The Talent Edge: Finding and Nurturing Exceptional People

Insights | 07 November 2016

There once was a time where you’d put in an advertisement for an open position, you then reviewed CVs carefully, and if hiring managers were skilled enough, you could expect solid people in each seat.

That was then.

With the Australian labour market continuing to strengthen and unemployment rates continuing their overall downward trend, the war for talent is on.[1]

And things might even be tighter in the project/programme world, where the government is predicting a strong future growth in jobs. The outlook for “contract, program and project administrators” includes a continuation of the pattern that has already driven 20.7% growth over the past five years.[i] This statistical snapshot is born out in the real world. A quick search of shows more than 5,000 current openings for project managers and 4,000 jobs that mention agile experience across any position.

Fuelling this need is the knowledge that a talent deficit can tank projects. Research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and the Project Management Institute (PMI) found that talent deficiencies “significantly hamper 40% of strategy implementation efforts.”[2]

So how can you attract and retain the best possible project management talent?

It takes a strategic approach, an open mind, and perhaps even a little bit of humour.

Jason Little, an agile coach and consultant from Canada, poked fun at the outsized expectations that sometimes come with recruitment for agile talent. He imagined this (perhaps not-so fictional) job ad:

“We seek an agile coach/project manager to enforce our agile best practices. The ideal candidate must have the ability to walk on water, magically change all organisational processes, convince executives to just be agile, and install JIRA. The ideal candidate must be PMP, BsC in Engineering, CSM, CSP, CSPO, PSM I, II and III, SAFe 4.0, MBA of All-The-Things, and other relevant certifications as dictated by our HR department.”[3]

Jokes aside, let’s take a look step-by-step at how you can not only withstand, but win, the war for talent.

1. Ask the right questions

When the hunt for resources is on, you may ask yourself some upfront questions that are largely operational and pragmatic: Do I source internally? Bring in from the outside? Focus on uplifting the talents of existing staff?

That’s jumping too far ahead, experts say. First you need to document what is it about these target roles that are different from all others on your team. It’s more than a title. Better questions might be:

  • In what skill set are we currently weakest?
  • What future needs of this role can I safely predict (and source for) right now?

2. Find Models that Work

The Project Management Institute partnered with Human Systems International in search of companies that demonstrated excellence in “recruiting, retaining, managing and developing high-potential project, program and portfolio talent.”[4]

They looked at 12 high-performing organisations to see what they were doing right. Here’s what they found works:

  • Real-time testing. Use simulation exercises to test potential candidates’ approaches to problem solving. This reduces risk
  • Showing off a deep and varied portfolio. Great people want to work on meaty problems. Show off all the different projects they may get to work on at your organisation. Yes, it’s a good time to brag a bit
  • Being the “employer of choice”. This may seem obvious, but if you want to recruit and retain top employees you have to offer competitive pay, benefits and extras

Great advice, but what about special situations such as newly adopted agile teams? What sort of models work and don’t work? Should you coach existing staff or bring in new resources that have great agile knowledge and practice?

While the answer may vary depending on your specific circumstances, a new agile environment creates new – and specific – needs.

3. Get Strategic

Specific agile needs may require your own agile talent acquisition strategy. If you go the route of using external support, experts say you should look for these qualities:

  • Experience
  • Someone who is going to take the time to understand team culture and business goals
  • A positive leader who can overcome resistance
  • A true partner who will be focused on the outcome, not just the process

What not to expect, according to the Agile Institute:[5]

  • That this person will coach higher-ups
  • Create or lead transformation strategies

Brendan Marsh, writing on the popular website Quora about his move from Australia to Sweden to work as an agile coach for Spotify, advocates hiring coaches who can demonstrate a true passion for their craft and for people’s success:

“We’re looking for people that can empower others by asking powerful questions & helping people solve their own problems, rather than someone that will have an answer for everything. Sometimes that means letting people fail.”[6]

4. Avoid the Reactive

The worst time to source a candidate is when you needed one yesterday. Rushing leads to bad decisions. If you are working with an outside consultancy, make sure they have an active and engaged pipeline of great candidates.

For example, at PM-Partners group, we have dedicated managers that nurture the relationships of our contractors. We do more than just keep up to date with them, we actively monitor their performance and personal progression throughout their careers. This allows us to do things like rapid mobilisation from a sourcing perspective. If we know of a particular vacancy coming up, we can start speaking to people and gather a shortlist pre-emptively rather than approach it purely reactively.

5. Strengthen the Feedback Loop

Say you’ve found great talent, created a plan for nurturing and retaining them, and develop a strong candidate pipeline for the future. Is it time for a great, long nap yet? Well, we are 100 per cent sure you deserve it, but there is one extra step.

Make sure whatever path you choose, developing internal talent or leveraging external expertise, that you measure success on the value back to the business, not upon a base of perfection.

Phone us today on 1300 70 13 14 to speak with a consultant about our resourcing, rapid mobilisation, and/or agile services.







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