Podcast

Episode: 321 |
Sarah Preisser:
Talent Management:
Episode
321

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Sarah Preisser

Talent Management

Show Notes

Sarah Preisser spent twenty years at Accenture, twelve of those in talent strategy roles.

In 2019, Sarah founded Mindset Talent, which specializes in strengthening the organizational capacity and capabilities of business, public and non-profit organizations by igniting the power of their teams.

In this episode, Sarah shares lessons about talent management that are useful to any management consultant.

Learn more about Sarah’s firm at: https://www.mindsettalent.com/

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, which connects you with the world’s top independent management consultants. I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m so excited to be here today with Sarah pricer. Who runs the firm mindset talent. Sara, welcome to the show. Thanks. Well. So Sarah, I know that you focus on workforce and talent management, I am hoping that you’re going to teach me about that field of consulting today, I would just want to start with this definition, what is workforce and talent management all about?

Sarah Preisser 00:42
So if you think about organizations that have, you know, a business strategy, and they’ve got a lot of people that are working to achieve that business strategy, often there are things that that get in the way of achieving the business strategy that relate to the people and Workforce Strategy. And talent strategy is really about thinking holistically about having the right people as part of your organization, getting them aligned, giving them the right motivations, the right roles and responsibilities, the right skills, the right support, ultimately, so they can be successful.

Will Bachman 01:19
Okay. So I imagined that give me some examples of types of projects that you would do with within that within that overarching umbrella.

Sarah Preisser 01:35
For sure, so I’ll share a little bit about my background, before I created my set talent. I worked for Accenture for 21 years, I worked the first 10 in client facing roles. And then I spent the last 11 working internally as, as a talent strategist and the role of the talent strategist would partner with the business leads across each of the centers, businesses to really understand, you know, based on the business strategy and where we were trying to go, what was going to be required to get there. In terms of the types of things that would come up in those conversations, we would obviously, explore like, you know, how many people will we need to do that? And what do they need to look like in terms of skill set in terms of seniority? Where do they need to be located. And then we would put together a plan to support achieving that, in some cases, it would be maybe a focus campaign to attract talent to join us in a specific Metro location. In other and other scenarios that might be rescaling people. So if we had a group of people that were working in an area that was that was dying out in terms of demand, you know, but it was a close leap to get to another skill that we were really in dire need of we could give training and development and support to those people to help them transition to having the skill set that we we needed in the future. Kind of a third flavor of work that that would often emerge in that space is leadership development. So working with our leaders understand the skills that they had, and the skills that they would need to be more effective with their clients. And then putting together a plan, there would be one on one coaching or, you know, support and development for them to join various organizations outside of Accenture that would help them build the business acumen, build the the presence, build the content knowledge that they needed to be more effective as leaders. So it’s kind of a it’s a very broad area. I sometimes talk about it being as you’re kind of an interventionist as a talent strategists, because you’re, you’re having to do the deep work to understand, you know, how are the systems impacting the people, and where are the gaps or the deficiencies in terms of what we’re going to need to get to the business outcome, and then putting together kind of a suite of interventions that will will help support the change and take the organization where it needs to go?

Will Bachman 04:19
Yeah, that’s a helpful background. So I imagine that your clients now don’t come to you and just say, hey, I need help, like, I need a new talent strategy, you know, just in general, they probably come for, you know, something maybe more specific, you know, that some kind of thing, like we’re closing down a plant or opening a new business unit or, you know, so what are give us some examples of, you know, sanitized examples of specific projects that you’d work on?

