Survival & Thrival: Reevaluate Everything – Talent Edition

Kurt Wilkin

Some 40 million people have lost their jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Which is why hiring—yes, hiring—is more important than ever.

Let me explain.

I’ve been preaching offense for quite a while now. Even before the pandemic, I encouraged my clients to be proactive in planning for the future. In everything from M&A to talent acquisition and retention, “offense” has been the HireBetter mantra. Three months ago, I was inspired to take it a step further when my friend Craig Wiley suggested that the pandemic offered a “once in a lifetime opportunity to reexamine everything.

Reexamine everything.” That’s powerful stuff! Whether it’s reprioritizing your work-life balance, throwing yourself into a healthy lifestyle, pivoting business models, or assessing your team’s ability to survive and thrive, there are so many avenues for positive change as a result of COVID-19.

For almost four months now, we’ve talked about different aspects of Survival and Thrival. Let’s focus on talent this week. I’m not just talking about adding a star player to your team. We need to talk about the dark side of talent management, too. If your team isn’t reaching its potential, it might not simply be because someone is missing; it might be that some people on the team aren’t the right people. If you want to come out of this thriving (and I know you do!), you may have to replace members of your team with next-level talent.

But before you start hiring and firing willy-nilly, it’s important to take a step back.

The importance of Strategic Talent Planning™
Attracting and retaining game-changing talent is the single best way to take your business to the next level. But throwing bodies at a problem is not the right long-term solution. You need a Strategic Talent Plan.

Without a well-developed talent strategy, you’re left to plug the holes in your boat with your fingers. And every time you think you’ve got it seaworthy it will spring another leak! Believe it or not, having a talent strategy is every bit as critical to your success as your business strategy.

Too often I’ve seen companies jump right in, going after a new executive-level hire without first truly understanding their needs. If the makeup of your team is the single most important factor in your ultimate success or failure, you have to spend some time honestly assessing your goals. What does the team that gets you there need to look like and how does your current team fit into the puzzle?

Look, it can be hard to put talent planning into practice. Being honest about the shortcomings of some of your most loyal and longest-tenured employees is never easy. Despite this, the value of strategic talent planning cannot be overstated. To get a jump-start on thinking strategically about talent, we recommend starting with three basic steps.

Step 1: Know where you want to take your business.
As I said before, COVID-19 offers us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reexamine everything. Many of the key assumptions we had about our businesses have fallen apart in recent months. Now, more than ever, we need to take a look at our vision. How has the pandemic adjusted your time horizon, your business goals, and even your personal goals?

Thinking about these “big picture” things is the first step in a strategic talent plan. Before the pandemic, my initial meetings with clients offered the same questions and “homework” so to speak: Where do you want to take your business? What kinds of changes do you need to make to get there?

In this new “post-COVID” reality, the questions haven’t changed—but the stakes certainly have. Having a clear vision is even more important, as entire industries are facing unprecedented upheaval. When you know where you want to take your business, you can start building the roadmap to achieve success.

Step 2: Outline the skills and experience needed to get there.
With a clear view of your goals, you can begin to build a plan to achieve them. Take a fresh look: if money were no object and you built a team from scratch, what does that team look like? Sketch out a future-state org chart, independent of who you have today. Don’t put names in the boxes yet—names lead you to making emotional decisions. At this stage, we’re building a hypothetical dream team.

This step is important, because everyone has that long-term, loyal, and trusted employee. You know, the one who works 16 hours a day and is uber-dedicated to you and the mission. In many cases, your needs may have outgrown this person—at least for the role they are being asked to perform. They are likely overwhelmed and over-titled, and simply will not be able to take your company to the next level.

This doesn’t mean that your loyal, long-term employee isn’t extremely valuable, and it doesn’t mean you need to let them go. Building your org chart without names allows you to have clarity and to be honest about your needs moving forward.

Step 3: Assess your team, identify gaps.
Once you’ve built your org chart of the future, it’s time to turn your attention to the people already on your team. Some of them will be able to grow with you, and that’s great! But, as previously noted, there are others whom you have simply outgrown. Where do you need additional skills and experience?  Look for areas where experienced leaders can get you there faster. In the spirit of reexamining everything, think about the team members who were struggling even before the pandemic. You will probably need to make some hard choices. Not to be overly dramatic, but oftentimes these choices impact dollars that can make or break your entire company.

It’s important to remember that the team that got you here usually isn’t the one that will get you to the next level. Some people excel in the bootstrapping environment of a startup, but aren’t cut out for the scaling phase as you move forward. That loyal, long-time team member may not be qualified to be your VP of Operations, but that doesn’t mean they can’t fit in elsewhere on your org chart.

This is not an easy process. As you dig in, you will be faced with many challenges and some tough decisions about existing team members. But if you really want to make your company all it can be, you’ll need to develop a talent plan, make some tough decisions about your existing team, and add some game changing talent.

Invest in Talent
Let’s face it, the world looks vastly different today than it did 12 weeks ago. One silver lining to the pandemic is that you can attract and afford a much higher caliber employee in a 20% unemployment environment than you could when it was less than 5% pre-COVID.  There is some amazing talent out there right now looking for their next opportunity. And now is the time to go get that A-player to help take your company to the proverbial next level. Harvard Business Review agrees that a huge talent transfer is coming.

How can you afford to pay for this next-level talent? The real question should be, how can you afford not to?  Based on our experience, the budget to hire an A-player or two can usually be found by making some honest appraisals about your existing team and using their comp to pay for your new hires.

COVID-19 is changing our perspective, and there truly is no time like the present to reexamine everything! If you understand where you want to take your business, create a future state org chart, honestly assess your current team, and begin building a Talent Plan, you are well on your way to surviving and thriving!

Moving Forward
Our goal at HireBetter is to help you navigate the unknown and assist in any way we can, especially when it comes to questions about your team and the health of your business. We’re continuing to offer free sessions to help entrepreneurial companies leverage talent to play offense. We will continue to host CEO Forums and keep you updated. And we will continue to participate in events like Ask the Expert that QuickBooks sponsored last week.

There continues to be uncertainty and we’re definitely not out of the woods yet. Take advantage of this situation by taking a moment to assess your goals and your team – honestly. You may be surprised by what you find.

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