Case Study. Technical Talent Management

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1 Case Study Technical Talent Management Best practices from Lockheed Martin A global security company headquartered in Bethesda, MD., Lockheed Martin employs 126,000 people worldwide. Primarily engaged in research, design, development, manufacturing, integration, sustainment of advanced technology systems, products, and services, Lockheed Martin maintains its chief customer base with the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. federal government agencies. The organization comprises a variety of skilled personnel made up of 70,000 scientists, engineers, and IT professionals who operate in 1,000 facilities in 500 cities within all 50 states and 75 countries. The organization itself comprises four broad business units: aeronautics, electronic systems, information systems and global solutions, and the space systems company. This particular report is primarily focused on the technical talent management practices within the space systems company (SSC) referred to as critical skills management (CSM). SSC has developed and implemented a strategy for management of its most critical skills to address the coming wave of retirements of its technical skills work force. Many of SSC s technical competencies will soon reach the point of retirement, creating a significant dilemma in terms of technical talent. For a business that relies on its technical expertise, incorporating a systematic approach to address the coming wave of change is essential for the long-term business outlook (Figure 1). Page 1 of 12

2 Technical Work Force Population by Age Range Figure 1 Sourcing and Acquiring Technical Talent STRATEGY AND DIVERSITY Employee referrals, information sessions, career fairs and on-campus interviews are the primary means by which SSC identifies students to fill a multitude of full-time and intern or co-op positions each year. SSC primarily acquires technical talent through its summer internship program, which draws from university and college communities. The organization focuses on recruitment from leading technical schools, where it regularly participates in on-campus job fairs. SSC s summer internship program has been an effective approach to developing future employees as it gives students an opportunity to learn about the various business areas within the company and allows SSC to see how well the intern blends with the organization. The intern program is a key recruitment tool used for acquiring technical talent and SSC maintains metrics targeting an increase in the number of interns hired full time. SSC works with K 12 schools and universities in course development partnership programs as well as mentoring efforts. In order to identify and hire strong talent, SSC focuses on building solid relationships with colleges and universities across the United States. Another important strategy for acquiring technical talent at SSC is providing the opportunity for employees to take part in the leadership development programs that are offered for Page 2 of 12

3 engineering, operations, finance, and advanced technologies. These opportunities are offered to employees who have worked at SSC for one to three years and are interested in taking part in a rotational program. This gives the employee a chance to work in various locations, learn about different technologies of the business, and receive special training in targeted areas. Surveys have indicated that college graduates like the opportunity to participate in leadership programs and employees have decided to join the SSC because of these leadership development programs. Real-world application of engineering and science principles inspires students. Gina Burns, vice president, work force strategy and talent acquisition, Lockheed Martin SSC works to develop and support communities through collaboration and funding of student organizations such as the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers. To campus organizations, it provides support for monthly meetings, scholarships, and conferences. Aside from funding, SSC invests significant effort through: training and development initiatives, coaching and mentoring within skills training programs, and workshops covering a range of topics. SSC recognizes that one advantage of developing a healthy relationship with students is that it allows the company and students to learn about each other. By enabling students to interact with employees on technical matters while familiarizing them with the company culture, SSC makes a rich investment in the future recruitment pipeline. Significant efforts have been made by SSC to construct and maintain a more inclusive environment through the use of its diversity maturity model. The model measures perceptions of employees and business processes as well as the organizational climate. This model is used to calibrate a strategy for progressing as a more inclusive enterprise and for maintaining a more unified approach within Lockheed Martin Page 3 of 12

4 Developing Technical Talent SSC has established a systematic approach for the development of its technical talent that focuses on the most critical skill sets of the business. SSC modeled its critical skills management (CSM) process after the common methods applied within risk management processes. The emphasis is to focus on the most critical areas of the business that may have an impact on the organization. The CSM process involves identification of the organization s most critical skill sets, evaluation of the level of expertise within those skill sets, assessment of the potential risk of losing those capabilities, and prioritization of strategies for mitigating any future negative impact on the business. Six-Step Process of Critical Skills Management Figure 2 Within SSC, the CSM process is implemented and maintained through a six-step process as shown in Figure 2: 1. Assess and identify core competencies. 2. Identify and define critical skills. 3. Identify experts. 4. Define knowledge checklists. 5. Develop preservation and growth strategies. 6. Measure and validate skills. Page 4 of 12