Sarah Preisser 04:46
Yeah, so um, I’ve been doing a lot of work this year, specifically around the employee experience so often in a work environment. You know, people people have an experience whether You’ve intentionally created that experience to be a certain way or not. And understanding that experience can actually help you uncover things that are potentially holding your organization back, or things that are huge opportunities that are kind of left untapped. And so the employee experience work is really about talking to employees and gathering, you know, tons and tons of data, their words, their insights. And I do this via focus groups, I do this through some design thinking methods and sessions that I’ve run in person. But now I’m running an online to really get at the root of like, what does it like to work in this place? What are the good things about working here? What are the what are the the not good things? Right? Like, what are the thorny things about working here? And what opportunities do you see, and it’s super interesting, when you can ask 150 people, just those three simple questions, and give them the opportunity to tell you because when you take that data and put it together on a page, really quickly, you can learn a ton about the organization, like themes emerge, where you can see that, you know, potentially you’ve got, like diversity and inclusion issues, that maybe you didn’t expect. You’ve got challenges in terms of the some of the cultural dynamics or, you know, workplace practices that that people are unhappy about, you can sometimes see, you know, people aren’t happy about how they get paid. But, um, but the problems that I’ve focused on with my clients in the past couple of years have been far more narrow. And, and also, they start off often not being sure what the problem is, they come to me and kind of say, Hey, you know, we feel like we need to do something in this space, but we’re not quite sure what it is. And so we we map out a plan to get a clearer definition of what needs to happen. And then from there, you can actually say, Okay, well, let’s run a program that’s going to be focused on understanding the the workload of this group at a specific point in time, and how might we improve either their ability to handle the amount of work that has popped up in this life cycle? Or how can we reallocate some of that work, because in some cases, in one case, with a particular client, I was working with they, they had a team that routinely became the bottleneck and and we needed to look for ways that we could offload some of the work from that team, so that the, you know, the floodgates would kind of open and things would flow naturally in terms of their processes that they were using to support some of their people.

Will Bachman 07:50
I’m interested in the type of work that you’ve done, that would be about figuring out what skills is this either company overall, or this business unit going to need in the future and trying to do an assessment of what skills do they have now? Is there some kind of ontology of skills or Dewey Decimal System of skills that you would use for that? Like, how would you, I’m curious to hear about both like one is even how do you even assess current state skills? of everybody? That sounds like a massive problem? And then how do you figure out for a business that it’s not even created yet? or looking into the future? What skills are we going to need, like two years from now? Talk to me about both aspects.

Sarah Preisser 08:42
Okay, so at a more established organization, typically, they do have a Dewey Decimal System for their skills. They’ll talk about it as a competency model or a skills framework. And typically, those are things that they’ve built over time. And often, organizations will do assessments ongoing of their current, you know, their people’s current skills against that, that Dewey Decimal System in a way that they have at least a sense of where, where their strengths lie. Is that usually like homemade, or is there some sort of industry standard

Will Bachman 09:22
skill, you know, classifications, so

Sarah Preisser 09:27
there, there is not a skill classification system per se, in terms of the content, but a lot of the software that is used to manage people. So like, if you think about success factors, you think about workday, they have functionality that actually supports you to create to create a skills framework. Now, the content of that skills framework is up to you, because obviously, you can have varying degree of specificity You can also have, you can also have fairly rapid changing the the nature of the skills changes quickly. And so clients, if they have a standard, if they have a standard human capital management system that includes something that that supports your skills framework will typically have a team of people that are constantly working to understand what are the skills of our organization and, and ensuring that they’ve got people mapped to those skills, it’s a lot of work. For smaller organizations where it’s not as industrialized, it’s not probably the they aren’t as they don’t have as much detail in terms of the skills that their people have, they are very likely in a situation where they’ve got a sense of, well, we’ve got, you know, sales folks, we’ve got, we’ve got builders, we’ve got manufacturers, we’ve got people working on the line. And so they’ve got job classifications, and a lot of the skills that are required are probably living more so in their job descriptions, as opposed to in some massive skills inventory. The the way that I’m at an industrialized level, you are working in skills, you’re you’re kind of doing like an annual maintenance of, you know, understanding what the skills we have, what are the skills we need, and you can run surveys, and you can assess skills. Some organizations are shifting more towards real time updates to their skills, obviously, LinkedIn has kind of taken over as being the home for people’s experiences. And so some, some of the conversation about skills is actually now you know, less inside the organization and more outside because people are more likely to keep their LinkedIn up to date than they are their internal resume or their internal skills.

