Having talent ‘at-the-ready’ means two things:
- Ensuring new hires are prepared and ready to step quickly into vacant or new position
- Ensuring the existing workforce skills are ready for the future
Ensuring new hires are prepared and ready to step quickly into vacant or new position
is a challenge at best. When I first entered the workforce, I was hired by a large company into a ‘training pool’; basically, a group of new hires who are hired, trained, and prepared for an anticipated position that has yet to open. At the time, there were six of us and depending on background, experience and/or learning capability there were endless training opportunities. When a position became available the hiring manager had trained candidates to choose from who were well prepared for the new position.
As a learning and development leader, I love this idea but it requires long-term, futuristic thinking, an equal focus on business need and the bottom line, and a strong learning and development (L & D) team that can juggle schedules, talents, and needs like a one room school house.
Who might benefit?
High turnover companies with a demand for speedy training and quick new hire ramp-up. In these organizations, the L & D team can barely keep people trained and turned out fast enough. The lack of training and high expectations on new hires contributes largely to the growing turnover rate.
Consider a training pool for high turnover, entry-level positions. By hiring three to five extra candidates that receive the preparation and ramp-up time needed, the company sets themselves up to smooth out the tempestuous wave they’ve been riding. As the turnover rate subsides, the number of extra candidates might be adjusted.
Seasonal companies with surges in workload. Seasonal companies make their living off the high-season and can’t afford to lose customers, inventory, or dollars to inexperience or timidness. Although L & D usually would not extend beyond the actual job function, by hiring a little sooner, new hires gain the extra confidence to be assertive, more productive and therefore, more effective; possibly taking on risks and tasks outside their expected function.
Expanding companies that have predicted rapid and extensive growth in the coming year. When a company boldly predicts rapid growth, there is a need to boldly expand their workforce. Hiring a team of candidates that will learn and grow together, who will become peers and corporate helpmates, and who are the future of the organization. The development of these individuals starts with technical job needs but continues to professional and even leadership skills.
The simplest training pool would be for entry-level positions that required the same types of training. However, a strong L & D team could take this concept far beyond entry level. It is important to think outside the normal classroom and online training to shadowing, mentoring, partial job functions that reinforce learning and more.
Example: Tellers at a bank who have learned the system and some basic transactions might spend a day processing the mail. These transactions allow the teller to work at their own speed, to ask questions as needed, but are not yet required to interact with customers in a fast paced environment.
Or, customer service reps being trained to handle the phones might spend a day working the online chat. Again, allowing the opportunity to practice new skills without the immediate pressure of direct customer access.
The primary cost of a training pool is the cost of salaries for a few weeks sooner than expected.
Possible variations to the training pool:
- Hiring 4 – 6 part-time candidates with the promise of full-time employment when they get placed, this will minimize the cost of salary and benefits (new employees have an additional incentive to learn and prepare)
- Include newer, existing employees to participate in training to fill necessary gaps from original training
- Develop a training pool specifically designed to hire, develop and prepare leadership
Additional benefits of a training pool
Keeping in mind that the average number of days to fill a position is 42 days and costs about $4,200 per candidate. See Stats
- With candidates already in-house and preparing, the number of days a department is understaffed and overworked is minimized
- The hiring manager might use department shadowing as part of the hiring process to ensure a good team fit
- The hiring manager can easily use the outgoing employee to mentor the incoming employee (something that rarely happens)
- Hiring and training candidates that lack some skills but demonstrate high-potential
Training is complete and there are no positions open?
This is not a horrible problem, how often do departments have the extra hands to mentor a new hire? Regardless, there are a few options:
- New hire might be put in a current position with a mentor and eventually, the mentor would be pulled out and trained for an elevated position
- New hire might replace a high-potential employee who is pulled out and added to a leadership program
- New hire with specific skills or aptitudes might continue with further learning and development opportunities (not my favorite, I would always opt for developing an existing employee)
There is an open position before the new hire has completed training?
This is bound to happen but better than starting from square one. The hiring manager would choose from the pool, and wait until the new hire has completed training; still shorter ramp-up time.
The hiring manager doesn’t want to hire from the pool?
If the talent acquisition team has a good track record for bringing in good talent, I would make hiring from the pool a strong recommendation. Otherwise, the hiring manager must wait the time required to post, vet, interview, on-board and train.
Ensuring the existing workforce skills are ready for the future
requires analysis and forethought. Most organizations are familiar with succession planning, but many consider it a plan for their upper level executives only. I would challenge that to include a strategy for all levels of leadership and even supervisory. Although the amount of development for each of these positions may vary, a forward-thinking organization should consider keeping their talent pipeline stocked full of their current employees. It’s not only good for the future of the company, it is good for the corporate culture, and employee engagement; employees who feel valued and as though someone cares about their development are more likely to be engaged. A high-potential employee assessment might be helpful.
Beyond the succession plan and the full-cycle employee learning and development plan, is a plan that ensures the organization’s existing talent is successfully aligned to meet the strategic business goals. As baby boomers are retiring or as the business goals are being developed, the learning and development team should be considering what skills will employees need to help achieve upcoming goals?
Example: more and more customer service representatives are being asked to profile customers, uncover needs, offer recommendations, and up-sell products and services. However, few companies take into consideration the new skill set these customer service reps might need to feel comfortable taking on this task and the result is usually not good. Managers are pressured to get sales numbers up, they, in turn, add metrics and pressure to customer service reps, customer service reps are unhappy and disengaged, customer experience plummets; not only does the company not meet their goal, there is most likely high turnover and lost revenue. A Learning and development plan, (prior to making changes) would help to ensure the customer service reps had the skills and confidence they needed to fulfill the task.
In addition, all leaders should be taking a regular inventory of the skills at hand. Companies are filled with underutilized talents; employees whose skills, degrees, and potential are untapped. In fact, once the candidate is hired, their resume is rarely looked at again.
Taking a talent inventory
If available, start with an assessment tool that allows employees to spend some time alone thinking about their talents and skills. See Leadership Assessment Tool
Follow up with one-on-one meetings conducted by employee’s immediate manager, other managers, and/or human resource managers to ensure a good inventory and understanding of talent is documented.
The next step would be to actively work with this information; create a development, cross-training and/or mentoring plan for employees. Consider this task much like profiling a prospect or customer; tracking sales needs and recommendations in a customer relationship management tool.
In conclusion, having talent ‘at-the-ready’ takes a conscious effort. It can be time consuming, difficult and even costly, but the effort and cost is easily offset by adequately staffed teams, engaged and retained employees, delighted customers and growing bottom lines. This is a leadership team project managed by the Human Resource or Learning and Development Teams; regardless of company size, start small, create a plan, and take on what can be accomplished effectively.