5 ASSESS AND IDENTIFY CORE COMPETENCIES To enable the organization to understand its critical skill needs, the first step is for executive management to identify and define the core competencies of the business. Executive leadership answers the question of why the organization s customers choose it and what distinguishes it from its competitors by identifying its own core competencies. Defining the core competencies enables SSC to identify the specific skill sets that are critical to the organization s business. IDENTIFY AND DEFINE CRITICAL SKILLS The second step is for management to identify and define the specific critical skill sets that make up the business s core competencies. For SSC, these skill sets come from the skill requirements that are needed to deliver on SSC Programs. Organizations will likely have varying definitions of what is critical to their organization. SSC broadly defines what is critical as highly specialized or technical skill sets that an educated, experienced professional would require seven to ten years to master due to their complexity. Also, the skill sets are one of the primary reasons customers rely on Lockheed for their products and services. Finally, the question is asked Is Lockheed Martin willing to make significant investments in the development and sustainment of the individual s expertise for the skill set needed by the organization? IDENTIFY EXPERTS AND DEFINE KNOWLEDGE CHECKLISTS Step three is identifying the experts for the critical skill set. This is done by the manager(s) who are accountable to maintaining the skill set for the business. Once the experts are identified, the fourth step is for the experts to define in more detail the specific knowledge that a person would need to know in order to be considered an expert in the discipline. The list that defines the skill set is referred to as the knowledge checklist. The knowledge checklist has brief descriptions of skills items that are important to the skill set. It emphasizes the unique elements of the skill sets that are key to the product or service deliverables. It is the road map that is used by the protégé (future expert) to understand how to become an expert. The knowledge checklist is a communication tool regarding the skills of the employees which are required to meet Lockheed Martin s customer requirements. DEVELOP PRESERVATION AND GROWTH STRATEGIES Once experts are recognized and have defined what it takes to reach a high level of expertise, the fifth step is that of developing preservation and growth strategies, which starts with identifying the future experts, referred to as protégés. Managers typically identify protégés in collaboration with existing experts. Once protégés are identified, they review the knowledge checklist for the skill sets with which they have been matched. During discussions with their managers on their job assignments, protégés will understand which knowledge items on the knowledge checklist are related to their job assignments. Page 5 of 12

6 SSC has a CSM database that lists the knowledge checklist and the level of progress a protégé has had in mastering their skill set. Experts can log into the CSM database to view the skills which they have expertise in and can view the projects which they are mentoring protégés on (Figure 3). An individual can be an expert for one skill while they are a protégé for another. Protégé Projects and Expert Mentoring. Figure 3 To build a business rhythm in the protégé s development, SSC s CSM process leverages the annual performance management (HR) cycle during which employees identify their personal objectives for the year (Figure 4). Each year, SSC s protégés identify specific projects in which they will work that will build their experience specifically associated to the critical skill sets. SSC uses a database (Figure 5) that allows protégés to document the specific projects on which they work related to the skill set. This enables the protégé and SSC to capture quantifiable evidence of the employee s growth. This not only benefits the protégé in showing their career history; it also benefits the business. The capturing of protégé s experiences benefits the business and manager by providing a quantifiable process to measure an individual s knowledge of a skill set. Page 6 of 12

7 Having this information, in tandem with the HR employee profile and resume information, provides data to show why someone is considered an expert. Performance Management Cycle Figure 4 A second benefit to capturing actual assignments and linking them to the skill set is that it improves the on-boarding process of new employees (protégés). When bringing on a new employee, management is able to independently research past projects performed by other protégés and network with the experts who mentored them on those projects. Protégé Projects Figure 5 Page 7 of 12

8 MEASURE AND VALIDATE SKILLS The sixth step is referred to as measure and validate, which entails the responsible management verifying the protégé s expertise. With confirmation of a designated expert for the skill set, the manager uses quantifiable evidence (Figure 6) that the protégé has achieved a level of expertise for the skill set and verifies the protégé is an expert. Defining Competency Levels Figure 6 Within SSC, the manager can access the CSM database and review the projects the protégé has completed. The manager is able to verify in the CSM database that the protégé has completed the project and mastered the knowledge checklist item or that the protégé has completed the project, but not yet mastered the knowledge checklist item. Most often, it will take multiple projects for a protégé to master a knowledge checklist item, allowing SSC to build up a history of the protégé s work to help verify their competency in the skill set. The sixth step includes maintaining oversight of skill and expertise data at both the manager and executive levels. Within the CSM database, a manager can access the system and view his/her portfolio of skill sets, expertise, and protégé development status. The manager s portfolio shows components such as skill levels, skills acquired, skills at risk, number of projects, and percentage of completions. Some of these details are highlighted in Figure 7. Page 8 of 12

