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[Q&A] Managing Talent at the Speed of Change

Today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world definitely calls for a new approach to managing talent. A topic with increasing relevance, our latest webinar, Managing Talent at the Speed of Change: How You Can Win in a VUCA World brought a respectable 892 registrations.

Managing Talent at the Speed of Change: How You Can Win in a VUCA WorldScott Erker, Ph.D. is a senior vice president at DDI and talent management expert.  Dr. John Sullivan  is an international HR thought leader known for disruptive and predictive ideas. We caught up with our presenters after the webinar as they addressed participant questions.

Aaron: What is best practice to assess learning ability during the selection process?

Scott: There are many ways to assess learning ability, which can make the answer to the question complex and navigating options very confusing. A multiple method approach to measuring learning ability is best – use a cognitive ability test to assess ’raw processing power’ of the individual, use an interview to find out where a candidate has had to learn and apply information in the past, and use a simulation to put candidates in a scenario where they need to learn and apply information/concepts.

John: It depends on the job, the speed and the complexity of the learning required. However, approaches that I recommend for learning ability/speed assessment include:

  • Ask them to self-rate themselves – simply ask them to self-rate their learning speed or ability on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • Assess their current knowledge - ask them a few technical questions to see if they are on the leading-edge right now.
  • Assess their learning approach – ask them for the steps they have gone through in the past. Ask them to go through the steps to learn about something new relevant to this job or give them a current employee learning approach and ask them how to improve it.
  • Give them a learning problem - give them a new learning problem outside of the interview and time how long it takes for them to find relevant information.
  • Test them – give them a standard vendor supplied learning ability/speed test or develop an online assessment approach yourself.

Spencer: Can you talk about the discovery and then sourcing of non-traditional talent markets? Finding top talent among College Grads is one thing, but what about finding top, adaptive talent among non-college students?

John: Finding adaptivity and speed among experienced talent is much easier because they have a track record. The approaches I recommend include:

  • Employee referrals – your own adaptive and fast-moving employees already know these individuals and they can assess them better than most recruiters.
  • View their work – finding their work online can often reveal whether they included speed, obsolescence and innovation components in their work. Reading their blogs can also reveal a lot.
  • View their profile – the very best add adaptive features to their LinkedIn profiles and to their resume because they know the value of it. Also see if others endorse or recommend them on LinkedIn on their adaptive, speed or innovation features.
  • Ask questions – asking questions relating to how to adapt on technical forums or communities is a good idea, as is looking for those that provide adaptive answers.
  • Contests – online technical contests can cover a problem that requires adaptive solutions and then you recruit those that provide the best adaptive approaches and their solution.
  • Job postings – including the need for speed, adaptivity and innovation in the job posting and job description can by itself attract these types of individuals.

Scott: This question could have a very long answer! In short, finding out where pools of great target candidates ‘congregate’ (where they go for information, what they spend time doing to collaborate with like-minded people) and then getting your message in front of them is a start. This is probably one of the reasons why employee referrals (from great employees) are such popular sourcing techniques.

Laurence: How do you combine adaptive qualities / behaviors and long-term perspective [e.g., leaders making decisions to adapt short term to business challenges, while not losing sight of more long term stakes with larger scope and impact (economical, environmental, social)]?

Scott: I believe that adaptability (and the ability to learn from rapid trial and error) is one of the most important capabilities for taking advantage of short- and long-term business opportunities. They are intricately entwined. But the key ingredient here may not be adaptability. It may be in leader’s ability to keep a long-term perspective while dealing with the day to day. They also need to recognize the cues that the ‘long term’ may be nearer than they think.

John: In a VUCA world, the key learning is that the definition of “long-term” is shrinking dramatically, because you simply can’t accurately predict anything more than 18 months out. You still want people to think strategically, which means be forward-looking and focus on strategic business goals, but once again, those goals and timetables now shift more frequently. Obviously you still need to think globally, but in a VUCA world, nearly every country needs to be treated as unique. Once again I recommend the “avocado approach” where there is a core “hard seed,” which stays consistent over time (it usually includes values and success measures), but there must still be some flexibility, depending on whether the relevant business unit is in a growth, innovation or shrinkage mode. In my experience, the key is to be realistic. If you encourage “five-year out” thinking, forecasting and planning your work never turns out to be accurate, you will quickly lose your credibility. That is why I recommend providing a range of targets. In short, the VUCA world is still strategic, but it often requires a “shorter-term” perspective, where short and long are defined based on how far out you can actually predict with any degree of accuracy.

J M: Does selecting the best talent to operate in the VUCA world unintentionally promote ageism?

John: That would be an unfair stereotype. I personally am 3X the age of my students, but I find that I am much more adaptable than most of them. Steve Jobs was certainly more adaptive than most Apple employees, Eric Schmidt thrived at Google and Sheryl Sandberg thrives today alongside much younger workers at Facebook. Employees with less experience may have an advantage because they grew up in a world that changed rapidly, but more experienced people also lived through this time. In my experience, if you teach, measure and reward adaptiveness, risk-taking and speed, no age group has a special advantage or disadvantage. If there was a disadvantage, it would be that the more experienced workers simply need to learn how to “forget” about how they operated in slower time periods in their past. I don’t have any hard data on it, but I have certainly seen a tendency for older workers to actually appreciate and enjoy learning more than the younger generation.

Managing talent in this shifting world requires refocusing efforts, agile learning, and a dedication to adaptation. Learn what the best are doing today to thrive in this world by exploring our blog series.

How the Talent Management Function Can Thrive In a VUCA World

[Benchmark Yourself] Is Your Talent Strategy Built for a VUCA World?

Are Leaders Ready for VUCA?

6 Talent Strategy Levers for a VUCA World

Posted: 25 Nov, 2013,
Talk to an Expert: [Q&A] Managing Talent at the Speed of Change
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