Do You Have Who It Takes?: Managing Talent Risk in a High-Stakes Technical Workforce

Do You Have Who It Takes?: Managing Talent Risk in a High-Stakes Technical Workforce

by Steve Trautman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626344303
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 06/06/2017
Sales rank: 1,086,847
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Steve Trautman is corporate America’s leading talent risk management expert. He initially pioneered the field of technical knowledge transfer, developing the nationally-recognized gold standard used by blue-chip companies ranging from Aetna to Goodyear, Kroger to Zynga. Building on that foundation, Steve brought his practical, data-driven ideas to talent risk management, creating tools that are straightforward and relevant for even the most complex organizations. Steve and his team at The Steve Trautman Co. have been providing Fortune 500 executives with the simplest, quickest, and most practical solutions for managing their talent risk, especially in highly technical and professionally-skilled teams, for over 20 years.
He is the author of Teach What You Know: A Practical Leader’s Guide to Knowledge Transfer through Peer Mentoring and The Executive Guide to High Impact Talent Management. Steve speaks internationally and provides business leaders with common sense guidance and support.

Read an Excerpt

Do You Have Who It Takes?

Managing Talent Risk in a High-Stakes Technical Workforce

By Steve Trautman

Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2017 The Steve Trautman Co.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62634-430-3


Eight Talent Risk Myths

THERE IS SOME IRONY WHEN EXECUTIVES SAY "PEOPLE ARE OUR MOST important asset," because everyone with a complicated workforce struggles to understand and manage this "most important" asset. Sure, organizations approach the problem with their best HR analytics or hope that a succession plan for the top executives and a little luck will carry them through. But even with all the effort expended, in the end, few can say with justifiable confidence that they will have the workforce they need to execute their business strategy three to thirty-six months from now.

I can't blame you for feeling confused and frustrated by this problem. How many times in the last thirty to forty years has a magical solution come down the pipeline only to be revealed as a giant "flavor of the month" flop? It often feels easier to assume there is no answer and just plow ahead with a big contingency budget and plenty of aspirin — even though you don't accept defeat so readily in other areas of business.

"It often feels easier to assume there is no answer and just plow ahead with a big contingency budget and plenty of aspirin — even though you don't accept defeat so readily in other areas of business."

I have found that many fail in this space because of eight damaging talent risk myths. Let's dispel these misconceptions and clear a path for positive action.


"People issues" are inherently slippery and can't be managed with the same hard data that we require from every other part of our businesses.

Current attempts at managing talent risk, including competency models, demographic profiles, job ladders, and formal training, all fall short when it comes to measurably reducing your talent risks. What do you really know if you put a person on a job ladder, inventory their competencies, provide them with a proper performance review, and send them to training on some regular basis? Are you confident they will perform the work required of their role consistent with your expectations? I'm not arguing that there is no value in all this investment. The trouble is that it stops short of answering the fundamental question: Where is the data that proves you will have the technical workforce you need both now and in the future?

Imagine if the legal department decided that all the contracts were "probably fine" or the financials included "mostly accurate" numbers. Imagine if your suppliers said the order "might" be on the truck or your tax advisor said you "probably" won't go to jail for fraud. Who would settle for so much ambiguity? Yet when we talk about our people, we settle for gut feelings more often than not.

I recently had a lunch conversation with Kevin Oakes, the CEO of i4cp. His organization identifies best practices and next-gen ideas that fuel productivity and bottom-line results. He became quite animated when I raised the topic of managing talent risk. "Lately, talent risk is a notion that many of our member organizations have been strongly embracing," he said, "and that's being driven by their board of directors and senior leaders. At the board level, leaders are essentially saying, 'As we grow as an organization, how do we look at talent risk like we look at financial risk?'"

I will make the case that "people issues" are not an excuse for a lack of objective clarity. The truth is you can obtain hard technical capacity data on every employee at every level of the organization. You can expect to get a report that explains the talent risk profile of any team and how it has changed over the last three months. You can expect a new hire to be up to speed in half the time it currently takes — and measure the success or failure of onboarding. You can expect to know the potential cost of a mistake for people working in critical areas who are not fully prepared to work. You can expect every manager to be able to explain how they're maximizing their team's head count to bring full value to the bottom line. And you can expect all this data in an app like Excel with hard numbers — including dollar signs where appropriate. Don't settle for less.


Technically capable people are too complicated and emotional to be "produced" the way a car can be manufactured. I've got to let them do what they do their own best way.

