Is Your Culture Sinking Your Talent Investments?

Savvy executives know they need to align their organization’s culture to support their objectives in recruiting, developing and retaining high-performing employees. It’s one thing to invest in career development and succession planning processes, for example, but if your culture’s norms don’t hold managers accountable for developing successors, the return on those investments will be lousy. This misalignment is a common problem today, and it’s causing leaders to pay more attention to culture. But changing culture to support talent development and retention isn’t easy.

Ultimately, our best clients recognize that changing culture requires new behaviors. Often, however, top management forgets that behavior change must start with them. Thus, there are three things leaders can do to drive the behavior changes they need to create a talent-oriented culture.

  • Start all staff meetings with questions related to talent. The president of a global engineering firm did this when he wanted to shift the focus of his leadership team. “I start all my meetings now with questions about the people: Who are you hiring? Who are your top stars? Are they growing? I don’t want my managers to drop the ball, and talent is the first thing they’ll drop. You have to keep it a priority.”
  • Be a role model demonstrating the importance of specific talent management activities. Leaders who want others to change have much more credibility when they clearly embrace the change themselves. Executives who want their managers to invest more in employee development often claim they don’t have time to invest in developing themselves. This sends mixed signals that are much less likely to change the culture’s orientation to development. The CEO of a community hospital, for example, who wants his staff to focus more on onboarding new hires, shows the importance of this activity by participating actively in biweekly orientation sessions.
  • Be skeptical about whether your leadership team is actually making talent management a top priority. If your staff knows you think talent management is important, they will tell you what you want to hear, one company president told me. So this executive looks for other ways to test whether his managers “get it.” He seeks independent perspectives on what priority his managers are putting on developing and retaining top talent. One way to do this is to pay more attention to 360-degree feedback on direct reports and less on who is talking a good game.

Creating culture change is always a long-term effort. If culture is to support an organization’s talent needs, effective leaders must start by identifying what behaviors they must encourage to create this alignment. Then executives can support those changes needed by modeling new behaviors and relentlessly asking questions that keep these activities front and center for their staff.

To jump start efforts at identifying the culture you need to support your talent management objectives, see Chapter 5 of our book The Executive Guide to High-Impact Talent Management. It has an efficient technique to make your organization's cultural norms explicit, so you can quickly identify the biggest gaps that demand your attention.