Finding and Keeping the Best Talent for Your Organization
- Nov 29, 2002
To lead in the present and the future, organizations must emphasize two things: talent and environment.
An organization must employ and retain the best, brightest, and most diversified people in order to innovate. The aim is to create what I call a united talent workforce. Organizations must have people who will work together to bring out better products faster or deploy better processes in the workplace. Organizations need to provide talent with appropriate resources for innovation.
An organization must create (a) a constant learning environment that embraces positive challenge, (b) a fearless environment where people can communicate and collaborate with one another, (c) a diversified environment where people think differently and value each other's thinking, (d) new ways of looking at problems and opportunities and a strong sense of urgency, and (e) a culture that effectively leverages talent.
Organizational Winning Strategy by Leveraging Talent
Whether leading or lagging, in long races those who go fastest win. As General Electric's former chairman Jack Welch said in many different ways, the only sustainable competitive advantage is to innovate and change faster than the toughest competitors. He also emphasized that if the outside is changing faster than you are, the end is in sight. In business, just as in racing, those who go fastest have the combination of the fastest vehicle and the most talented driver. And the fastest vehicle was created by the most talented group of designers, engineers, and fabricators, a winning mix of talented leaders and a strong cast of highly motivated, hard-working doers. The talented driver is the managerleader who maintains the winning combination of continuous development and on-time obsolescence.
Business is no more than the extension of its key talent in the value chain. That's why, over the past two decades, the emphasis in business has shifted from maintenance to meaning, from putting in time to making a contribution, from politics to value-added performance, from labor to talent.
In the business context, talent may be defined as "capability applied to create value that is recognized and rewarded by primary stakeholdersowners, managers, and customers." Talented people must know how their jobs fit within the value chain and not only perform the routine tasks well but also excel at the high-leverage components of their jobs.
The high-leverage components usually require some degree of proactivity, creativity, initiative, and ingenuity. If talented people are not regularly operating at the high end of their jobs and being leveraged wisely by management, most of their talent is wasted. In fact, talent is wasted whenever it is not recognized, developed, expressed, refined, and leveraged.
Now let me define what I meant by value chain. A value chain connects customers with creators, giving customers the impression (or illusion) of intimacy and identity with the organization and supplying them with the value they want and need to return again and again. In a product-based business, the value chain may have these 10 links.
- Creative ideas
- Constructive criticism
- Concept development
- Finished product
- Management systems/processes
Every business needs top talent at every link because the business will be only as strong as its weakest link. Moreover, the talent at every vital link must feel valued. To the extent that talents feel like victims, performance suffers proportionately.
What talent matters most in your business? Every member of the value chain matters to the customer. Leaders should recognize that the new definitions of talent and value do not exclude any member of the organization. All employees should feel, as should all members of an athletic team, that they play a vital role and might, through diligence and intelligent application of talent, become indispensable (in a here-and-now business sense). This means that on any given day, or on any given shift, their presence and performance not only "matter," but also make all the difference in the world.
I think every person likes the feeling of being a "count-on-me" talent. But people may not stay happy in the system if, after proving themselves, they aren't recognized and rewarded.
How is talent best recognized and rewarded? No one way suits all. To the extent possible, rewards should be personalized, based on the preferences and priorities of each individual talent. Is this too much to ask, you say? Not if you want to be a market leader. The size of the operation is not the critical factor; the critical factor is the habit of showing appreciation.
How is top talent best recruited? Top-performing environments attract top talent. The best talents flow to the best companies to work for. These performers may be influenced by colleagues, peers, and media polls; a lot of recruitment happens by word of mouth in every industry. Talents seek creative freedom, expression, performance options, growth, and a supportive environment with capable owners, managers, coaches, cheerleaders, team members, and pay-for-performance systems.
How is talent best leveraged? I see seven ways.
Teams. Put top talent with other top talent in teams and give them challenging and meaningful work to do. Make sure this work is valued by the organization and its customers.
Special projects. There's nothing quite like a special assignment, some "mission impossible" or high-priority project, to bring out the best in talent.
Products. Pour top talent into products that can be replicated and widely distributed. By creating new products and improving existing products, you gain immense leverage.
Distribution. Seek wide distribution for the work of top talent. If the world-class work of your top talent is poorly promoted and distributed, you gain little leverage.
Marketing/sales. Leverage talent through marketing and sales events. This may mean featuring talents in ads or involving them in sales in some way.
Advertising/public relations. Make your top talents bigger than life. Create an image and identity for them. Invest wisely in advertising and public and media relations to make a brand of the talents' names.
Mentoring/modeling/coaching. Engage willing, mature talent in the high-leverage activities of mentoring, modeling, and coaching new talent.
What is the new role of managers and leaders? Like management in the sports and entertainment worlds, the primary role of management in business is to support, serve, discipline, and leverage talent. The leader often asks four questions: How is it going? What are you learning? What are your goals now in light of how it is going and what you are learning? How can I help you? In this way, the leader avoids owning the problem and yet offers himself or herself as a source of help. The leader's responsibility is to create conditions of trust, set up performance agreements, allow people to perform, and then hold people accountableall with the aim of being competitive and making a greater contribution to society.
A talented leader, Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom, says: "I've always wanted to win. I think winning is everything. Throughout my life I've had an obsessive drive to be number one. That doesn't mean I've always been number one. But that's what drives mea desire to be the best at what I do." He tells of the hotel fire in which he was badly burnedand then of being in the heat of negotiating and deal makingand yet of being in perfect health at age 78. "The question isn't whether you are subjected to adversity and conflict during your life," he says. "The question is how you deal with it. If you really want to succeed, you have to be passionate and have a commitment to excellence in performance. If you have both of those, and some intellectual capacity, nothing is impossible. Optimism is not optional in businessit's vital. I believe that optimism is the only philosophy of life that's compatible with sustained success and sanity. So if you want to stay sane, you have to be optimistic and have confidence in yourself and your team."
Redstone is known as the consummate champion of talent and content. "I believe that talent is king because people don't watch TV, they watch talent, content, programming. The way you manage talent is to let them run their business to a large extent. If you have confidence in the talent of your managers, you do not intrude every time they make a decision."
Beyond capability in talent, Redstone looks for character and loyalty. "I look for someone I can trust, and who trusts me. And, I look for confidence, competence, and commitment."
To maintain a culture of innovation and creativity at Viacom, Redstone cultivates creative talent. "Where does great content come from? Creativity. And where does creativity come from? From people who work in creative environments and associate with creative leaders. We maintain a high degree of innovation and creativity because we also have a high degree of financial disciplineand one works right along side the other. But money is never the driver. Most talented people are not motivated primarily by money but by the desire to achieve, to win, to be the best, and to try to make a positive difference through their work every day. They have a sense of mission."
Redstone is a prime example as he continues to lead Viacom. "The word 'retirement' was somehow omitted from my dictionary. I love what I do. I'm surrounded by brilliant people, many of whom could run Viacom. I respect their views, and I want to hear them. If they disagree with me, I want to hear that too. And they don't hesitate to tell me. Naturally if they disagree, I want them to have some solid reasoning behind their position or point of view. But I respect and trust my team. I know I can trust them, and they know they can trust me. Mutual trust is the most important element in running a company. Without it, you lose. I would like to think that I'm making some kind of a dent in the universe for the better. I'm not sure that's the case. I know I try. And if you try, perhaps you succeed. But the best news isI am not yet finished."