Over the last several decades, motivational speakers, consultants, thought leaders, and the like (read: people like me) have convinced us that, as executives, we must improve our "engagement scores" by helping our employees find their collective bliss. The idea is that if you give people enough freedom and opportunity, their unique path will unveil itself and they'll be fulfilled, happy, and productive. Executives proudly trumpet that they "hire great people and then get out of their way." Bureaucracy is the devil, and if you cut all the red tape, you'll finally unleash the true potential of your team. You must give people the freedom to "fail early and fail often" if you want to spark innovation.

While there may have been plenty of great reasons to head toward these ideas in the past, the pendulum has swung too far in this direction. It has allowed business leaders to abdicate responsibility for setting clear expectations by saying stuff like "My people are unique and I would never want to treat them like robots."

For example, I was on the phone recently with a senior VP for a major hotel chain who listed a broad array of programs that were designed to usher about 1,000 back-office workers from the "old way" of working to the "new way." She had hired consultants to redesign the organization, had provided formal training to support a new workflow, and had trained all her managers to lead through the change. It all sounded good until she laid out the results of all this effort. They had been working at completing this transformation for three years and she still had substantial pockets of people who refused to make the shift. Too many claimed a lack of role clarity. Bastardized versions of the "new way" were springing up as people tried to cope with the extended period of transition. To add more fuel to the fire, she had just found out that she needed to plan for the acquisition of a major competitor. Still, she felt confident that if they "stayed the course" with the broad guidance they had set up, they would get through to the other side.

The truth is this executive didn't have a transition problem. She had a production problem. Much like a factory needs to produce high-quality cars, she needed to produce high-quality workers who could do the work the right way. What would happen if, when a car factory changed from one model year to the next, they let some of the workers continue to make last year's model? What if it was OK for some workers to bolt the steering wheel where the front tire belongs because that seemed best to them? What if we only told the workers what we didn't like about their output and never bothered to give them the hard data they needed to make the cars right in the first place? This is what was happening for this executive. She knew that plenty of people were doing things the wrong way, but when I asked her to put a stake in the ground and tell me who was right, she demurred. "We need to give people room," she said.

I realize that the idea of producing people like cars is radical — and may sound a little crazy. Well, what if being clear about constraints and being as exacting as new car specifications made our employees more engaged, happier, and likely to stay in their roles for longer periods of time? What if being clear about the right way to do the work freed them up to be more creative in areas where innovation is welcome, because they aren't spending endless hours in meetings where no one makes a decision, or cleaning up messes because the standards were never clear in the first place? In a factory, no one would settle for a production line that was still making poor-quality cars after three years. Why settle for less when looking at managing your technical talent? With the right framework and process, technical talent can be developed and replicated much like a production model.


Having a succession plan for top executives is enough talent risk management.

As I've worked with and studied organizations around the world, succession planning for top executives is clearly the most evolved form of talent risk management that I see. There are many forms of "high potential" lists and regular meetings of senior executives who talk over who could replace them if needed. Rotational programs are set up to provide broad experience with the business, including stints living abroad and lateral moves intended to fill gaps in a resume. Big organizations host events to encourage upcoming leaders to network, build relationships, and settle in for a long and successful career. Senior leaders I meet are often proud of their succession plans and feel confident they have the problem covered — but do they really?

I want to address this myth in two parts: the myth that current succession plans for senior leaders are enough and the myth that succession plans should stop at leadership instead of being developed for all critical employees, including many who aren't on the leadership track at all.

From what I've observed, succession plans for senior leaders work around the actual risk. These plans provide opportunities to build readiness but do little to validate readiness. For example, we're working with an SVP for a major digital imaging company who would like to retire or at least move to more of an "emeritus" status by the end of the year. His successor has been chosen and "groomed," but there are still reservations about the successor's ability to take over. The plan was to "give her another year to prove herself" but there was no clear measure of readiness. The SVP of HR said, "We'll just have to see."

In this book, I'll show you how we gave the successor a way to prove her readiness with a plan that is measurable and won't take a year to complete. It doesn't replace the existing succession planning programs but validates their efficacy in plain language. The truth is that there is no need to "wait and see" if the succession plan is working. We can prove it.

My second point regarding the value of current succession plans is that it is considered acceptable to stop succession planning at some level of senior leadership — usually at the VP or GM level. This means that there are no succession plans for the technical experts and other frontline employees who often pose a greater material risk to the business than their bosses on the twenty-ninth floor. I've seen a $50 million revenue stream put at risk because one software architect was hired away by a competitor before he could finish rolling out his product. Succession plans should be in place for all critical roles. In the 2016 i4cp research study on talent risk, one of the top five best practices identified for effectively addressing talent risk was "having succession plans for technical/professional experts." It is a myth that this is too complicated an undertaking. The truth is you can create succession plans for every critical role, including your technical talent, so you can manage your talent risk regardless of job title or level.