Will Bachman 12:02
But seems like such a, it seems so interesting to me that there’s not like a good industry standard, do you think that there’s, you know, probably different categories of types of skills, and, you know, there’s probably, like, more analytical skills that you could clearly define, knowing how to use particular software programs, like look at this person can use Excel at the ninja level, this person can program Python, this person knows how to use, you know, Adobe Photoshop or something. And, and then there might be skills that are more communications or human inner relationship type skills, like listening skills or speaking skills. And you think that there if someone can write, you know, or creating a good, you know, PowerPoint presentation would be like a skill, right? You’d think that that would be sort of, you know, it doesn’t, it’s not that different between Accenture and McKinsey, and you work at IBM or Google, like if you can create a good, clear flow for a PowerPoint presentation, that shouldn’t be like a skill. It’s interesting to me that, you know, there hasn’t emerged a standardized classification scheme. That is an open source kind of thing.

Sarah Preisser 13:18
Yeah, I know, if there has, in the past couple of years, I haven’t seen it. I mean, the closest, the closest, and it’s a little bit of a jump, but the closest thing that is is more standardized, is in the compensation and benefits space, there are a number of large organizations that supply job benchmarking data. So, um, so there are standard jobs that our organizations are using to kind of match the internal jobs to in order to evaluate, you know, are we in the 80th percentile? Or are we at the 90th percentile in terms of relative pay for that job as compared with organizations of our peers, and those jobs obviously, are, are bundled to a certain degree or bundled assumptions about skills. But the skills level is not something that I’ve ever seen to exist and, and in my experience, people have strong opinions about you know, how much detail they want. The business leaders are often involved in helping to define what the skills look like. And I think some standardization along the lines of what you suggest would actually save a significant amount of debate and time. But it would be a lot of work to do. I mean, it’s this, the tech skills, especially our are changing so quickly. It used to be that a skill, a standalone skill, you know, had a lifetime Five years. And now I would say there are things that emerge as critical and hot and, and they’re critical and hot for, you know, a year, two years. And the skills that actually matter the most, if you think about next generation skills and for companies that don’t know, you know, what, what, what they need or what they will need in the future. And I often go to critical thinking, problem solving and learning agility, because we are now in this mode where we can’t just have gathered the skills up and then rest on those skills for the rest of our lives. Change is a reality. And so if you don’t have learning agility, and you don’t have the mindset that you’re having to constantly learn, and evolve, and shift and change in relation to what’s happening, you are likely going to be left behind in, you know, individually as well as, as an organization.

Will Bachman 16:02
Are there some common or maybe it’s within companies that are doing these homemade classification systems? But are there kind of stamp some groupings that you’ve seen? Like, here’s sort of specific software skills that people have that might be a category or, or data science skills or communication skills or leadership skills? Like how did that how do they normally get bucketed?

Sarah Preisser 16:29
Yeah, I mean, the the most basic buckets are kind of the you’ve got technical skills, you’ve got Industry Skills, and then you’ve got, like business acumen or business skills, right. And the combination of those three things can actually tell you, your business acumen is probably professional skills, can can give you natural groupings of the dimensions that you would want to have in place and working with a client right now actually, on a development program for their management team. And the the components of that model is balancing technical skills with professional skills with customer service. And then there’s a personal effectiveness component, I think, you know, as we continue to think about ways that COVID and, and working from home impacts us having some focus on the personal effectiveness stuff really matters in a way that it didn’t used to right, like, you know, do I sit down at my desk every day and make a list of what I’m going to achieve? can I avoid the distractions that come up? And And so, in working with this management team, they don’t have a skills inventory, or even a vernacular, I’m kind of creating the vernacular with them as they’ll start to think about it. And we’ll we’ll build out a curriculum to support them in growing themselves in these four dimensions.

Will Bachman 17:57
How do you go about that second part about if a client comes to you and says, okay, we’ve done our skills assessment of the current state, but we’re something new is happening, either it’s a new business unit, a new product, a new geography a new, or a new partnership, or new channel approach? help us figure out what skills we need in the future state? How do you go about an exercise like that?

