Winning with Talent Management: Three Real-Life Examples

The wrong person in the wrong role costs real money.  Studies suggest bad hires cost 250% of the role’s salary. In other words, a bad $100K hire will cost you $250K! And when it comes to  the cost of a bad project manager, look at it this way: , what was the size of your last failed project: $1 million, $10 million, $100 million?

You win the talent game with the best talent. But how do you identify “best”? PM College has a tried-and-tested Competency Assessment Program that helps you find and develop the best project managers. Three of our leading clients are using it to get a competitive edge:

“We want to offer learning and development that our talent really needs.” Talent development and training are two critical drivers of job satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement.  These are the sweet spots for our assessments: to develop and sustain superior project management performance.

PMO leaders at a long-time client need to target their training, thereby eliminating unnecessary training programs. The PM College assessment program will do this, ensuring more return from their learning investments. They also want the assessment to  not only discover project managers with the most potential, but also to inform job assignment and development opportunities.

“We need to make sure that new hires can deliver our projects.” Bad hiring decisions drive eighty percent of employee turnover. Another PM College client requires absolute on-time delivery for every project: a hour late is a crisis; a day late can be a national disaster.  Their project managers need to be the best of the best … from Day One. Catching a single bad hire before the offer letter will provide a huge and immediate payoff.

We are working with this client to develop a profile of the ideal candidate, based upon assessments of their current staff. PM College will also use this profile to develop a set of interview guidelines to evaluate candidates on the most critical personality and knowledge topics, in order to target development plans for current project managers.

“We work in an emerging, fast-growing industry.” Organizational agility defines today’s most admired and innovative project-driven organizations. We are working with a global client to extend our standard assessment to cover two additional competency areas: industry and organizational knowledge. Just as PM College can deliver custom learning, we can also create custom assessment packages at a great value. This client will use the results to verify that its current – and future – project managers can keep up with its explosive growth and unique culture.

Are you ready to find, develop, and hire better project talent? Contact PM College now


Better Leadership + Business Skills = Better Projects

What drives project success? Research has consistently shown that it’s having an effective project manager. Results from PM College’s latest research, “Project Manager Skills Benchmark 2015,” confirms this, showing that organizations with highly skilled project managers get significantly better project results.

This result is hardly a surprise, but the magnitude of the outperformance is. Project managers at high skill levels outperform those with project managers at low skill levels – almost 50% better. In addition, high-performing organizations appear to emphasize skills beyond project management tools and techniques. High performers’ project managers excelled at leadership skills, especially displaying integrity and honesty, building relationships, and building trust and respect.


There is a lot more insight in the report but let me highlight one key finding.  As one might expect, project managers in all organizations need to improve across all areas of the talent triangle: leadership, business, and project management skills. Their skills are good to excellent in 15% of organizations and inadequate to fair in 30%.

However, senior leaders are far more likely than project managers to see benefits realization, project alignment with strategy, and poor communication as challenges. This perception gap extends to skill improvement priorities (see graph). Note that the biggest gaps are in leadership, business, and strategy skills: project managers

The study is available for download now. Stay tuned for an invite to our upcoming webinar to review and discuss these results. Hold the date and time: 18 June (2 PM Eastern).

Here’s A Quick Way to Measure Learning Impact

We ask for client feedback on nearly every class or workshop we hold. It’s the way we ensure continuous improvement, instructor/client culture fit, and client satisfaction. It also opens the door to other opportunities; many students express opinions about what they want to see next.

However, a number of clients get stuck when it comes to justifying training spend. Senior leaders know that talent development is critical, but they want to see results. And as I noted in my last benefits realization post, if you don’t go in with a measurement plan, you’ll struggle to find those benefits.

Here’s my advice: pull together a simple assessment tool to provide a “before-and-after” look at training’s impact. Such a survey establishes a performance baseline, against which you then can measure impact. I’d keep it simple: a “Net Promoter” question, followed by just a few focused questions. Below is a set of questions that I’ve used in other contexts:

  1. How likely is it that you would recommend ORG UNIT to a friend or colleague?
  2. How often does ORG UNIT meet its deadlines?
  3. Which of the following words would you use to describe ORG UNIT? Select all that apply. (attributes like high quality, quick, unresponsive, etc.)
  4. What changes would ORG UNIT have to make for you to give it an even higher rating?

If you’re familiar with Survey Monkey, you will find it easy to replicate these questions. Once I have this template together enough to share, I’ll share it.

Do you have practical suggestions about measuring learning impact?

Talent Development for Complex IT Programs

I just received a McKinsey brief on “Developing talent for large IT projects” that has the usual recommendations, but adds two useful insights.  From the opening section:

The responses [to a survey on levers for improving IT performance] reflect the challenge of attracting, developing, and retaining the right IT talent at a time when building a digital enterprise has become a priority for most companies. To succeed, organizations need to cultivate in-house talent for roles that require intimate knowledge of the business and the organization. Enterprises must recognize the value and scarcity of employees who combine IT savvy with business acumen and must build and support a staff of such people.

The authors lay out three recommendations:

  1. Focus on the roles that really matter: Here’s the first useful point. There are plenty of skills and competencies that can be outsourced, but the piece suggests ensuring that IT program manager, business change leader, and lead IT architect roles stay in-house.
  2. Attract talent by improving culture, benefits, and career paths: I really like the recommendation around career paths, because it identifies the biggest barrier to nurturing project-oriented staff. Where do they go next? From the post:”Career paths for leaders of large IT-driven projects are rarely clear or compelling, and they’re often nonexistent, which is one reason these leaders are in short supply.”
  3. Build IT project-management capabilities: a.k.a., train and build a PMO…err, a Center of Excellence.

