All posts in Talent Management

Applying Military Principles to Win the War for Talent

Military leaders are trained to plan and execute strategies that win battles.  HR professionals face a similar battle; this one is enduring, experts predicted it 15 years ago, and it is in full swing for 2014.  Yet, HR professionals still find themselves unequipped to fight the war for talent.  Military strategists recognize that winning requires effective, adaptable processes for planning, intelligence, speed, and the right technologies to execute the resulting plan.  Your HR can gain similar competitive advantage through effective execution of those same four military principles.

Planning:  In our case, Workforce Planning.  With everything constantly changing: economic conditions, laws and regulations, market opportunities, etc., you will not win the war for talent with a workforce plan developed at the beginning of the year, and brought out only occasionally to check against goals.  With workforce plans made using accurate real-time data, you can adapt to your needs at any given time.  You are then much more likely to have the right people in the right place at the right time.  When it comes down to it, that’s what the war for talent is all about.

Management teams must practice continuous workforce planning utilizing relevant and truthful talent data.  Workforce data combined with external information, such as labor and salary market data, and data from operation systems, such as point-of-sale and CRM, enables HR professionals to answer the big talent planning questions more effectively.  The right HR system, a system in which you can combine data and analyze it directly, is the key to satisfying this goal.

Intelligence:  As USC’s John Boudreau pointed out, a major failing of many organizations is that they keep detailed records of material assets, yet lack the actionable intelligence to know when they are in danger of losing high-performing employees.  A HR system that is fine for housing workforce data but can’t engage employees for effective communication on performance or career goals isn’t the right system.  For business leaders to understand talent capabilities on a complex level across the workforce they need a system that intuitively takes into account all the possible anomalies and details.

After-action review:  The after-action review (AAR) is a fact-driven and effective process used to ensure the correction of errors and continuous improvement.  After every major initiative is launched and allowed to settle, key stakeholders must gather to give and receive feedback on the project.  Examples of this process include post-compensation planning, where the entire plan is introduced to management, and they are given the chance to provide feedback to the HR team, which HR integrates into a revised plan.

As soon as the review process is completed, there is another opportunity to review what worked and what can be improved upon.  Many organizations don’t do this effectively because it takes time, and most teams are busy with the next project.  Military organizations always plan this time into every project, and it is kept sacred.

Technology:  Technology is an enabler of intelligence.  The military has state of the art technology, which acts as a force multiplier, effectively augmenting teams.  Think of your HR technology as a force multiplier.  It should add capacity to your team.  It should free up time for better strategic thinking, planning, and after-action review.  It should provide you with mission critical data, heads-up displays, and aerial views of your business, your talent, and your competitor’s talent.  The challenge is to assemble the best technology available to you, whether you achieve that by building your own, buying more, or repurposing what you have.  The right technology is vital to executing your strategic processes effectively.

Lessons learned from the military can be applicable to your HR challenges, and with the right tools, technologies and enabling processes, you will be in a position to win against your relentless enemies in The Talent War.

If you are looking to weaponize your HR processes and systems, then contact us at eeStrategy so we can talk to you about our proven, unique solutions to help you win the fight.

Respecting Your Employees

Just before Christmas, Tess C. Taylor (The HR Writer) published an article with PayScale on ‘7 tips for hiring and retention of top performing employees’. These seven points are broadly correct but ultimately are left wanting; unfortunately, they miss the key points around hiring and retention.

1. Hire Quality People

This is always a good idea and mandatory/vital in key roles – but it’s not always practical. Of course, you make every effort to hire the best possible person for the head of a department. However, do you really want to pay a premium for your toilet cleaners? Expending exorbitant time and money on commodity resources just isn’t smart.

A good assessment, screening and interviewing process is also important; one cannot forget reference checking though; knowing how a prospective employee has worked with others in the past is vital to knowing if they are a good fit for your business. However, success in their last role is worth little, if you haven’t communicated the requirements of the job. Even more importantly, you must communicate how they can be successful in the role. That goes for every employee – even your toilet cleaners.

2. Offer Generous Compensation and Benefits

The title of this tip is going the right direction, but the explanation is way off the mark. Market-based compensation is, by definition, what everyone else is paying! It hardly qualifies as ‘generous compensation and benefits’ if everyone else is getting it too.

Again, there must be both clarification and quantification of generous compensation for key roles. Understanding the value provided by a role allows you to offer an appropriately generous compensation package with justification and substantiation. A value-based compensation plan that directly ties compensation and benefits to the amount of value the employee is producing for your company is much more effective and efficient.

3. Give Them a Great Work Culture

This point is important, and we can summarise it down to one thing it – ‘respect’. Respect covers pretty much everything you need to understand about fantastic work culture.