Sarah Preisser 18:23
Yeah. So um, so typically, we have a series of conversations about where they are today versus where they want to be and what is the Delta? Or what, you know? How, how will we get there in incremental steps? The hardest part is typically helping them or pulling out of them the vision on where they really want to go. Because sometimes they’re not sure, right? Like they, they think, well, I have a sense that this is sort of where we’re, where we’re headed. And I think the skills that we would need in the future are x, y, and z. And, and getting that down on paper and really being able to do a comparison to their current because a lot of times they don’t teach growth. I didn’t say that. So if you think about that, that often, they want to grow by 2x. And right now they’ve got 100 people working in that space. So to grow by 2x, do they need 200 people? Are there other opportunities to potentially not grow the headcount as fast as the business is growing? And what are those opportunities? But then, you know, imagining together what, what is the ideal team look like, in the future to support that? What are the skills they have? How many of them are customer facing? How, where are they located? How much seniority do they actually need to have when they come into the organization and, and where do we think we might be able to find these folks, that it’s you start to build a picture of what The future looks like with them. And then. And then individually, I put down on paper, the implications of that, right like how to what are the different paths we can take to get to that vision, because sometimes it’s hiring, sometimes it’s training, sometimes it’s an acquisition and, and the conditions around them, as well as their appetite for some of those things. And the current culture of the organization all have an impact on which choice is best. For you think about companies that are smaller and really tight knit, and an acquisition, it’s hard to, it’s hard to integrate individual experience hires into a tight knit organization, an acquisition is actually sometimes a little bit easier, because in that case, you’ve got kind of two big cohorts, then of people that are that are used to working together effectively. But it, it varies a lot based on the conditions of the conditions of the organization, and, and the pace with which they want to change, and then the reality about how quickly they possibly can change. And that’s all discussion that we have together and kind of anchor down on the things that are fixed, and we know for sure, and then further explore the things that are still open, and we go from there. But you you get to a place where you’ve got a pretty clear plan on paper in terms of you know, we’re going to be an organization to 200 people, we need 100 more people, these are the locations where we imagine these people will, will sit if, in fact, it’s an organization that isn’t all remote. You know, and these are the levels, this is kind of what we think it will cost for us to acquire or, you know, grow this talent. And, and it gets them to a place where they then can build an actionable plan, bringing in their, you know, the recruiting team, or bringing in their learning and talent development team to, to, to hammer out the program or the details to support the plan, okay. And sometimes I end up working with those people through the transitions just as an anchor point to help them stay on, stay with the plot, right? Like, this is where we’re trying to go, this is why we’re trying to go there. And this is what we need to get there. Because I think sometimes things get if they get too far from the central storyline, or the central business and talent strategy, sometimes things start to get derailed and maintaining myself as kind of a threat and those conversations, not at all the weeds. But actually like just in the this is where we are. And this is where we’re going on a fairly frequent basis helps them get there more quickly.

Will Bachman 23:03
Tyler Cowen has a point of view that very few professionals treat their own skill development, the way that professional athletes do, where you know, any professional athlete is going to have a coach gonna have like a diet plan, they’re gonna have a workout plan, they’re gonna have measured their skills, they’re gonna have specific targets around their skills. And it seems rare for kind of white collar professionals to treat their own development the same way. Yeah, you know, on, you get on the job training, and you get some new role and you kind of learn some stuff, but seems like very few professionals are, like very self disciplined about doing a self assessment, and then figuring out what skills they want to develop, and then going and taking some action outside of normal day to day to develop those like practicing, like, Oh, I want to get better at creating documents. So like actually off work, you know, practice creating documents or learn data science. Would you agree with that? And why do you think that is?

