Managing talent is an exercise in creativity

What if I recruit the wrong person?  How do I make sure I get a return on my investment and not lose this person to a competitor?  Are we ready to recruit someone into this new growth area—perhaps we need to make sure we have got the strategy bedded down?

These are some of the most frequently asked questions I get from leaders in relation to succession planning and the ability to project what talent the organization needs to take it to the next level.  While these are commonly asked in an aspirational context, just below the surface, lay some very real fears.

According to research conducted by Tappin and Cave on 150 global chief executives, numerous challenges are emerging.  One of them relates to how leading at the top of an organization today is very different than it used to be, closely followed by, managing and retaining talent.

In their survey of FTSE 100 CEOs (United Kingdom), 68 percent put the talent and human capital agenda as their number one priority.  In 2007, 74 percent of 600 US CEOs listed it as a “very significant challenge”.[i]

While not ignoring the importance of strategy for organizations aiming to be successful, research conducted by Jim Collins in Good to Great, found that this was not what set great companies apart from others.  It was those who “first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats – and then they figured out where to drive it.”[ii]

This is why many organizations are paying even greater attention to who they hire and why they are beginning to invest more in developing and retaining talent, believing that there will be a significant ROI for the organization longer-term.

They realize that to overlook talent management as a priority and not understand what is needed, will leave them significantly disadvantaged.  For example, hiring Gen Y staff will be important for growth industries that rely on new skills and the latest technology.  They are also much more connected globally and, therefore, can help organizations transition more quickly into global leadership roles.[iii]

There are many great resources available that give suggestions as to how to develop and manage talent. One book, I recommend, is Finding & Keeping the Best People, which includes a chapter by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt, who present a core set of 10 best practices for identifying and managing emerging talent.[iv]

Three of the 10 include:

  1. Testing candidates in three dimensions: ability, engagement, and aspiration
  2. Emphasizing future competencies
  3. Creating individual development plans

Leading from the top is fast transitioning from a ‘command and control’, top-down style of leadership to one that is far more focused on unleashing the talent within an organization. The CEO is much more like a conductor that “creates and orchestrates a system.”[v]  This new way of leading has not been modeled well by some leaders as they have been entrenched in more conventional and traditional paradigms that are fast becoming ineffective and redundant.

 What’s the bottom-line?

In organizations, there is a collision of values, ideals, and expectations that make recruiting and managing talent a function of leadership that demands no small amount of discernment and rigor.  Perhaps this is why Fairholm describes leadership as “an exercise in creativity.[vi] Below are some additional questions to reflect on:

  • What lessons can I learn from previous hiring decisions? (Don’t default to the negative!)
  • If I have lost key talent from my organization, what contributed to this, and what can I change that will provide more incentives for talent to stay?
  • Understand what motivates existing talent to remain with your company, and how I might leverage that in the future.

[i] Steve Tappin and Andrew Cave, The Secrets of CEOs: 150 Global Chief Executives Lift The Lid On Business, life and leadership (London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2008), 114.

[ii] Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 13.

[iii] Steve Tappin and Andrew Cave, The Secrets of CEOs, 122.

[iv] Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt, “How to Keep Your Top Talent”, Finding & Keeping the Best People (Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School of Publishing, 2011), 137.

[v] Steve Tappin and Andrew Cave, The Secrets of CEOs, 218.

[vi] Gilbert W. Fairholm, Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to the Spiritual Heart (London: Praeger, 2000), 106.

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