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Strategic Workforce Planning: The ‘Not-So-Secret’ Sauce for Small Company CEOs

Ah, the joys of being a small company CEO in today’s world. We’ve weathered the storm of a pandemic, witnessed political theater that beats any Netflix drama, and now we’re navigating this latest chapter of economic surprises – all the while trying to ensure our team doesn’t jump ship. Through it all, we keep our business thriving, our clients happy, and our teams intact.

Small teams face unique challenges that necessitate a nuanced approach to both retention and strategic planning. The Talent Risk Evaluation Matrix, a strategic tool developed by Gartner, can be a pivotal resource for small businesses like ours at Red Branch Media, where the impact of each team member’s departure or underperformance is magnified due to the smaller size of the workforce.


It sounds fancy, but it’s really just about understanding what could go wrong with your team and how likely that is to happen. Simple, right?

Applying the Gartner Matrix to Smaller Teams

Understanding the Risks

To gauge where employees stand on the Talent Risk Evaluation Matrix, we do this:

Monthly Employee Survey Tool: We start by taking the pulse of our team. Not literally, of course – though, given our intimate team size, I probably could. But let’s keep it to a monthly survey with fewer questions than your favorite coffee order. Distribute a succinct survey monthly, ensuring it remains below five questions to maximize response rates while minimizing fatigue. The questions should be strategic, aiming to uncover not just satisfaction levels, but also potential risks of disengagement, willingness to recommend the company as a great place to work, and openness to new opportunities both within and outside the company. It’s like a quick chat by the water cooler – if the water cooler could analyze data.

Performance Conversation Probes: During regular performance reviews, we engage in discussions beyond current role performance. Let’s talk dreams, aspirations, and yes, cross-training. It’s like playing business matchmaker – connecting our team’s hidden passions with our company’s needs.

This not only aids in succession planning but also reveals hidden talents and perhaps undeveloped interests that could mitigate internal mobility risk.

Learning Stipend Utilization Analysis: It’s not just a perk. It’s a treasure map showing us where our team members want to grow. We track it, analyze it, and boom – we’ve got a custom upskilling plan.

Are they focusing on deepening existing skills or exploring new domains? This data can help identify upskilling opportunities and might indicate the employee’s long-term career aspirations, which is crucial for planning and assessing development risks.

AI-Assisted Time Tracking Analysis: AI and time tracking – sounds very Big Brother, but it’s more like a Fitbit for work. We use it to see what projects get our team’s hearts racing and where they’re just going through the motions. This will identify where employees spend most of their time and which projects they excel in. When you’re highly engaged in certain tasks, it’s a good sign that you’re less likely to face retention issues. And if you consistently perform at a high level in projects, it can help lower the risk of hurdles in your development.

Meeting Engagement Metrics: Meetings are where the magic happens, or where we all play Candy Crush on mute. Monitor the talk time and engagement levels of employees in various meetings using AI tools (we use Fathom). An increase or decrease in participation can be an early indicator of engagement or disengagement, respectively.

360-Degree Feedback: Implement a 360-degree feedback system where employees receive anonymous feedback from peers, subordinates, and supervisors. Patterns in feedback can help identify leadership and development opportunities, as well as areas where the employee may feel unheard or unappreciated, potentially increasing retention risk. 360-degree feedback is the kale of the feedback world – some people hate it, but it’s good for you. It gives us the full picture, from every angle.

Career Pathway Discussions: Have open conversations about career pathways within the company. Understanding how an employee views their growth trajectory can illuminate potential risks in talent availability and development. If an employee doesn’t see a clear path forward, they may be at higher risk for looking externally. We make sure every team member knows there’s more than one ending to their story at our company.

Skills and Competency Assessments: Think of them as those Buzzfeed quizzes everyone loves, but instead of finding out which “Friends” character you are, you discover your professional superpowers.

This can provide insight into where an employee might need additional training or development to reduce the risk associated with talent pipeline gaps.

Social Network Analysis: Use organizational network analysis tools to identify central figures within communication and workflow networks. Employees who serve as key nodes may represent a higher risk if they leave, indicating a succession or retention risk. Organizational network analysis is like LinkedIn on steroids. We see who’s connected to whom and who’s the Kevin Bacon of our company.

Client Feedback Integration: Incorporate client feedback on employees who are client-facing. Consistently positive feedback may reduce perceived retention risk, while areas for improvement can signal development needs. We think of these like Yelp reviews. We lap up the praise and take the constructive criticism like a chef takes a tough restaurant review.

Workforce Analytics: Leverage workforce analytics to identify patterns of absenteeism, turnover trends within departments or teams, and other HR-related data points. They show us patterns we might miss – like who’s heading for the exit and who’s in it for the long haul.

By combining these strategies, an organization can gain a thorough understanding of where each employee stands on the Talent Risk Evaluation Matrix. This proactive approach enables strategic planning in talent management, personalized development programs, and effective retention initiatives, ensuring the organization remains resilient and competitive.

The Real Talk

Let’s get real for a second. Talent risks? They’re like those horror movies where the call is coming from inside the house. For small teams, a single departure can feel like a blockbuster blow. But we’re not just sitting ducks waiting for the sequel. We’re ahead of the game, ready with strategies that weave into every fiber of our team’s lifecycle.

High-Impact Risks

Talent Availability Risk (external/internal): When it comes to talent availability risk (external/internal), small teams often struggle to compete with larger organizations in terms of compensation and benefits. Here’s the thing – externally, they face the challenge of attracting top talent, and internally, there’s the risk of not having someone ready to step up when a crucial team member leaves.

