This article was originally published on UPSTART360 by James Wendelken.

Everyone knows it’s all about people in companies.  Of course, it’s people who make the decisions and put in the work to produce all of the products and carry out all of the services that other people want.  So, it’s no wonder that companies try to better manage their talented employees whether they be engineers, salespeople, executives, or any other productive workers.

Companies want to be successful at, first off, attracting the right employees and then developing, allocating, and motivating them.  What else?  They certainly have a vested interest in confirming their personnel are qualified.  Also, they want to ensure there is proper knowledge transfer to help employees make better decisions and to prevent the dreaded possibility of having valuable knowledge leave the organization altogether when key contributors go elsewhere or retire.  Last but not least is retention.  Considering how much companies invest in their employees to make them super and effective, you bet it can be in companies’ best interests to keep them from leaving.

And so we have talent management, which is basically doing what it takes to manage good and productive employees as effectively as possible.

So, how do we get there?  Well, it’s mostly about internal company decision making.  If the people inside a company are making good decisions to develop and allocate other employees (and also themselves), then voila, that company is going to be making strides with the development and allocation of its human capital.

Ultimately, to have good talent management, companies need to first clarify what are good decisions for their specific company, and secondly, they must get this clarification to the right people.  So, do managers and employees desire this clarification of what are the good decisions for their company?  You bet they do because they don’t want their efforts wasted any more than you want your efforts wasted, and on top of that, they don’t want to be that person who did something stupid.  For example, a manager doesn’t want to foolishly put someone on a project who doesn’t belong there, and most employees do like knowing how they can go about increasing their value as doing so tends to pay off in the long run.

So, let’s consider developing, allocating, and retaining employees and look at what are things that need to be known within a company to properly do this.

To truly improve the development, allocation, and retention of employees, it is imperative for companies to improve clarification of: 1) what makes particular employees valuable or qualified (e.g. competencies) and how to apply that information, 2) what career paths make sense and what accompanying resources are needed, and 3) what are good reasons to promote certain employees and what support is called for.  These three elements are core to improving the development, allocation, and retention of employees.  If companies continually improve this clarification, they will see results that make everyone happy, except maybe their competitors.

The challenge that companies face is that there’s much critical thinking and collaboration that goes into clarifying what the good decisions are specific to any company.  This wouldn’t be a problem if it involved critical thinking alone or collaboration alone because people are certainly good at figuring things out and certainly good at making progress with other people.  However, progress that requires significant amounts of both critical thinking and collaboration doesn’t automatically happen without organization of who should be concentrating on what, and when technical employees come into work, their companies are organized for them to be concentrating on their technical projects or “fires” they are putting out.

They make technical advances and keep things running, but what about progress with technical talent management?  Going through the pros and cons of various career paths and the resources needed for typical senior design engineers within their division doesn’t quite strike them as an activity that is going to bear fruit if they just start planning it out by themselves.  So, of course, it just doesn’t happen when not organized effectively.

Let’s compare talent management to other initiatives that require both significant critical thinking and collaboration and that are known to continually make progress.  Two that come to my mind are engineering designs and safety standards.

Consider safety standards.  Without exception, all improved safety standards come from groups learning from each other to get a consensus on 1) what should be improved and 2) how best to ensure the improvement.  Improving safety standards is inspirational and requires both critical thinking and collaboration.  They have to almost always be organized in some way or another.  As an example, consider what happens after airplane crashes.  Investigations are organized to determine what caused the crash and how to prevent future crashes.  Imagine all of the detective work conducted by many people that goes into piecing together evidence and analyzing all of the possibilities.  Then consider all of the work that goes into improving designs and procedures to actually advance safety.  Countless people collaborate on a complicated problem from engineers and scientists to manufacturers, assembly workers, and inspectors.  They do find solutions and make progress though because people are inherently good at critical thinking and collaborating.  It just needs to be organized because no one person would pull it off alone.

Now consider the engineering design process that companies use for new product development.  Engineering designs require collaboration among marketing, manufacturing, purchasing, engineering, and other groups.  Within engineering alone, there are many specialized employees.  For example, finite element analysis experts are those employees skilled at running and interpreting computer programs that indicate where parts that have complex stress distributions may fail under load.  Finite element analysis experts are able to have jobs and all of the other various workers are able to work together and make great contributions to designs because companies are essentially organizers of who should concentrate on what to get end products.

What to concentrate on absolutely must be organized for the groups involved in engineering designs because people need to know their critical thinking and investment of time will be valued in the collaborative process of producing a new product.

The same is true for stakeholder employees involved in the collaborative process of clarifying what are the good decisions to manage talent for an entire company.  Talent management is inspirational and collaborative just like engineering designs and safety standards.  All three require inspiration and organization to get a consensus on what should be improved and how best to ensure the improvement.

So, how do companies successfully organize the talent management process for stakeholder employees to concentrate on those improvements when they are so busy with their projects and maintaining operations?  We’ll cover that answer in the next issue of UPSTARTNow.