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

June 05, 2017

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Steve Trautman's new book goes beyond his previous expertise in knowledge transfer, broadening it to managing talent risk across the organization.

Workers owning their jobs and responsibilities is a good thing, and a certain amount of siloing—of people, processes, and knowledge—is hard to avoid, even beneficial. But there is also risk in having all of your company's processes and knowledge wrapped up in individuals. What if you need to replace someone that holds knowledge that is key to your company's success? What if that person is maxed out, and you simply want to replicate their knowledge and abilities in a new hire so that you can continue to grow your business? Especially when it's technical knowledge that is outside your own area of expertise, how can you even be sure of what you need? 

Steve Trautman and his company have been helping companies address these issues for two decades, and his new book, Do You Have Who It Takes?, is a toolbox of "scripts for critical conversations, case studies, and useful tools derived from boots-on-the ground experience." Trautman is mostly known for his work on knowledge transfer, which he has written two books about. This new book broadens that out to talent risk management, which is a more holistic view of the talent, technical knowledge, strategic planning, and how it all intersects.

We know a great deal of doing business involves managing risk, and another involves managing people. What many leaders don't know how to do is manage "people risks."

 

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. 

 

As they say, you can't manage what you can't measure, and you can't measure what you don't understand. And the fact is that it's hard to understand exactly what it is everyone in the organization does—and how they do it. Or is it? Perhaps part of the reason it's becoming harder to understand isn't that the world is getting more complicated and technical, but because leaders are abdicating the responsibility to actually direct what it is their people do. There is an admirable trend in business that Trautman believes has gone too far:

 

Executives proudly trumpet that they “hire great people and then get out of their way.” Bureaucracy is the devil, and if you can cut all the red tape, you’ll finally unleash the potential of your team.

 

People want to be good at what they do, and they can't do that if they don't know what it is they're doing. He compares the process of producing high-quality workers to that of producing high-quality cars, which sounds rather cold at first, but…

 

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 countless hours in meetings where no one makes a decision, or cleaning up messes because the standards were never clear in the first place?

 

This idea, that talent is too unique or complicated or emotional to be managed, is talent myth number two in Trautman's book. There are eight of them. One of the more eye-opening is the myth that your experts want to be indispensable, that they won't share what they know easily because they want hoarding their knowledge is a way of increasing their power. By-and-large, people do not want to be the process. They would like to believe that they can take a day off, or take a vacation, without things grinding to a halt.

 

The truth is that the myth of the knowledge-hoarding expert is really covering up a management problem around how to direct and enable employees to share knowledge.

 

If that sounds like a problem you might have, there is a whole chapter devoted to it. And like most everything else in the book, it is a good mixture of human understanding and process implementation.

Whether you're taking over a company or team, merging with another, or developing your own, you'll need to get your head around the talent issues that currently exist and are certain to arise. You'll have to assess where your talent risks are, how to align priorities and transfer knowledge, and how to do so on an ongoing basis. You'll have to know how to have real-world, human conversations, and how to use data to track progress and develop processes that people can rely on.

It's not an easy task, but Do You Have Who It Takes? can make it easier.

We have 20 copies available.

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