You think you've been clear about what you need in terms of technical/professional talent because you've laid out a head count budget and org chart.

It certainly makes sense to start with a head count budget when thinking about talent. As you build out your business plan, you have to figure out how many people it is going to take to get the job done and at what cost. Your plan might include a need for one hundred engineers, ten project managers, fifteen business analysts, twenty quality experts, and so on. You'll probably need eight managers and a director to lead the charge. Then you can clarify even further and note that some of them should be "experienced" so they'll cost a little more. You can outsource some of it to a country with lower wages so there might be some savings there. The trouble is that, like boxes on an org chart, head count budget is only a shadow of the data you need to ensure that you have a sufficiently low talent risk profile.

One of the reasons for this is because not all "senior employees" are created equal. No surprise there. But if you are looking at head count as job titles on an org chart, hash marks on a job ladder, or lines in a budget, you're treating your experts as if that is all they are. Some have common skill sets that are appropriate for "plug and play" roles. However, those that impact your talent risk profile have unique knowledge and skills that make them — and only them — critical to your success. Yes, you can prepare a budget for these folks. But if you don't know what they really do for you, you don't understand the risks associated with each one if they transfer, take a redefined job role, or leave. You may find later that the risk was too high. For example, one of our client CIOs needed a top expert repurposed to a pet project of his. He could see from the org chart that the team was fully staffed, so he figured he could help himself to one of the senior guys. The team obviously had plenty to spare. The result? The expert's former team called him back to his old job so often that he had a foot in two worlds and was failing at both. The CIO thought there would be some howling about the move but he never expected to destabilize an entire technical team and put his own pet project at risk.

If he could have zoomed in on the unique roles the senior engineer played on the team, he could have realized the potential impact. The data he could have gathered would have suggested a five-week phased transition with a hard stop rather than an immediate pullout followed by endless "quick questions" from the old team. He would have been able to weigh the technical talent implications to both the existing team and the new project and timed the transition for a successful changeover. He could have used more complete data to manage his talent risk relative to his business need.


A reorganization to centralize or decentralize your specialists — the age-old "inhale vs. exhale" cycle of reorgs — is the best way to reduce your technical talent risk.

Many organizations ping-pong between two imperfect organizational structures. In one model, they have all the people in one job family centralized into a single organization and then deploy experts to projects around the company as needed. In the other model, those same people report into their project/functional teams; the only thing they share with their job family counterparts is their title and sometimes a dotted line relationship with a "center of excellence" for their role.

Both scenarios present problems. If everyone is centralized, they lose touch with the business units they're supposed to understand and serve. If everyone is decentralized, they lose touch with their technical counterparts and deliver inconsistent results. In response to either of these problems, many organizations do what I call the "inhale or exhale reorg." The inhale reorg pulls all the members of a job family back into a central team so they can have more "synergies." The exhale reorg blows these same people back into functional teams so they can be "more connected to the core business." It is common to see the inhale or the exhale happen every two to three years.

I'm betting most of you have been a part of one of these inhale or exhale reorgs in the last five years. It is particularly common when a new executive takes over and is trying to shake things up. I saw that in action recently with an HR exec who wanted to make sure that all her employees were being better business partners, so she had them report to their line-of-business execs with a dotted line back to her. This was not a bad idea at all. In this case, the HR business partners really did need to get closer to their customers. The myth is that changing reporting relationships is enough to solve the problem of being sufficiently "connected" to either the job family or the functional org. Just because you are a member of an "HR Business Partner Job Family" (inhale), or you are the "HR Business Partner on the Acme 3000 team" (exhale), doesn't go nearly far enough to clarify the best way to be successful.

The truth is that — regardless of where someone sits and reports in the org structure — the best way to ensure their work is efficient, consistent with their peers, and highly connected to the business is to clarify expectations and give them an unambiguous plan for their success. In this book, I'll show you how to clarify in plain language exactly what is expected, not only for whole technical job families but for the individual and unique roles within each job family — even for your most specialized, highly technical experts. Whether you are a member of a centralized or decentralized team, you can and will be successful. And you won't have to put up with being inhaled or exhaled every two to three years to get there.


