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  • Writer's pictureSherry

March 2012 S. Benjamins & Co Newsletter: Let’s Take Talent Seriously

Is developing talent an imperative in your company? If you don’t see this as the job of great managers, then prepare to lose your best talent. They will find a place where development is beyond rhetoric. Employee expectations are high today even in light of slower rates of progression in most companies. As we see business improve, employees will go where continuous learning, challenging assignments and skill development is offered.

There are some pretty cool examples of high profile companies that are getting the “development of internal talent” right. Leaders such as Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and Chip Conley, former CEO at Joie de Vivre Hospitality Group exhibit an over the top commitment to cultures of fun based on a commitment to development. The underlying principles that drive their success apply to many organizations.

I had the pleasure of catching up with a long-time friend and respected Talent Leader, Sharon Hartmann, Director Talent Management with Ilumina, Inc. to learn of her journey the past 4 ½ years in addressing the challenges of growing and keeping talent:

Illumina, a San Diego-based life science company, provides tools that help researchers understand the genetic basis of disease. Tools are for disease research, drug development, and the development of molecular tests in clinical settings. Illumina knows a lot about talent, for the company grew from 240 employees in 2004 to 2,400 in 2011.

Even though we relied on external hires in recent years, there is now a strategic initiative to develop future leaders and grow them. The CEO understands this has a keen eye towards maintaining the innovative and entrepreneurial mind-set that has led to their success. Here is what I learned from Sharon about her team’s work.

How did you start the talent management process?

We began with a framework introduced to senior management to get buy-in for an “integrated approach” to talent managing. This means linking our people related processes so that development is part of everything managers do. It starts with defining the profile of Illumina leadership success, understanding what great leadership looks like in this fast paced culture, then incorporating it into the “how and why” of performance. Eventually, all elements of people managing are connected, from selection to onboarding, goal setting to feedback and assessment, and development to succession management.

From the beginning, we knew this was a multi-year journey. Following our discussions of what it takes to succeed, we agreed on “Four Pillars” of leadership and the behaviors associated with leading at each level. Then we began to map out a talent review process. We learned that not every manager has the same vision of what talent review means. This was, and continues to be, an educational process for our managers. I am learning that it requires patience to continually move this forward across the organization.

What is your approach to development?

We have created a broad view of development in addition to targeting high potential directors and managers. The broader effort includes training for supervisors, managers and operational leaders. They attend Foundations of Leadership and New Managing programs to start. In addition, they have access to a wide variety of leadership, career and professional development offerings at Illumina University.

We established a targeted pool approach for preparing talent for general management. This is done with our 15 month Executive Development Program. It starts with assessments, then robust individual development plans and coaching. Action learning will be introduced this summer and tied to our strategic planning process. There is also an “Expanding Leadership Impact Program of 12 months.” This program helps managers broaden their leader perspectives. It provides participants with deeper insight into our strategy, marketplace and key processes.

Are you concerned about retention?

Yes, we are concerned. We are working on providing visibility of our top directors and managers to our CEO and Board. I am sure most companies growing at our pace focus on the “doing rather than leading” of work. We have to do both.   We are still working on shifting from what is a “thoroughbred mentality” of talent.   That is, if you are smart, focused, and clear on where you are headed; we endorse “just going for it.” That probably comes from being on the leading edge of science and our fast pace. I am working with our managers to take a step back, work on developing relationships with their people and jointly creating a path for their growth.

We are launching our next Power of i employee engagement survey. It will be interesting to see how much our efforts have “moved the dial” in the minds of employees. In our last survey we saw an improvement in items related to “my manager.” We also saw how powerful our mission is to the engagement of our employees.

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