Power to the people — embracing distributed talent management

Profile picture for user Arne VanDamme By Arne VanDamme February 10, 2021 Audio mode
The evolution of distributed talent management has sped up but still needs perfecting. Unit4's Arne VanDamme shares an HR action plan for giving power to the people

Woman holding laptop and overlay of binary code with AI concept © metamorworks - Shutterstock
(© metamorworks - Shutterstock)

The new way of managing talent is just like today's workforce — distributed — and it's all about placing value and power in the hands of employees and managers. The old idea of centralized command and control is long gone. We now inhabit a world of empowered, autonomous individuals who can take responsibility for themselves. Welcome to distributed talent management.

Much of HR's traditional role from now on will be done (perfectly willingly and perhaps more effectively) by managers and employees themselves. HR professionals can shed the admin for a more strategic role focused on giving managers and employees the policies, processes and tools to manage themselves.

Now is the time for autonomy

The advent of distributed talent management is the culmination of a long-term trend that recently received a decisive boost.

Up to about three years ago, most organizations practiced a top-down approach with an annual cycle of formal activities. Over the last few years, many moved to a continuous style of talent management. From now on though, successful organizations will follow a distributed model, in which an ecosystem of teams, managers and employees focuses on delivering more value to employees.

This evolution has, like so many things, been accelerated by the pandemic which compelled HR to become much more agile overnight, step up its use of digital technologies, and support managers and employees to look after themselves.

Elements of distributed talent management

Learning and development. The new watchword is life-long learning at the employee's pace. It's HR's role to inspire people about the possibilities rather than prescribing training. Schneider Electrics is one company which uses a learning portal that suggests development opportunities based on an employee's skills and career aspirations.

Career management. In the new world, employees take ownership of their own careers. Internal mobility is mediated through a digital platform which suggests roles from across the whole organization based on people's stated skills and preferences. Unilever's Flex is a framework which allows employees to choose to upskill or reskill within Unilever, reskill for a role outside Unilever, or transition to a new model of employment.

Performance management. Beyond prescribed annual or even continuous reviews, managers can define their own preferred style of performance management — as long as HR gets the annual data it needs. Belgian testing firm, Eurofins Digital Testing, went from six-monthly appraisals to monthly conversations and used a software tool to keep all relevant data in one place.

Employee engagement and wellbeing. This became paramount in the pandemic and will remain so. Many companies started using engagement pulsing apps to monitor how their people were doing and offer them support. Other companies offer health and wellbeing apps, like Bupa, which encourage employees to set healthy lifestyle goals and sends reminders to help them keep on track.

Workforce planning. In the distributed model, HR breaks down jobs into projects and tasks so that, as well as matching talent to projects, they can identify trends and gaps across the whole workforce. IBM, among others, uses an open talent marketplace tool to match internal and external talent to assignments. These systems allow managers to query the skillsets that are available and let employees volunteer for projects.

Sourcing and recruitment. The new approach turns talent acquisition into an unbiased, largely automated process. It gets the whole team involved in the process, matching not just skills and experience, but personalities as well. Fujifilm, for one, uses an internal system that does job posting and candidate screening automatically and keeps all the data neatly in one place.

How to go about it

Moving to distributed talent management doesn't happen by buying an app. It involves a transformation for HR, but this needn't be daunting if you follow a structured method:

  1. Review and streamline HR processes — ask how much value they add for employees and managers and decide to trim, keep or replace them.
  2. Introduce gold star KPIs — decide on the absolute key metrics which define the style of talent management you want and monitor them closely.
  3. Prioritize HR programs — list your programs and organize them by level of priority, and don't be afraid to shuffle them around when priorities change.
  4. Rethink the HR department — move towards a matrix structure by classifying functions as day-to-day or strategic, and process- or people-centric.
  5. Start tracking skills — put data on everyone's skills, experience, performance and aspirations in one place.

The technology you would need

Beyond a change in mindset, you'll need to acquire technology that will allow employees and managers themselves to measure engagement, track performance and develop autonomously.

The system you choose will probably consist of a cloud-based platform with several related mobile apps. It should provide AI-powered people analytics so HR can spot wider trends across the workforce and develop appropriate strategic policies and programs.

If you'd like to delve deeper into the biggest HR trend of 2021, take a look at Unit4's white paper on distributed talent management.