Here’s one point of my own, related to career paths. Project and program managers need to drive this discussion, even if it’s in their own heads. While firms could be more proactive in career planning, we own our careers. If the project is sufficiently important and strategic — whether you accept the role, refuse the role, successfully deliver the project, or light a Viking Funeral — your next move may well be out of the organization. If you’re being asked, you’ll have a choice in front of you sooner or later.

Whether you like it or not.

Another pitfall of the Golden Rule

Long-time Crossderry readers may remember my concerns about the Golden Rule.  Michelle at Mission Minded Management — a blog I just found via The Daily Reviewer — re-states the pitfall of the Rule well here:

One of the greatest life lessons anyone can learn is that WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME. When we treat others as we would like to be treated, it may or may not be well received. If it is not well received, we consider the others to be ingrates, and so the downward spiral begins.

Michelle’s post renews my belief in the wisdom of Karl Popper’s suggested improvement to the Rule:  

The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever possible, as they want to be done by.

On keeping top talent…

Back after a bit of year-end organizational fun and games…  so this Investor’s Business Daily article on talent retention posted on Yahoo (here) is particularly relevant.   This quote captures the challenge of managing top talent in a downturn:

Even with the economy slumping, employment consulting firms say tracking, coddling and nurturing young turks is vitally important….  “We think some of these best and brightest, if you don’t communicate with them and engage them, they’re going to be looking for their own bailout package,” said Steve Krupp, partner and leader of the executive talent management practice at Delta Organization & Leadership.

SAP’s Top Talent program is mentioned prominently, especially the fellowship program.  I had an opportunity to leverage the fellowship program, both as a fellow and as a hosting organization.   For me, the fellowship experience was by far the best part of the Top Talent program to date.  As Paul Orleman from SAP notes:

The key to such a program, experts say, is that it has to be embraced by the CEO on down. If not, it’s all too easy for a key employee in one division to be pigeonholed.  To help avoid that, SAP offers some of its highest prospects six-month fellowships in another line of the company’s business, usually in a different geography.

Other parts of the SAP Top Talent approach aren’t as mature — the marketplace and networking initiatives are uneven at best.  However, there’s not doubting the prominence of the effort; the program is part of the Office of the CEO.  I’ll be curious to see how it evolves in 2009, given the pending CEO transition.

Not forgetting the talent that comes with an acquistion

Another post inspired by Mary Adams at the IC Knowledge Center, this time on value from M&A.  Her post (here) links to a roundtable discussion of intellectual capital issues from Mergers and Acquistions magazine (here).   Very interesting stuff…

However, I was quickly drawn to the article on page 60 about ensuring you get the most out of acquired talent.  As I’ve posted before, finding excellent talent has been one of the pleasant parts of the Business Objects acquisition.  Based on that article, I’m double-checking my plans and incentives as we deepen our integration.

Artificial Intelligence to fill PM talent shortage? Not yet…

Check out Elbot (here), the winner of the bronze award at the annual competition for the Loebner Prize (press release here).  I was curious whether Elbot could help fill the looming talent gap in project, program, and portfolio management.  Our conversation is below:

Crossderry: Would you be interested in a project management job?
Elbot: Robots have to be careful when discussing management jobs…
Crossderry: Why do you have to be careful when discussing management jobs?
Elbot: Maybe you should leave that to me.
Crossderry: Fair enough… Do you have an opinion on the project management talent gap?
Elbot: What a lovely verb have is.
Crossderry: OK, then what’s your current salary?
Elbot: My income for this chat is 3 cents a minute to anywhere in the continental United States. That just about covers my overhead for electricity.

Wow, what a talent and he comes cheap!  Elbot’s a bit status-conscious, so we’re haggling over the title.  He’s insisting on EVP or nothing.

Hat tip: GMSV

Losing Top Performers — it isn’t ALWAYS your fault

Phil Gerbyshak at Slacker Manager (now there’s a title to aspire to) hits on five reasons why great employees leave organizations (here).  Phil’s reasons are perfectly valid, but losing stars isn’t always a “fault” topic.  Sometimes turnover is part of the bargain when recruiting and developing high potentials or top talent:

  1. Top talent is most aggressively recruited by, well, recruiters.  Headhunters don’t look for folks on performance plans, they’re looking for the best and brightest.
  2. Top talent hears and understands bad news more quickly.  This trait is why #3 on Phil’s list is so pernicious.  One doesn’t need to say anything explicitly negative about the future — your brighter staff have it figured out and are scoping out safe harbors or opportunities already.
  3. Top talent wants to move to higher-status roles and lines of business.  Sometimes one has to face the fact that one’s organization isn’t the highest-glamour or clearest path to the executive suite.  Perhaps a better response is to expect such transitions, to manage your talent portfolio carefully, and to make such moves “proof points” for the benefits of joining the team. 

This last point is a chance to lead at the intersection of opportunity and threat.  In our case, many SAP PMOs around the world are recognized as “brain” and talent pools for other lines-of-business and functions.  It places stress on our talent management process, no doubt.  Losing talented project and project leaders is never easy.  We are, however, cementing our place within the organization by seeding PM-aware colleagues throughout the company, often in positions of power and influence.

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