Talent Initiative Program Pilot Evaluation

09/09/2013 in

To catch you up, we’ve been working with the Talent Initiative, a program run by Commongood Careers. The program is, essentially, Taproot’s starting place in Leadership Development & Strategic HR offering on steroids. That is, an assessment, a plan, and the beginning of plan implementation, all over a six month program. So far, that’s exactly like what we did at Taproot. Also, like Taproot, the program is run through an RFP process. There are some important differences but lets skip past that for now and discuss some of what we’re learning. Lets start with what worked and follow the timeline of the engagement process:

  • Talent Initiative has been mostly targeted towards entrepreneurial nonprofits with proven solutions that are seeking to scale. That segment seems to have an easier time seeing the need for and value of the help because the projected growth will demand significant hiring, reorganization, and staff development and because the planned speed of that growth puts a premium on getting these processes right quickly.

  • One of the participating nonprofits was not in that entrepreneurial stage, but rather at a different key point of inflection: trying to bring a staid nonprofit up to the data- and outcomes-driven expectations of the 21s century. That organizational stage also seemed to have an easily understood urgency to get help on its talent.

  • One of the reasons Talent Initiative appears to be have been successful in attracting applicants to its pilot was because the organization was essentially offering a complementary (not complimentary) service to existing customers. That is, most of the participants had been Commongood Career clients. So Commongood Careers had deep insight into each nonprofits talent needs, and had established itself as a trusted resource in solving those problems.

  • The RFP process also appears to have been successful both as a means of attracting the best nonprofits, and of assessing interested nonprofits to ensure that they are in a position to take full advantage of the program.  

  • The basic three phased approach (assessment, plan, start implementation) worked very well

  • As compared to our offering at Taproot, Talent Initiative has a slightly more strategic orientation and change focus. That makes it harder to pull off, but of higher value if successful. What I’m hearing consistently is that the clients have successfully undergone the culture change that is the essential foundation for all high-value talent management initiatives. That is, the program participants report that from staff through leadership and sometimes even at the board level that organizations have experienced a profound shift in how they understand talent -- from something that takes you away from doing your job, or something you just do to please HR, to the primary way that strategy gets done.

Some parts of the pilot were less successful:

  • Some of the participants were not in or embarking on a growth or change process. Those clients were less well served.

  • The seniority level of the consultants was a challenge because Talent Initiative attempt to hire consultants that could run an entire engagement, rather than a mix of senior, mid-level and associate level professionals. As compared to that staffing model, TI missed out on the benefits of the higher level expertise and the lower level costs.

  • Cohort did not work. Though the program was billed as a involving a cohort component, in practice the nonprofits were too busy doing the 1/1 work with the consultants to want to talk with each other.

  • Conceptual model. Talent Initiative created a light model of how to think about talent management that proved difficult for the consultants and program participants to understand and utilize effectively.

  • Lack of infrastructure. As is not surprising given that it was a pilot, the program suffered for not having a rich library of resources upon which to build. As a result, on average, deliverables took too long to create.

  • Need for follow on. Most of the nonprofits wanted additional support after the program’s completing to support the talent management plan’s implementation; Talent Initiative was not setup to meet that need.   

What struck me was that even those participants that reported only B-level satisfaction were quite enthusiastic about the program’s potential. They were able to see past the expected challenges of a pilot and see that a path through better program design and execution to a result that would be a very high value to nonprofits.