Posted by Meg Ambrose – Partner, The Lancer Group


We live in a big, complex, crazy, global world. We juggle work, home, balance and imbalance together. Our customers and schedules are internal and external. We are evaluated and tracked by everyone and everything – every second of every minute of every day.

Whether you use military terminology like VUCA* (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) to describe the world in which we live/operate/survive or just simply ‘messy’, it’s clear that “the norm” is no longer.

As an attendee at The Conference Board’s recent “Annual Talent Management Strategies Conference” in San Diego, I picked up some valuable insights. The conference focused on megatrends in Talent Management in the form of large public companies who had built a world- class talent management strategy. Topics discussed included hypo talent, valuing all human capital and culture as a competitive advantages, big data/big insights, best practices in leadership development, succession planning and the evolution of performance management. Buzzwords galore.

When I look across the one and a half days, my takeaways were as follows:

Talent Management is not for wimps. It’s at the forefront of the CEO agenda, and if it’s not, it bloody well should be – the stats are compelling “superior talent management practices generate 26% higher revenue per employee” – Talent Management at Facebook, Bersin & Associates, Sept 2010.

• You need agile executives who bring a different mindset and experience across industries or functions to the table. You need executives who can challenge (respectfully) and move quickly.

These executives are:
a) Hard to find
b) Can make an existing executive leadership team (ELT) feel uncomfortable
c) Unpredictable

• Investing in new talent who can create new ideas is going to cost you money and some of that money will go down the toilet with no return, but you learn, adapt, adjust and keep going. Public companies lose money every day at the whim of the stock market, but the mindset has to change to being comfortable losing money to win and survive in a VUCA world. It’s different. It’s flexible.

Customers – you’ve got to get it right, or keep moving until you do, or sort of do.

• If you are Steve Jobs, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology”. If you are Richard Branson “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of the employees, they will take care of the clients”. Both are right – Apple’s design and foresight has changed our expectations of consumer electronics and Virgin Group’s maniacal and successful focus on customer service has been primarily driven by their employee centric management strategy (Thanks to Harry West at Appirio).

• Your internal and external culture is one and the same – marketing teams have to work on both areas for consistency – think Netflix, (attribute).

• You want lots of “learners” in your organization – people who want to learn, love to learn and keep on learning… This ties back to shifting business models, fast moving business environments, economic uncertainty and continuous learners can help with disruption and realignment.

Learning, in and of itself, is being completely disrupted via informal learning vehicles like TED Talks and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that anyone can access. Then there are Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs) that are invitation only, compressed learning vehicles that companies can use for their global distributors to align business planning, as Microsoft did; or have new employees complete 20 hours of SPOC education before starting on day one at Goldman Sachs – i.e. they are all coming in with the same base of learning on technical financial models.

• CEOs are working very closely with their teams to pivot or realign the business and culture towards a more agile, aware environment where decision making is not hampered by process and employees are empowered.

Netflix Culture – Freedom and Responsibility. Just google how they re-invented their HR & culture, or click on this link: More and more, employees are empowered, or have to be empowered, because everyone has an online social presence. We have all seen what fall out can do – it’s an open world. We have to win in the “Age of the Customer”.

Performance Management (PM) – changing everything and changing quickly – annual formal reviews are out and two way, informal, frequent ‘conversations’ are in. You choose what, how and when. Simplicity is key – Adobe’s PM system, which every employee worldwide engaged on, concentrates on three areas: expectations, feedback and growth. They call their system “Check-In” – credit to the team and Angela Szymusiak for outlining this so succinctly.

Charles Darwin in the 1800s nailed it: It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

These were the highlights for me and some good learnings.

*Thanks to Kelly Wodja at Caterpillar for her “Living in a VUCA World” presentation.