Sarah Preisser 24:12
Yeah, I would tend to agree with that, unfortunately. I mean, I think I think the reality that we often live in, especially at some of the organizations that are super fast paced is that we don’t, we don’t take the time. And we don’t prioritize self development. And there’s probably a myriad of reasons. One is time. And, you know, probably 1012 years ago, I was part of a leadership development program and, and we agreed as a cohort that we were going to block off an hour for every Friday morning to actually spend reading And are doing some type of self learning. And it was self guided. But it became a practice and as a practice that I still continue to do today, because someone gave me that the permission to take that time. I think the The other thing that’s potentially at play is, you know, in terms of in terms of athlete development, and muscles, like we have all seen out in the world that if I lift weights, I can get stronger. And we haven’t, we haven’t embraced the concept of growth mindset universally. Yeah, I think our generation probably younger, you know, is, is benefiting from the fact that we’ve, we’ve learned so much in the past 15 years about growth mindset, and how, while we grow up, we grew up hearing, well, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, like that’s not actually true. And so, a lot of our more senior leaders grew up in a time where you basically developed your skills, you proved your worth, you moved into the job, and now you supervise and you don’t have to continue to grow anymore. And so I think it’s put us in an interesting spot, in terms of some of our more senior leaders being often stuck in the old and really needing to be encouraged and supported that you can still learn, you’re not necessarily You know, you’re not necessarily an all dogs can’t learn a new trick. Um, I think more organizations need to focus on, on empowering their people that take the time to learn and you need her, obviously, you know, like Google has had something where they let employees do self guided project on a fairly frequent basis on Fridays. And there are a number of other organizations, more places where they’re focused on creativity and innovation, and they see the value of those things, who are prioritizing the time and giving people permission, that that’s actually part of their job. But, but there are tons of organizations who were like, that sounds great and all, but we don’t have time for it, you can go to the once a year ethics training or the ones to your professional development, but they don’t necessarily see that as an investment more. So they feel like they’re, they’re potentially doing it just to jump through some hoops. So to get people to get people to prioritize their own learning and, and to actually, you know, put a block of time on their calendar, where they’re going to do it and make it a habit has a lasting impact. And it’s something that I saw work pretty effectively, when I was at Accenture and something that as I’m working with my clients, you know, when I hear them say, Well, I don’t know how to do this. I’m like, so you need to set aside time to learn that. You know, what’s your schedule, where can you actually fit it in, but it won’t necessarily be overrun by something else? And then, you know, no one can help you learn that, but you you have to make a choice. Um, so yeah, I will have to I haven’t read anything by read anything by Tyler Cowen. Yeah. Tyler, but I would love to, but I would love to check it out. Yeah.

Will Bachman 28:23
Talk to me a little bit about who in organizations is typically the client that you’re serving? Who is the person who’s responsible for this talent piece? Is it? Is there someone typically in an HR organization? Is it the chro? Or is there definitely a VP of talent management? How do companies structure responsibility for this?

Sarah Preisser 28:48
Yeah, so it sort of depends. I’m working with a client right now, where they don’t have a chro. They’ve got a CEO who’s got responsibility for the people function too. But in large organizations, often it’s your chro, or your chief people officer, who is responsible for thinking about the growth and development of your talent. And for professional services firms, I think it’s grown. You know, it’s grown pretty rapidly, like, you know, you’ve got a ton of focus on learning because we’re our people in our product, right, in terms of professional development, and professional services firms. So so you’ll see it more they’re in organizations where their focus isn’t on consulting or providing professional services, but maybe manufacturing or, you know, other health health care, for example, it does fall predominantly into the space of the the chief HR officer to be thinking about what type of learning and development do those folks need and Depending on how close that individual is with the, the business leadership team has a huge impact on how closely the train development aligns with some of the business acumen and professional skills they might need, as opposed to some of the things that are probably more likely compliance. So I’ve seen it work really, really well, where you’ve got a hybrid of things that people are focused on learning. And the chief HR officer really understands the business strategy understands the skills that people are going to need, as their jobs evolve and change, and can design something that’s impactful. If your chief HR officer is far removed from the business, that’s a lot harder to do. And, and that’s probably where you where you see organizations that end up with kind of a compliance based training that that is less effective people are, are, you know, checking the box in terms of gap compliance or other other things that that we need to make sure to do. But not necessarily truly developing the person in terms of their technical skills or their, you know, customer facing skills,

