Managers as Talent Magnets

By Edie Goldberg

Nov. 13, 2007

At Bristol-Myers Squibb, part of the business strategy focuses on talent as a major component to success. The company has broadly defined its talent strategy as the ability to attract, develop and retain the depth and diversity of talent to successfully execute the strategy. In an effort to better understand what engages and retains employees, the company conducted internal research and found that the role of the manager was pivotal to every key aspect of engagement (career and development, reward and recognition, quality of management and alignment of work to broader business issues). As a consequence, Bristol-Myers Squibb believes that the role of the manager is key in executing both the business and talent strategies.

Leadership and competencies
   Suzan McDaniel, senior director of talent management at Bristol-Myers Squibb, says that the business leaders at the company have played a key role in building management capability. They believe that developing great managers is critical, and they have worked on a series of communication and development tools to support managers in their development. First, they created a set of core behaviors (one of which focuses on the development of people) that are explicitly defined at different career stages. This serves to clarify expectations for all Bristol-Myers Squibb employees.

    After seeing the results of company research, members of the leadership team decided to define what it means to be a great leader at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and to give employees tools to build their skills. This has led to the development of a program, “What Do Great Managers Do at Bristol-Myers Squibb?” It includes both education and a tool kit for how to emulate the attributes and actions of great managers and leaders. McDaniel says leaders in the organization are role models for the behaviors, and talk about them daily in their divisions.

Communication and competencies
   The company not only talks about the core Bristol-Myers Squibb behaviors and how they are carried out by great managers and leaders every day, but highlights them in announcements of internal promotions. The behaviors are woven into all key HR processes at the company. “You can’t let up on this, and you can’t compromise on its importance,” she says.

Measurement and rewards
   Because these key behaviors are part of the company’s HR systems, there is a constant focus on measuring employees’ performance against these behaviors. Whether it is in selection, feedback tools, promotional considerations or performance management, employees are constantly being assessed and given feedback to improve their performance.

    McDaniel stresses the importance of selecting people for qualities the company seeks, developing those qualities and holding people accountable. “The best way to build the capability is to build the foundational skills and provide role models of what great managers do,” she says. “Then you need to let them thrive in their own work environment and use upward feedback to help managers hone in on areas they need to improve.”

Structure and symbols
   As part of establishing its performance management system, the company created a stretch goal for managers: spend 50 percent of their time doing their work and 50 percent of their time managing others. Like every other organization in the past decade, Bristol-Myers Squibb sees increasing pressure on managers. Their own work has not diminished, but their spans of control have gotten larger as the company operates in a leaner environment. Although aspirational, the goal does communicate what the company believes is important: good management.

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