3 Keys to Getting Talent Right in Transformation Programs 

While preparing a resource plan for your large-scale transformation program, have you considered how talent within the program will be managed?

In a transformation program, your job is to find the best talent that can assist your enterprise in achieving the objectives in your business case without eroding the economic justification for the program or damaging the reputation of the company.  Unfortunately, that is not always achieved.

We have researched public transformation failures that resulted in economic hardship and significant hits on company reputations.  Talent, or perhaps we should say, lack of talent, and the management of program talent is a common factor in these failures.

Three common ingredients of program challenges, expensive change orders, and program failures are:

  • Having the wrong people in key roles
  • Failure to recognize talent gaps during the vendor presentations
  • Missed or delayed action to manage client and vendor talent within the program

Most people assume these problems are limited to the period after contracts are signed but our research and experience reveals that problems related to talent can start as early as business case development, request for proposal (RFP) development, vendor selection process, and contract negotiations.  Talent, left unaddressed or underappreciated, can predestine the program for a course of turbulence at best and a rough go-live if lucky.

Here are a few thoughts I would like to share based on my observations and learnings from firsthand experience (with both success and failure) and the advice we provide to our clients.

1. Key Role Candidate Planning

How much time did you spend on the talent section of your RFP?  This is a multi-part question.

Constructing a strong RFP will position you well to set expectations for the talent you need and the talent you are expecting.  Any RFP will result in a vendor response, but do you want ANY response?

Use the RFP to draw attention to specific areas you need specialized vendor assistance.  Identify critical areas of your transformation business case within the RFP.  Clearly state areas you plan to use out-of-the-box functionality and areas of the transformation you consider to be complex.  Do not shy away from identifying areas of complex and broken “current state” processes due to a history of acquisitions or high customization.

Review your internal capacity and talent for supporting the transformation.  In the RFP, clearly address the areas where you expect you will need additional resources to supplement your areas of participation (capacity) and areas where you lack functional or technical expertise (capabilities).  Failure to do this during RFP development will result in an unexpected increase in fees during the late stages of negotiations or an unfortunate and expensive change order later in the program resulting from your inability to meet your staffing obligations.

Why This Matters – Do not understate your issues and challenges, both operational and staffing.  If you did not provide enough details in describing the complex problems you are trying to solve, you will get vendor interest, but you will not attract the quality and volume of talent you know you need to meet the expectations of the business case.

2.  Due Diligence When Reviewing Personnel

For a successful project, you need people that understand your industry and understand your goals.

One way vendors can demonstrate their understanding of your business case is by presenting candidates for key roles with bios containing experience in your industry and a referenceable track record of successful transformations.  However, I am never surprised to see vendors presenting a portfolio of candidates’ bios that contains little-to-no experience in the client’s industry.  When this happens, it may be a case of:

  • The vendor does not want your business
  • You are being offered the next available resources, a.k.a. the “A Team” – the “Available Team”
  • The vendor looks at your program as a resource training opportunity

Yes, this really does happen.  In a recent engagement, a vendor presented a roster of candidates to our client.  Careful examination showed the key resources had limited industry experience and only one candidate had documented experience with the vendor’s heavily touted methodology.  When pressed, the vendor confirmed our findings and responded, “Few team members have experience with the methodology as it is a new methodology!”

Please remember that vendor bios are written by someone else other than the key role candidate and that your personnel work is not complete after reviewing the bios.  Your job is to determine if “the dog can hunt.

Oral presentations and workshops are good opportunities to interview the team and team members for their understanding of:

  • Your proposal request content and the vendor’s proposed solution
  • Each candidate’s proposed role and how they bring value to the program
  • Each candidate’s prior experience with different problems they have encountered in a similar program

Why This Matters– You can improve your opportunity for success with careful examination and selection of the vendor’s key role candidates.  Reference the candidate’s industry experience and track record and validate their methodology experience.

Leverage oral presentations to hear a harmonious chorus of voices presented in the program bios.  Each speaker should present their part of the proposal and how they contribute to your program success.  You should be alarmed if the dominant speakers during the presentations and workshops are the vendor’s sales team or only one or two senior people.

3. PMO Execution Includes Managing Program Talent

You have completed vendor negotiations and contracts are signed.  This moment is when we often see the procurement team taking a lesser role and the PMO being predominate.

As the PMO, realize you have transitioned from the talent acquisition phase to the important talent management phases.  It’s critical that you take responsibility for managing talent because the vendor’s process for managing talent is usually lacking and often results in expensive change orders for you to address.

Two big talent areas to watch are:

    • Program attendance – Vendor and client resources show up per plan
    • Program performance – The right people with the right skills are doing work per the plan

Having a detailed staffing plan is critical.  If resources do not start working per plan, your project and project plan will be in trouble.

Attendance is one risk, but resource performance issues will lead to additional program expenses – or darker outcomes.  Ask your vendor Program Leader to share, without disclosing confidentiality, real occasions when they have seen when talent performance issues have resulted in program leadership changes and/or program termination.  If the vendor has no stories to share with you, you could be their first horror story they can share with their next client.  Don’t wait, get a new Program Leader.

Program talent management includes being accountable for your company’s (the client’s) team talent. Do not wait to start talent management until after your vendor has presented a change order.  Continuous monitoring of program health and activities may indicate you have client or vendor talent issues in your transformation program that need to be addressed.  Do not hesitate to make or request changes of company resources where needed.  Formally document and notify the vendor if you see a deficiency in the vendor’s resource performance.

Why This Matters:  You do not want to be “that client” that comes to the sad realization the PMO did not manage talent performance issues within the client or the vendor.

Vendors present change orders for numerous reasons, but I can’t recall seeing a change order where they are initially taking responsibility for the vendor’s team performance.  We have supported several clients in successfully defending change orders when we can question the quality of talent delivered by the vendor.

Your Transformation Talent Test

Regardless of where you are at in your transformation journey, the above three topics apply to you and your program.  I would challenge you to take five minutes to write down how you will accomplish these three items:

  1. Attracting the best vendor talent for your program
  2. Vetting the talent presented
  3. Managing program talent

If you do not like your answers, it’s time to take some action because your project depends on it!

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