Talent management on call

by 01 Apr 2010

Many organisations struggle with developing and implementing effective and integrated talent management solutions. HR Leader looks at the award-winning approach that Optus uses in managing its talent

Optus is the second largest telecommunications provider in Australia, serving in excess of eight million customers each day. It employs more than 10,000 employees nationally, of which 1300 are people leaders.

The company’s vision is to lead the Australian telco industry in outstanding customer experience, and to meet this vision, its talent management strategy has been designed with a clear purpose of enabling the deployment of capable leaders across the organisation to maximise business outcomes.

“To provide the best possible customer experience, we need to ensure we have the right people in the right roles,” explains Jacqui Franchi, general manager of learning and organisational development for Optus, which also won The Sage MicrOpay Award for Best Talent Management Strategy in The Australian HR Leadership Awards last year.

“Our talent management strategy focuses on managing our talent as an organisational asset, managing acquisition, development and retention and identifying non-leadership business critical roles to ensure a seamless succession plan. This has allowed us to adopt a talent management plan which addresses our organisational needs and ensures that our people remain engaged with the organisation.”

Talent management foundations

Optus has adopted a long-term view of talent management strategy by recognising the career ambitions of its people and planning accordingly, according to Franchi. “By applying a three-year talent management approach, we are able to set more ambitious goals and benchmarks to ensure that our people remain engaged and have a long-term view of their career within the company.”

In creating the talent management strategy for 2009/2010 Optus conducted benchmarking exercises against other leading organisations which have a talent management focus. As a result, Optus determined its key strengths as: alignment of talent management to company strategy and goals; a robust process with identification of talent; regional and local development opportunities, both formal and informal; and a dedicated talent consulting team to drive process and support talented leaders and line managers.

To ensure it is up-to-date with talent management practices, Optus is also part of a networking forum that includes other top companies such as: Westpac; AMP; ING; PepsiCo; Coca-Cola; Bluescope Steel; KPMG; and Kellogg.

Talent management identification

The Optus talent identification process involves an assessment against two key criteria: performance and potential. In-role high performance across a two-year period is used as a predictor for continued high performance, and individuals document their short- and long-term career objectives in their performance and development review forms. These reviews are conducted bi-annually.

Potential is determined through the use of an “agilities tool”, which measures learning; people; results; mental, and change agilities. These agilities, coupled with behavioural elements, align to Optus’ ten global leadership capabilities, categorised under its leadership framework of think, engage, lead and deliver.

Engagement is also measured through “stay” interviews, which are designed to assess an incumbent’s flight risk. Following the interview, leaders are rated on a three point scale of risk: low, medium and high.

The talent management/business link

Optus’ talent management process feeds into succession plans for the top-tier leadership roles. Within this, Optus analyses successor pipelines at both a tier level (the first tier being executive leadership, the second being senior leadership directors and the third senior management) and in job families (such as marketing, sales, customer service and operations, IT, networks and strategy & productivity).

Successor pipelines are analysed against Optus’ required succession pipeline ratio. Where the successor pool falls below the required ratio, targeted recruitment, retention, and development plans are put into action. An example of a plan might be increasing external pipeline activities through targeted advertising and partnering with recruitment agencies.

Below Optus’ top-tier of leadership roles, successor pipelines for non-leadership business critical roles are also managed. Such roles critically impact the business in terms of: financials (such as revenue generation, loss prevention), risk creation or business continuity, so these roles may represent “single points of failure” if the person or capability is not there for a period of time.

To address retention of staff who have skills that are in short supply, Optus utilises the aforementioned “stay” interviews and the retention/development plans. Where the flight risk is medium to high, a full interview is conducted with the outcome being agreeing to a mutually sustainable retention plan. Regardless, any identified successors are put on to an accelerated development plan to ensure a time- bound transfer of capability.

Talent management system

Optus measures its talent management success through a talent scorecard. Some of the key metrics reported on by Optus’ HR director in business performance reviews include: percentage of promotion/moves due to succession planning; percentage of talented leaders “low flight risk”; and percentage of non- leadership business critical roles with identified “ready now” successors.

There has also been an increase in cross- functional and cross-divisional movement of talent, according to Franchi, “allowing our people to build on their skill-set and progress in their career by moving outside of their division”.

Optus uses a Mercer IT system to manage the talent, business critical role and succession planning process. Aside from acting as a repository of information, the system is used to drive discussions as all performance and development information is uploaded and a talent profile on all individuals able to be viewed and downloaded.

Buying a talent management system: key steps to success

1. Establish objectives

2. Win executive support

3. Assemble a project team

4. Define requirements - getting from there to here

5. Establish a preliminary timeline and resource requirements

6. Prepare a business case

7. Establish a budget

8. Evaluate solutions

9. Select a vendor

10. Negotiate the contract

11. Begin implementation

Source: Knowledge Infusion, Cornerstone OnDemand

The importance of executive support

While Optus has a talent consulting team set up to support and drive talent management practices in the business, ownership sits with the executive and senior leadership teams. "One of the largest challenges with any talent management program is ensuring that executives are invested in the initiative and that our people see senior leaders engaged," says Jacqui Franchi, general manager of learning and organisational development for Optus.

"Put simply, our leadership team are the leaders of our talent management program - the process isn't just an HR directive, but a company-wide business priority. This way of thinking has enabled us to overcome many of the challenges which are typically faced."