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The Talent Value Chain: Achieving a High Return on Talent

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What every manager wants from a their talented employees is value-added contribution. But few managers know how to achieve this aim. To help reach this goal, Subir Chowdhury presents the concept of the Talent value chain.

We are living in a time when talented people—many of them represented by powerful agents, attorneys, professional associations, or unions—dominate in business, as they have for the past four decades in athletics and entertainment.

In effect, all employees now can be classified as free agents and all fields of labor as performing arts—places where field performance (not politics, popularity, personality, potential, academic degrees, or social pedigrees) matters most, where the value a person adds on the job is recognized and rewarded, where managers and administrators serve as coaches and counselors and either become world-class leaders of talented people or lose their jobs.

For the first time at many business schools, M.B.A. graduates are choosing "talent tracks," performance fields, and entrepreneurial ventures over management positions in large organizations, having witnessed the mass exodus of many managers in merged and downsized companies.

We live in a talent economy. Today's economy is "ideacentric" and talent driven. Good ideas give birth to good products. Innovative ideas are driving the economy, creating wealth, and making people rich. More important, some bold ideas are changing the world for the better.

Providing a climate where people feel free and motivated to cultivate and implement constructive ideas is the challenge of talented leaders. Those who succeed in selling good ideas to others win financially, gain power, and assume a leadership role. Indeed, the only sustainable form of leadership is thought leadership—generating innovative ideas and making market adjustments faster than the competition. Even though the bubble of instant "dot-com" billionaires has burst, we have all been struck by the blinding light of the lasting truth: We live in the age of ideas, and the talented person who generates, implements, and successfully markets those innovative ideas wins exponentially more money, visibility, and credibility.

What every manager wants from a Talent is value-added contribution. But few managers know how to achieve this aim. To explain how to achieve this aim, I present in this chapter the Talent value chain.

Talent Breeds Innovation

Every successful innovation starts with imagination and knowledge.

Imagination + Knowledge 5 Innovation

The imagination and knowledge of talented people breed innovation. Places of innovation are where all talented people want to work—and imagination and knowledge pave the way.

The great scientist Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more powerful than knowledge." Many of Einstein's theories in his later life are based on his own imagination. He never wrote "proof" of those theories. Scientists are still trying to prove some of them.

Knowledge can be acquired through reading, learning, and doing. But imagination must be cultivated and applied by each individual Talent. Every innovation starts in someone's imagination.

Walt Disney exercised his imagination in creating a fantasy land for kids regardless of cultural or language differences. If people come to Disneyland from Vietnam, South Africa, or India, without speaking any English, these people still enjoy Disneyland. By the end of the day their kids are excited and thankful for so much pleasure. There are no cultural boundaries or language barriers. That is the phenomenal power of the imagination.

Henry Ford mixed imagination with knowledge. He believed that one day every American family would own a car. And he had this belief when there were no paved highways.

Bill Gates, similarly, believed that every American family would want and need a personal computer. "Computers will do micro-surgery within the next 20 years," he predicts. If someone cannot imagine this in the first place, how is it going to happen?

Michael Dell can boast that only one company in the world increased its earnings and revenues at about 80 percent during its first eight years and at 55 percent per year for the next six years—and that was his company, Dell Computer Corporation. He achieved this by avoiding "traditional business thinking" and dealing directly with customers.

We are entering the age of excellence, an age with no geographic boundaries. In this age, every individual, organization, product, and service faces tremendous competition. To survive and grow, each individual and organization must keep improving. Mediocre work will not stand the test of time. Mediocre people, products, and organizations will suffer demise sooner or later. Only high-quality products, services, and strategies will guarantee survival and success. Where there is tremendous competition, you need to do something better and different.

CEO Michael Dell notes: "We surround ourselves with the best talent we can find and structure our business for success, even to the point of dividing up people's jobs. This has now become part of our culture. The first time we did it, some people said, 'You're cutting my job in half.' Six months later, because of growth, their job is the same size it was before, and they say, 'Please cut my job in half again.' We grow our business by dividing and conquering different parts of the market, which also helps us acquire new talent."

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