4. Make Learning a Priority

Learning is a mechanism for advancement and being more successful.  No one learns anything for the sake of it, and if they do, they soon forget it.  Learning and development programs are the transaction – the actual strategy is committing to your employees’ success. This point should actually be ‘Make Investing in People a Priority’. We want people to learn so they can unlock the doors to greater personal (and by inference, company) success.

5. Progressive Performance for Pay

Pay-for-performance is a buzzword in compensation now, but what is described here is neither progressive nor pay-for-performance. Performance reviews, in the sense it is used, are not pay for performance either – they are more akin to performance management.  It’s important to note that performance management and performance measurement are different.  Pay-for-performance is linked to the successes and outcomes of employees, not their efforts. Pay-for-performance does increase productivity, employee morale, and loyalty, but only when performance is closely aligned with value attribution. That’s often not the case.

6. Transform Work Norms

Yes, being aware of changes in the workforce and transforming to meet the needs of a new generation of workers is important. Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic never did anything for anyone though. Continual transformation is bad for companies, especially when it is just for the sake of it. This links back to having respect for your employees (see point 3). Providing people with a work environment in which they are respected and have the opportunity to be successful in life, and at work, is the key.  If you don’t have that already, transform to fix the problem, and then get back to business.

7. Communicate Core Values

Having core values that you believe in and that the company stands for, whatever that is, is vital. Communicating those core values and making sure that your employees and your clients and customers know what those values are, and believe in them too, is even more important.  Success is not all about outcomes; the journey is also important. Core values are the foundation of a company, without them everything else falls down.


At eeStrategy, we have a cohesive view of what makes a business successful – respecting and recognizing all employees, and especially top performers – and we have the technology and expertise to do that. If you want a progressive, respectful, high-performing, well-paid organization that lives and breathes its values – contact us.

Stack ranking and Yahoo!

Pebble stackYahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, made HR news again this month when the firm announced that they were implementing stack ranking, following news from Microsoft that they were abandoning the practice the day before. Company employees and the wider business community met the news with understandable criticism. Nevertheless, let’s assume that a very smart CEO has it right this time.

Let’s jump back a year when Mayer announced she was going to eliminate 20% of her workforce. There has been a year of planning and research into the most effective and strategic way to achieve that. The people at Yahoo are most likely quite educated on stack-ranking, the benefits and risks associated, and ways to ensure success.

The strategy could be successful, if she and her HR team have asked, “What are we trying to achieve with this approach, and why are we doing it?”, and aligned themselves with the answer. The team should understand the outcomes they are trying for – they chose a proven technique that will drive out the bottom performers, as well as people who are not buying into the One Yahoo! concept. Yahoo will have estimated that there will be collateral damage, including the regrettable losses of high performing talent. Yahoo would have identified and quantified the value of all roles within the organization, and can align rewards to those roles based on the true value they bring to the organization.

Marissa Mayer has most likely identified the best opportunities throughout all of the business units to drive increased value, and has developed compensation plans that align that strategy to the rewards she will confer upon relevant employees for delivering the goals.

Yahoo has also demonstrated they can make a plan and then commit to acting on that plan at pace. They probably set the go-live for the initiative to start in 90-120 days, just as Microsoft’s new acquisition, Nokia, did when they implemented their new talent strategy. It is also unlikely that Yahoo sees stacked ranking as a viable long-term practice. It is a short-term measure designed to cut the earlier mentioned 20% of their workforce, a 20% that is underperforming and needs removing if Yahoo is going to succeed.

Some thoughts on Marissa’s talent strategy:

  1. Stack ranking works, but you have to have great performance measurement.
  2. Stack ranking can have unwanted consequences – regrettable losses, lower employee engagement, risk-aversion, less innovation, less cross-functional collaboration and other bad behavior.
  3. Stack ranking fails if you cannot accurately value specific roles and identify how high performing employees maximize those roles.
  4. You have to know what success looks like, tell your people what great looks like, and then let them get on with it.
  5. Make sure you don’t get rid of technically low-level performers who in reality enable and foster high performance within the teams they serve.

Stack-ranking is a proven, yet blunt instrument which will likely achieve the goals that Yahoo are trying to achieve in the short-term, but there are refined approaches that can leverage and analyze complex data to deliver the outcomes you want, while mitigating collateral damage.  It is also important to note that while many may be breathing a sigh of relief over Microsoft’s new approach, it remains to be seen whether Microsoft will become a more effective competitor as a result. Let us assume, that Microsoft has done the same or deeper due diligence, changed their performance management system to something that better aligns with their strategic goals.

Strategically aligned HR uses the evidence available to identify problems and deliver the best solutions. Yahoo and Marissa Mayer believe their solution is stack ranking. Microsoft thinks it is something different. Know; don’t guess what the  best solution is for your particular situation and how that  achieves the desired results.