Excerpted from Do You Have Who It Takes? by Steve Trautman. Copyright © 2017 The Steve Trautman Co.. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Challenge and Promise of Managing Your Talent Risk 1

Talent Risk Is Like No Other Risk. Or, Is It? 2

The Relevant Data and the "Secret Sauce" 4

Are We Speaking the Same Language? Talent Risk Defined 6

Some Common Business Challenges Rooted in Talent Risk 7

From Knowledge Transfer to Managing Talent Risk 11

How to Use This Book 12

Don't Settle 13

Part I The Talent Risk Problem and Why Many Fail 15

Chapter 1 Eight Talent Risk Myths 17

Talent Risk Myth #1 People Issues and Hard Data Don't Mix 18

Talent Risk Myth #2 My Experts Are Too Complicated 19

Talent Risk Myth #3 We've Got It Covered with Succession Plans 21

Talent Risk Myth #4 Our HR Analytics Are Already Good 23

Talent Risk Myth #5 A Reorg Will Solve Our Problem 25

Talent Risk Myth #6 My Experts Hoard Their Knowledge 26

Talent Risk Myth #7 Our Culture Is Too Unique for This to Work 28

Talent Risk Myth #8 Talent Risk Is Not My Problem 29

Chapter 2 The Cost of a Mistake 31

Calculate the Cost of Everyday Mistakes 34

We Have Money to Fix the Problem, So It Isn't a Problem 39

Who Should Be Having This New Conversation? Everyone 41

When You Know Your Talent, You Know the Cost of a Mistake 43

Chapter 3 Technical Talent Risk Management-The Intersection of Strategy, Risk, and People 45

Ownership of the Intersection 45

The Intersection of Strategic Planning and Risk Management 47

The Intersection of Risk Management and Talent Management 48

The Intersection of Strategic Planning and Talent Management 50

The Intersection of Strategy, Risk, and Talent 51

Part II The Talent Risk Solution 55

Chapter 4 The Importance of Lifting the Technical Fog 57

What Do You Really Know About Your Technical Experts? 58

What Is the Technical Fog? 59

Lifting the Technical Fog 60

How Do I Know I've Done It? What "Good" Looks Like 64

Chapter 5 Assessing the Risks 71

Zooming In 74

The Knowledge Silo Matrix 76

Translating Data into "Risks" 80

Chapter 6 Aligning Priorities 85

Presenting a Team's Risks 86

A Jury of Your Peers-Heckling for Alignment 87

Getting Alignment 89

The Four Areas of Alignment 90

Chapter 7 Mitigating Talent Risk by Transferring Knowledge 95

Making "On the Job Training" Methodical, Measurable, and Quick 96

Methodically Transferring Knowledge on the Job 99

Chapter 8 Modeling the New Talent Risk Conversation 113

Getting Everyone on the Same Page 115

Starting at the Top-the Board's Role in Managing Talent Risk 118

Modeling TRM Conversations for Executives 120

Winning the Middle-Middle and Frontline Managers 125

Working on the Front Line-Conversations for Frontline Employees 128

Continuing an Alignment Conversation through the Chain of Command 137

Chapter 9 Other Ways to Manage Talent Risk 141

Other Practices that Manage Talent Risk Well 143

Good Practices If Paired with a Measurable Plan 145

Common Practices That Don't Effectively Manage Talent Risk 149

Chapter 10 What Works, Plus the Most Common Ways to Get it Wrong 153

Part III Managing Technical Talent Risk: Case Studies 165

Case Study A Transforming IT & Embedding TRM-A Fortune 500 Food Wholesaler 167

The Business Problem 167

The Talent Risk Challenge 169

Getting the Right Talent Risk Data 170

A Meeting Sets the Talent Risk Management Course 171

The KSMx Alignment Meeting 172

How the Company Is Embedding Talent Risk Management 174

Early Results of Talent Risk Management Efforts 176

Case Study B New Technology Rollouts & Process Changes-a Fortune 500 Manufacturer 181

The Business Problem 182

The Talent Risk Challenge 183

Addressing the Talent Risk 184

Clear, Measurable Results 189

Case Study C Reorganization & Downsizing-a Fortune 500 Manufacturer 191

The Business Problem 192

The Talent Risk Challenge 192

Using the Knowledge Silo Matrix to Plan a Reorg 194

Managing Talent Risk When Downsizing 198

Speed of Results Broke Through Resistance to Change 200

Setting Talent Risk Metrics for a Multiyear Transition 202

Clear, Measurable Results 204

Case Study D Outsourcing & Consistency-a Fortune 500 Software Developer 207

The Business Problem 208

The Key Challenges 208

Knowledge and Skills Reveal the Risks 209

Reducing the Risk 210

Clear, Measurable Results 213

Conclusion: The Future State of Talent Risk Management 215

Talent Risk Management Top to Bottom 216

Appendix I Start Your Talent Risk Management Transformation in the Next 90 Minutes 227

Appendix II About the Research 229

About the Author 231

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