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Global growth drives need for talent management systems

Lori Kelleher, CHRO, Real Estate, Facilities, and Internal Communications, Black & Veatch

Lori Kelleher, CHRO, Real Estate, Facilities, and Internal Communications, Black & Veatch

Celebrating its 100th birthday on August 12, 2015, Black & Veatch is a global Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) company. Our more than 10,000 professionals deliver solutions each day that bring the latest advancements in power, water, oil and gas technology, and telecommunications to people in over 100 countries. Recently, the combination of growth in our operating businesses and evolving client needs created a new focus on expanding local office capabilities. Among the opportunities growth provides for the company and its professionals, it also forced our human resources team to examine various elements of talent management. Particularly, how to best manage talent in a more distributed environment. 

“Among the opportunities growth provides for the company and its professionals, it also forced our human resources team to examine various elements of talent management.”

Headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas, Black & Veatch is a classic example of the small firm that expanded beyond its local and national borders. Founded in 1915 with 14 employees, the company grew in size through a combination of organic growth, new service offerings and acquisitions. After decades of this approach, various talent management systems were in place to serve specific niches within the organization. 

Over the past few years, the company committed to its most aggressive global expansion efforts. Through this effortit became apparent that from a talent management perspective, we were managing our overall growth strategy from a business unit perspective. Yet too often, a lack of communication across the existing systems created gaps in data management or little coordination across the businesses in terms of maximizing internal resource capabilities and our workforce needs.  As the volume of international business grew and more resources were invested outside the United States, the need for comprehensive action became apparent.

The Cobbler’s Children

As an enterprise, engineers are hired to solve problems or deliver new technology solutions to improve the efficiency of their clients. For the first 100 years of our history, we’d been able to manage talent and grow. Yet in many respects, our talent management tool set had not kept pace with the complexities of our own workforce needs. The gaps present in our systems did not allow us to take a strategic approach to talent planning and management as we grew more geographically diverse, and as the demographics of our professionals changed.

To meet these challenges, better manage our personnel and critically, position the company to win more work in our key growth regions, the company launched a three year program to create a truly global talent management system. The goal of this initiative is to develop an integrated system for helping to manage all core aspects of talent-sourcing and hiring, staffing, development and succession, performance management, compensation and talent planning.  We wanted something to serve as more of a dynamic business tool for leaders and career resource for professionals versus just a system of record.

Beyond geographic complexity, the new platform also positions Black &Veatch to better address the dynamics of our workforce and create greater awareness of opportunities within the company. While much has been made of the “Millennial” generation in the workforce, our reality is that the face of our company is changing, and changing rapidly. In 2011, workers under 30 comprised roughly 9 percent of the workforce.  Today, we’re closer to 20 percent with a higher level of diversity than at any time in our history. These young professionals have different expectations about how they will communicate with their employer and what career paths are open to them. This cultural shift is stretching traditional hierarchies and forcing leadership to knock down barriers within the organization.

Without the greater level of flexibility these professionals expect, talent retention becomes an issue. Understanding what is available to employees from a professional growth perspective and creating pathways to capitalize on these opportunities can help address one of the biggest reasons people leave: A perception thatthe grass is always greener.

Perhaps even more critical to the overall success of the effort than the technology are the efforts to ensure internal support for the initiative. In the first year of the program we have worked consciously to create interdependencies within our business unit teams to foster utilization of the tools. Executing this effort requires a tremendous amount of coordination and communication across the business units to ensure the various modules are working with each other. To ensure widespread support for the rollout, business line executives are serving as champions versus having the program presented as an HR driven endeavor.

At this point in our journey, we have begun the process of looking at our global talent footprint on a broad scale. For Black & Veatch, our second century will see us continue to grow as an organization while expanding the range of competitors we face. More of the individual projects we execute will draw upon the skills of multiple business units. Power projects are increasingly tied to water while telecom services support a broad range of infrastructure services. To be successful we will need to be positioned to win work and execute it through a combination of global innovation and local talent. 

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