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Holly Wolk on Keys to Talent Management

Holly Wolk, SPHR Sr. Director of Talent Management, Employee Development and Recruitment University of Rochester

In today’s data driven world talent management is as much about metrics as it is about the psychology of getting the best out of your team.

“Talent management is the science of using strategic human resource planning to improve business value and make it possible for companies and organizations to reach their goals.”  (

It is not possible to distill talent management into a simple list of do’s and don’ts, but Holly Wolk honed in on several key points in discussing this subject with The Woolbright Group.

#1    Buy In from Senior Leadership

To be successful, an organization’s talent management strategy needs to be respected and practiced at every level of the organization from the top down. To be effective, it must be an organization-wide priority to attract, assess, manage and retain employees.   Managers and other practitioners charged with the day-to-day responsibilities of talent management will be more effective if they are confident that senior management understands and embraces the strategy.  Working cooperatively and in full collaboration with the central human resources department is also important, according to Holly.

#2    Quantifying a “Good Fit”

Carefully selecting your interview team(s) is a critical first step in the process.  The people who will interact on a daily basis with the candidate, but who also exemplify what you are looking for in a candidate are important criteria, Holly states.   Careful planning and formalized interview procedures are keys to successfully interviewing job candidates and insuring the integrity of the hiring process.  Whether your organization prefers unstructured interviews or prepared questions, be sure you have clearly identified your interview goals and abide by some system that will guarantee that the process provides you with sufficient information to judiciously compare candidates and make a final decision.  Intangible qualities are as important as the tangible qualifications listed on a resume.  Knowing what you are looking for in terms of a person’s values, team skills, communication style, etc. are all key to ensuring a good fit for the organization.  Also, it’s important to keep in mind that while you are interviewing the candidate, they are also interviewing you! Your job is to assess candidates, but also to convince the best ones to join your team.

#3    Do Onboarding Right

Holly believes in making a new hire as comfortable as possible before he or she arrives for their first day on the job.  It can start with a phone call to answer any questions and offer guidance on workplace culture, routine and protocols.   Put together a meeting schedule but, she cautions, don’t overwhelm a new staff member with too many meetings right away.  And of course, check in with them to see how it’s all going.  A few other onboarding practices might include:

  •  Take new staff on a tour of the office, building, campus, or whatever is appropriate
  • Clean up and prepare their workstation
  • Assign an office buddy for the first week or so
  • Explain office protocol in detail
  • Demo any unfamiliar technology or software they will be using
  • Send out a staff memo introducing the new hire and invite everyone to introduce themselves

Shadowing co-workers is a great way to expose the new team member to your department, but don’t stop with your own team.  Make sure they meet people from other departments so they get a good overview of the larger organization.

#4    Assess Performance and Potential

Retaining talented people takes effort and investment.   Start by getting to know your new team member, Holly advises.  Get to know their history and what their career path has been up to this point.  Ask them where they want to go with their career.  Find out what motivates them.  Then, give them opportunities to grow and succeed.

Holly rates training a “10” on a 10-point scale of importance for talented staff.  Investing in your staff demonstrates that you are “invested” in them, not only for the present, but for their future as well.   “If they stay, great.  But if they take [their skills] somewhere else and talk highly about what we did for them, I think that is good marketing for any organization,” she states.

Measuring leadership potential is key to determining which team members are on a fast track to leadership, as well as where underperformers need support and training.  Holly references the nine-box matrix evaluation tool as one way to “plot” a employee’s performance and potential.

Potential is the trickier of the two to measure, however.  And every organization must set its own metrics by which to gauge this quality.   Using a tool to do the job reduces the subjectivity of evaluating employee performance and potential.  It can also expose “hidden” talent, diagnose development needs and help with succession planning.

Here is one sample of a nine-box talent matrix from CRG emPerform.

For anyone looking to improve their organization’s talent management program, Holly recommends building a network of colleagues and getting involved with organizations like Advancement Learning Network (ALN) and CASE.  “The folks in talent management are a great group of people, willing to share their strategies and experiences.  All you have to do is ask!” comments Holly.   Recommended reading materials include, “The People First Approach: A Guide to Recruiting, Developing and Retaining the Right People,” and “Effective Measures: The Return on Investing in Talent Management” both by Jon Derek Croteau.  These CASE-published books cover a range of topics including why numbers matter in a people-focused business, how to measure opportunity cost associated with turnover, and strategies for engaging and retaining top performers.

Holly Wolk serves as the senior director of talent management for the University of Rochester and oversees the talent management program with a focus on recruitment and employee development for more than 250 advancement professionals. She works with senior leadership to develop and build the next generation of advancement professionals. Her focus and passion is on helping advancement professionals develop career paths that are beneficial to themselves and the organization. During Wolk's tenure, the University of Rochester has worked to redefine its recruitment strategy from focusing on external recruitment efforts to developing staff and promoting from within the organization.

Prior to coming to the University of Rochester, Wolk held similar talent management roles at Tufts University and Boston University, where she also managed the university's employment and training function. She began her career in alumni relations at Carnegie Mellon, before transitioning to Carnegie Mellon's organizational development and human capital management department.

Wolk has a master's degree in human resource management from Carnegie Mellon and more than 16 years of advancement experience. She has served as a presenter and faculty for CASE, and enjoys sharing best practices with her talent management colleagues.

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