Leveraging Data and Team Science to Find and Motivate the Right Talent for Your High-Value Projects Can Produce Significantly Better Business Results

To maintain a competitive advantage in today's fast-paced and dynamic business environment, you must deliver solutions to customers that meet their needs and delight them preferably faster and at a lower cost than the competition. One of the first mission critical requirements is finding and placing the right talent and teams on the right projects. This becomes particularly challenging when the talent pool is large, the needed skills are in high demand (think mobile development or big data science), and there are multiple competing projects.

Many organizations, small and large, struggle with effectively solving this problem. In this age of data and global ecosystems, most managers still staff projects manually over calls, meetings, emails and spreadsheets, which is inefficient, error-prone, and subject to cognitive biases. It is difficult to keep track of the skills and schedules of a talent pool without using the right tools. The problem is further complicated when you add not just the hard skills and availability but also soft variables including interests, personal preferences, and the working relationships with others to the equation. While software segments such as talent management are in a boom, so far there are few solutions that cost-effectively match skilled talent to strategic and customer projects.

However there are emerging tools designed to help managers to intelligently and intuitively find and discover the best available talent in a large talent pool and place it on the right projects with the ideal teammates to optimize performance and increase the chance of project success. One solution is Teamable SaaS offering, which enables organizations to leverage valuable internal and external people data (e.g., LinkedIn and StackOverflow) and the latest in high performing team science to rapidly match the project needs of a business to the best teams.

To get the most out of such a tool, you also need to follow best practices. Below are a number of field-tested tips and guidelines on how to do this right.

#1. When making a staffing decision, make data- and science-driven decisions across your entire talent pool.

As the staffing equation gets more complex with employees (onsite and remote), nearshore, offshore, vendors, partners and independent contractors all with many skills and changing preferences, work styles and strengths, it becomes difficult for management to make good staffing decisions.

The staffing equation is not just about discrete technical skills. There is also motivation and desire to work with those skills as well as other soft attributes that should also be taken into consideration. For example, a programmer may know C++ well but may prefer to do android development. Enabling and empowering high performers to work on what they're interested in rather than what they're most experienced in often results in brilliance. In recruiting top candidates, Google calls this "Opening the Aperture". Similarly, there are other preferences such as teammates, communication style, location, and travel that should be taken into consideration.

Note: if you aren't a company that maintains a pool of trusted contractors/vendors, you should start thinking about it. Independent contractors make up a considerable part of the workforce and the number is on the increase. Furthermore, in certain areas like mobile app development, the best are getting harder and harder to hire as employees. Having a flexible workforce that you can call on immediately without sacrificing quality can be a real competitive (and profitability) advantage.

#2. Consider performance first, then cost.

With highly skilled workers and teams, the difference between good and great is often 10x. In a world where 20% of activities drive 80% of value, the difference in revenue between good and great performances when dealing with customers or making products is also usually 10x. Thus data on a team member's skills required for a project, her level of motivation to work on the type of project and her willingness to work with other team members (fit), should matter more than her cost or rate.

Returning to the mobile app development example, think about the difference between a good and a great mobile app experience, and the difference that can make in your company's competitive position and financial performance. Thus, picking a great mobile app developer that is interested in your project and works well with the rest of the team, should take precedence over how much that person will cost you. Good news is that high-performers are often more motivated by the nature of the work and their fellow teammates than financial compensation.

#3. Form small and modular teams where teammates operate in the high performance zone.

The value of a small stable teams with occasional injections of new teammates is well documented in the scientific literature such as in "Leading Teams", the seminal work by Professor J. Richard Hackman of Harvard University. Forming these teams with a baseline of trust and psychological safety, a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking, and matching them to the type of work they are best suited for, is half the battle in high-pressure environments. The framework below is a way to think about some of the variables in forming teams and matching them to projects. Technology can be helpful in this stage to sort through the variables, make data-driven decisions, facilitate trust and get your teams past the forming and into the performing stage faster.

Also when team members have a clear sense of who their teammates are, what the specific goals of the project are and what their roles on that team are, managers can be more hands off and let the team self-organize in how best to succeed in their goals.

#4. Listen to your employees' social signals.

Your employees, contractors, partners, customers and future hires may express themselves and share their thoughts on social networks. Listening to these signals can give a company insight in retaining and hiring the best. A great example of this is in gaining an edge in recruiting top passive candidates. There is value in knowing that an all-star developer recruit has connected her social networks to an entire team in your company and three of them worked together on successful projects in the past.

Similarly most employees list and express their interest areas by the skills they list on LinkedIn and other social platforms. Give them the same opportunity to do this in your company.

#5. Give your high performers outlets outside of performance reviews to indicate their preferences

Everyone knows it instinctively. The experiments prove it. Performance review data is biased and tends to reflect things like most recent interactions and time between promotions more than actual performance. Also there is political maneuvering going on in performance review conversations. A performance review is not the right place to find out how to improve the work experience for your employees. Find other times to do this and invest in tools to help you manage it so that you can still focus on other client-facing and value-enhancing activities.

Another tip: Enabling internal mobility is proven to keep high performers in the same company for longer. Give them a better way than looking at the org chart or going to your company career site to find their next placement. Every day, dozens of external sites are pinging them with jobs matching their skill set, location, desires and personality...yet, you have an information advantage over them for your own employees. Use it!

#6. Learn, iterate and improve.

Every day, teams are growing, best practices are emerging, project successes and failures are happening. However, much of this valuable data may remain in the minds of your employees and managers. Ensure that whatever system you setup for data-driven staffing and optimizing the performance of your workforce includes comprehensive data collection and analytics. This will give insights into skill gaps, team strengths, weaknesses, future hiring needs, bottlenecks, market signals, and other high value actionable insights.

Encourage and empower your employees to provide project feedback during and after each project. Incorporate this into a platform that everyone has access to and can learn from the work of others, but that also is connected to the backend analytics and intelligence engine. This way you can continue to learn and improve as a company of high performers working in teams on high-value projects.

Conclusion

It's almost a clich, but as technology and businesses evolve, there is one constant--people your most important assets and your only long term competitive advantage. And people work best in small project teams. Take the time to incorporate the best practices above in your organization, as well as invest in next-generation tools to facilitate and institutionalize them.