Development Risk: In a small team, limited resources can hinder personal and professional growth. This can result in stagnation and disengagement, holding back the team’s potential.

Retention Risk: Small teams, big problems. Losing even one team member can throw workflows off balance, stress out the rest of the crew, and put client relationships and ongoing projects in jeopardy. Time to hold on tight and keep the dream team intact

Let’s consider four hypothetical scenarios involving a team member at Red Branch Media, whom we’ll call “Alex,” to illustrate how the Talent Risk Evaluation Matrix might be applied in a small team setting.

Scenario 1: Talent Availability Risk (External) – Hiring for a New Role

Situation: Red Branch Media is expanding its service offerings to include a new FinTech product, necessitating the hire of a FinTech expert, which is a role currently not present within the team.

Application: The matrix shows a high likelihood of external talent availability risk due to the specialized nature of the role and a competitive job market. As a result, you could:

  • Offer internships or project-based contracts to assess potential hires in a real-world setting and see how they fit into the team.
  • To attract top talent, focus on enhancing employer branding by showcasing the unique culture and growth opportunities that you offer.
  • Consider partnering with universities or certification bodies to tap into a pool of talented individuals who bring fresh perspectives and knowledge.

Scenario 2: Development Risk – Upskilling Existing Team Members

Situation: Alex has shown potential in project management but lacks formal training, which could lead to a development risk if not addressed.

Application: The matrix points to a medium impact risk due to Alex’s direct involvement with client projects. To mitigate this risk, you might:

  • Unlock the gateway to a world-class project management certification course.
  • Handpick a mentor from the leadership team to personally guide Alex’s development.
  • Curate a dynamic development plan that includes the exhilarating opportunity to shadow seasoned project managers on larger accounts.

Scenario 3: Retention Risk – Addressing Job Satisfaction

Situation: Alex has been with the company for several years and is showing signs of restlessness, possibly looking for new challenges or growth opportunities.

Application: The matrix indicates a very high retention risk, as Alex’s departure would significantly disrupt team dynamics and client relationships. To address this, you could:

  • Conduct a stay interview to understand Alex’s career aspirations and perceived barriers within the company.
  • Discuss potential career paths that align with Alex’s interests and skills.
  • Offer a sabbatical program to allow Alex to explore new areas of interest with the security of returning to their position.

Scenario 4: Succession Planning – Preparing for Leadership Transition

Situation: The team leader is planning to retire in two years, and Alex has been identified as a potential successor.

Application: The matrix shows a succession risk with a high impact on strategy execution. To prepare for this transition, you would:

  • Initiate leadership training for Alex, encompassing strategic decision-making and financial management.
  • Progressively expand Alex’s responsibilities to encompass budgeting, team management, and client negotiations.
  • Arrange a sequence of customer-focused leadership workshops, providing invaluable insights from current executives and industry leaders.

In every one of these scenarios, the Talent Risk Evaluation Matrix functions as a comprehensive guide for evaluating and addressing talent-related risks. By tailoring the approach to Alex’s unique circumstances and the organization’s requirements, this tool can be used to facilitate both individual and organizational growth with confidence and conviction. And you know what? It’s not rocket science. It’s just good old-fashioned paying attention – with a dash of tech and a sprinkle of strategy.

Strategies for Retention and Planning

Mitigating Risks Through Engagement and Development

When it comes to managing retention, it’s important to create a work environment that promotes engagement and provides ongoing development opportunities. For example, cross-training programs can help minimize Talent Availability Risk by ensuring that multiple team members are capable of taking on different roles.

Succession Planning

Even in small teams, succession planning is super important. It’s not just about getting ready for retirement but also for unexpected departures. By identifying and nurturing potential leaders within the team, you make sure that there’s always someone ready to step into a critical role.

Spotting signs of disengagement? Don’t fret! Time for some clever interventions! Whip out that one-on-one mentoring or spark exciting career path discussions. Watch as you redirect their trajectory from exit door to team’s biggest cheerleader!

Embracing the Inevitable

Sometimes, it becomes necessary for a team member to embark on a new path for the well-being of the organization. In these instances, the matrix can serve as a guiding light, allowing you to envision a seamless transition without causing any disruptions. By exploring the possibilities and understanding the potential effects of such a departure, you can create a transition plan that not only minimizes any impact on the team but also supports the departing employee’s personal journey. Together, we can navigate this change and unlock new opportunities for growth and success.

The Wrap-Up

The Gartner Talent Risk Evaluation Matrix isn’t just for big enterprises – it’s a valuable framework even for small teams to proactively manage talent risks. By customizing the matrix to fit the realities of a smaller workforce, leaders can make informed decisions that balance employee needs with the business’s strategic goals.

In the end, the Talent Risk Evaluation Matrix is handy, versatile, and, when used correctly, a real lifesaver. We don’t just use it to keep our talent; we use it to help them grow, shine, and sometimes, when it’s best for everyone, move on to new adventures.

And here’s the thing – empathy and understanding are crucial in every case. We’ve got to recognize the individual aspirations of our team members while aligning them with the company’s vision. That’s how we not only keep talent but also nurture a culture of loyalty and mutual growth – the stuff that sets high-performing small teams apart.

When it comes to running a business with a small yet mighty team, who says you can’t plan like a boss, laugh in the face of adversity, and build a dream team that sticks together through thick and thin?

Here’s to the small team CEOs – we might not have the cast of thousands, but we’ve got the grit, the wit, and the tricks up our sleeves to make every role count.