Cloud-based talent management applications should be used to “brighten” the view of your workforce

The proliferation of cloud-based talent management software has never been greater and set the stage better for a true revolution in the way companies can drive sustainable, competitive advantage through their people. Basing these applications in the cloud provides cost advantages, greater flexibility, efficiency and agility than on-premise systems. But the effective execution of the cloud lies not simply in the utilization of limitless tools and templates now available in chosen system(s), but in the ability to exploit these applications to connect with our people in more meaningful, more human, more effective ways than ever before. As we look at a few examples, we can begin to understand both the risks and the possibilities with these applications and how the cloud can further brighten, not shade, the connection to our workforce.

Performance management has become, perhaps, as disillusioning as any existing talent related business process. Eyes roll and disengagement spikes as workers continue to experience an administrative, impersonal approach to their value as a performer. Cloud-based modules now provide a variety of new features, including more space to write comprehensive comments about performance and new timing functionality to auto-save performance comments. The risk, of course, is that the boundless comment field becomes a proxy for face-to-face formal and informal feedback, a practice that has regrettably become scarce and/or marginalized over time, especially in our “virtual” workplaces. Instead of summarizing and confirming what should be discussed verbally in a live setting, the template now threatens to replace whatever dialogue might have already existed. To mitigate this risk, leaders must utilize the new features to optimize the written mode of communication as a supplement to the verbal one already in place. The performer’s search for clarity can be gained, and long-term engagement sealed, through a multi-modal approach to open and honest performance feedback.

Talent profiles can now be defined and made visible in greater detail, incorporating more specific behavioral components associated with standard job competencies. Cloud-based applications have set a new standard around the granularity of our view of a given job. The resulting expectation is that the organization will be fully accountable to that standard across the entire talent system. If not, the profiles become “cloudy” and the workforce skeptical. Learning objectives for role-based curricula should align with the behaviors specifically outlined in the system. Performance must be fairly assessed against the sub-competencies so carefully defined in the profile. Applicant screening processes should leverage these detailed role profiles to drive superior candidate pools. Indeed, the opportunity for a truly systemic and integrated approach to the management of talent awaits the company ready to fully embrace the cloud.

There are now new performance subject areas within systems available for employees or managers to report more fluidly on development goals. Such reporting capabilities allow for a running commentary or “diary” of progress and constraints associated with predefined development objectives. Of course, sometimes the root cause of impeded progress or unbridled success is hidden or below the waterline, liberated only by an open dialogue about a project or goal. Valued self-reflection coming out of these applications can inform the peer discussions, team meetings and management conversations that follow. Organizations must not allow the application to define a development culture; rather, the emerging capabilities offered by cloud based technologies must support the culture and ensure that the processes these technologies automate are advancing, not replacing, the human dimension of talent management.

Talent leaders understand that with progress comes risk. If sophisticated talent applications monopolize the communication channels within our business, our workforce will be hidden from our view. On the other hand, if we leverage the capabilities of cloud technologies in the right way, the future of our business and the commitment of our people will never be brighter.

It only takes one bad apple. Or any fruit, for that matter.

Most employers spend countless hours and resources working hard to engage with employees, motivating them to produce at higher levels and actively pursue their career goals. Companies are well aware that a disengaged, disgruntled employee can affect productivity and overall morale. As the old adage says (and research certainly confirms), one bad apple can often spoil the bunch. But what if the unmotivated resource is NOT an employee at all, but instead a contractor or a formal volunteer or a temp or even a robot. In other words, what if the bad apple is not an apple at all, but a banana. What THEN is the risk?

Compelling research* recently completed in a joint study by ERE Media and Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) points to the fact that organizations across the board invest considerably less effort in the motivation and engagement of their non-full time workers than they do in their full-time workforce. In one statistic, “while 51% of organizations make a very big or big effort to motivate and/or engage workers, levels of engagement for non-employees are much lower, varying from a high of 16% for business partners to 4% for online freelancers. “ These numbers do begin to improve a little bit with very large companies (50,000+ employees), companies that are facing severe productivity challenges, and companies trying to better manage a global workforce. The difference, however, is still compelling.

Risks associated with such a limited commitment to a clearly growing segment of the total workforce are significant. While most customers never really know for sure whether an individual representing a company is a full time employee, that individual does carry the reputation and the brand image of the organization in his/her hand. And since the percentage of non-full time employees in companies (e.g. partners, contractors, temps, formal volunteers, robots, outsourced services, franchisees) has grown to 16% as the median, and north of 40% in many organizations, we can begin to appreciate the collective risk of so many neglected workers, whatever their profile.

A few years ago, Lighthouse Consulting wrote a white paper about the need to engage alternative segments of the workforce in different ways, based on the unique profile and drivers associated with each segment. That article, entitled Engagement Agility, is accessible in the Thought Leadership section of this website.

A common objection to the argument for funding engagement initiatives for non-employees relates to the traditionally lower ROI recognized by these segments of the workforce. But wouldn’t funding these initiatives create a more loyal part timer less likely to move on and more committed and dedicated to the job? Additionally, if the proportion of the workforce commanded by these segments continues to increase, wouldn’t the risk of disregarding these contributors become collectively higher and, arguably, begin to erode the ROI and perhaps the retention of the employees with whom these people work on teams and on projects? Finally, why would any company that has strategically chosen to deploy these resources want to make a relatively low ROI any lower? In contrast, the opportunity now exists for companies to differentiate their value population by rethinking the ROI of a flexible workforce and building added value by optimizing their productive output.

This noteworthy research on Total Talent Management (TTM) should light a fire on the agenda of all Talent Leaders who are looking to build a fully engaged workforce capable of driving a collective culture of productivity and innovation. As the workforces of all companies across all sectors become increasingly heterogeneous in nature, Talent Leaders must actively seek their discretionary effort and loyalty in ways that resemble the investments in their more traditional employee base.

* Total Talent Management: Towards an Integrated Strategy for the Employed and Non-Employed Workforce. May 7, 2015