9 Manager s Portfolio Figure 7 Executive-level oversight is maintained with metrics and a regular reporting cycle for the entire organization. Such metrics will list number of critical skills, number of experts and protégés, protégé competency levels, skills at risk, and verification that protégés with skills at risk have development plans. The metrics need to be driven from the executive down to the lowest level manager to ensure accountability for maintaining the critical skills for the business. Finally, included in the oversight step is the recognition of new experts, which needs to be formally offered at executive level meetings and in the company s newsletter. When a group of protégés completes its processes of mastering the skills necessary to move on to the next level as experts, it is officially recognized with a lunch-in held at the end of the year by the vice president. This is an opportunity for an executive to sit down with the newly recognized experts and congratulate them on their accomplishments. Page 9 of 12

10 Business Rhythm and Leadership Accountability The key to a successful CSM process is establishing a business rhythm within the organization that ensures that the process and development of the content is continuous, evolving as the business grows and maturing with new technologies. This business rhythm helps ensure the CSM program maintains accurate data and new experts are developed and recognized on a regular basis (Figure 8). Critical Skills Management Business Rhythm Figure 8 Within SSC, the CSM program ensures integration of new technologies and expertise into its system by identifying them from the internal research and development (IRAD) efforts as well as new programs. Having a business rhythm in which leadership is responsible for capturing and delivering this data is essential for building robust system information. The uniqueness of this approach is that the system is a bottom-up feeder by the programs and IRAD efforts into a central system, but driven by leadership, metrics, and desire of individuals recognized as experts for the business. Page 10 of 12

11 Rewarding and Retaining Technical Talent RETENTION STRATEGY Retaining technical talent revolves heavily around the elements of employee participation and work force environment. Lockheed Martin realizes that organizational socialization should be a focus for the company. Organizational socialization is a process for cultivating new employees into the new work climate. More experienced members of the organization take on the role of socializing the new employees so that they may gain a better understanding of the company culture and keep the company moving in the right direction. This presents an opportunity for there to be as little drop-off in technical talent as possible as employees retire or leave the company. Organizational socialization also make possible a more stable relationship and flow between employees and management, resulting in more profits, reduced overhead, and overall success. REWARDS STRATEGY Rewarding technical talent at Lockheed Martin is also of importance to the organization. In addition to personal recognition of newly recognized experts from the vice president, employees may earn various types of awards, including: National Outstanding Volunteer Awards (NOVAs), patents, special recognition awards, spot awards, and service awards. The NOVA award is the highest honor for an achievement at Lockheed Martin. It recognizes great service, leadership, teamwork, and/or technical skills. Each year, various business units recognize NOVA nominees and have past award winners, senior managers, and the board of directors gather to acknowledge them and celebrate. Given the industry in which Lockheed Martin operates, innovation is often a product of its work. With thousands of scientists and engineers backed by a strong foundation of investment in research, new developments and inventions are being produced by the organization s work force frequently. The opportunity to receive cash rewards is always a possibility. This is known as a special recognition award and is given to those who demonstrate extraordinary performance throughout the year. Spot awards similarly acknowledge exemplary performance of employees and include rewards such as cash, gift certificates, and savings bonds. Along with the opportunity for specified performance-based awards, general service awards are also given to all employees every five years for ongoing dedication to Lockheed Martin. Page 11 of 12

12 Lessons Learned Over the years, Lockheed Martin has found that perhaps their biggest challenge throughout the technical talent management process is getting management and experts to successfully define certain skill sets and perform competency assessments because this can be a cumbersome process; however, the organization has found that the talent management process is more effective when linked to performance management objectives as well as to metrics at the executive level because this drives actions to managers. ABOUT APQC APQC is a member-based nonprofit and one of the leading proponents of benchmarking and best practice business research. Working with more than 500 organizations worldwide in all industries, APQC focuses on providing organizations with the information they need to work smarter, faster, and with confidence. Every day we uncover the processes and practices that push organizations from good to great. Visit us at and learn how you can make best practices your practices. Page 12 of 12

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