down to 8.1% and high employee satisfaction (more than 90% of employees like their work). It allows for far more proactive career development and provides a pipeline of strong candidates for the succession planning that is crucial to the success of the organisation.

Employees understand their career path, develop the skills the business needs, and choose to invest in a long-term career with us. In turbulent times, that has to be a great model for any business.

Theresa McHenry, acting HR director, Microsoft




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