Will Bachman 31:20
you know, something that I have seen, zero companies do in my 20 years of consulting, which surprises me, is what the Navy does, which seems to me to be absolutely best practice. So as a submarine officer for five years, you get to a submarine, and your first day, they say, Hey, welcome, welcome on board, you’re dank, which means you’re delinquent in qualifications, you’re unqualified, you’re useless. Basically, you’re not qualified to do anything on board. But they give you qualification cards, right? So you want to stand engineering off. So the watch, they give you a qualification card is like 50 pages, 60 pages, each page will have six or seven signatures you need to get, and it might be either, you need to explain this. So you need to discuss, you might need to observe some evolution evolutions, or you need to perform so it’s usually discuss observer perform, and the PErforM would be under instruction. So first, you typically observe something like startup the reactor, or you know, you know, clean and inspect this lube oil filter, you’d observe it once, and then you would perform it under instruction, right? And it seemed it’s such a good system, because it tells new people here is exactly what we expect you to learn. And I can’t understand why corporations don’t do the same thing of saying, okay, you’re a new data analyst, or your new assistant marketing manager, or your new like accounts receivable, clerk, here’s your qualification card, do all these things, get all this knowledge? And then you’ll be qualified to do the role like, what what’s your thought about to have some companies done that successfully?

Sarah Preisser 33:01
Yeah, so I think that some companies have done that successfully. And it’s funny, it’s, it’s an old practice for the Navy, but it’s something that is just being kind of acknowledged in terms of the way people learn, as it’s more effective when you show them and then you have them practice. And then you have them reflect on their practice. And that’s, so that’s like an iterative loop, right, like observed performance discuss. So the training that we typically in corporate America have done is like, I’m going to give you a six week on onboarding program, and we’re going to give you all the information you need, and then you’re going to go out to a client site and do it, right. And what we’ve learned and what we’re changing towards is actually saying, you know, what, I’m not going to give you a bunch of junk knowledge that you might not need, what I’m going to do is give you the basics that you must understand before you set foot in a client site. And then I’m going to put a support model in where I’m going to have you show up every Friday for the next six weeks, and do this training, which is directly relevant to your job, because I want you to do the training on Friday, and then I want you to have a chance to practice it on Monday. Because the learning will stick then, if we if we do this, like big six week down, and then send people off into the world, they’ve probably built some cohesion with their peers, and that’s valuable, right? But they they may or may not use that information, when they go out into the world. And if they you know, get an opportunity to use it in two years. They don’t remember what you taught them at the very beginning. The work that the worst thing that I’ve been doing the kind of design like okay, we need to have this be like learn practice, learn, practice, learn practice iteratively in order to help people actually retain and use what they’re what they’re getting.

Will Bachman 34:56
Yeah. And the qualification card idea is It empowers the employee because it says, This is what you are supposed to know. Right? And it also makes you more alert. So if something is happening, that doesn’t happen all the often, maybe marketing, okay, set up and take down a display at a conference or something like that. You’d like volunteer like, Oh, I want to get involved in that because it’s on my qual card. So it makes you more proactive. So hey, listeners, if you know of any company that does that, effectively, send me a note. I’d love to hear about it. About that example, you can email me at Unleashed at umbrex@umbrex.com. Sarah, this has been fantastic. How can people find out more about your firm and reach out and connect with you if they want to hear more about your firm and your practice?

Sarah Preisser 35:45
So people can visit my website. It’s ww w, that mindset, talent calm. And there’s obviously two T’s in the middle of that which sometimes trips people up. I’d also be happy if people want to reach out via email. My email address is Sarah s AR H dot price or P r e ai SS er at mindset talent calm.

Will Bachman 36:10
Fantastic. Well, Sarah, this has been a great introduction for me. And thank you so much for joining today. Yeah, it was great. Thanks so much for the time

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