Adding Grit to Talent Management

Like most CHROs, I have spent all of my career operating within the universe of talent management. The established, widely accepted practices and processes of talent management, many of which are highly consensual, have stood me in good stead. In fact, I and my C-suite partners have only ever had one serious concern when we look at our well-equipped HR departments: how we manage talent isn’t always linked tightly with what is relevant to the company’s performance.

When Sandy Ogg first introduced me to his Talent to Value methodology, I realized that here, finally, was a way to not only rigorously address that concern for a limited set of critical roles in the organization. Here also was some original thinking that could add some “grit” to talent management—without ousting our existing practices.

 

3 FRESH FUNDAMENTALS

Let’s start by looking at the insights underlying this transformative methodology. In my opinion, there are three distinctive elements in the practice of Talent to Value:

 

1. It is all about the link between talent and roles.

Solving the disconnect between corporate performance and talent management is a matter of connecting talent to the work of value creation, value capture and value protection. Instead of looking at talent from the perspective of people’s performance in the past, look at talent from the point of view of what you need them to do to create, capture or protect value in a critical role in the future.

 

2. There is only so much one person can do.

Leaders tend to throw more and more responsibilities and work at their best talents, simply because they know they can trust them to “get it done”. Rather than let this unconscious habit get out of hand, concentrate the attention and energy of these individuals on activities related to creating, capturing and protecting value. So instead of coming up with a complete and all-inclusive list of generic tasks, identify the vital few most important Jobs To Be DoneTM (usually three to five specific deliverables) for each role critical to the organization.

 

3. It is better to seek out risk than to ignore it.

This is not coming from a sense of cynicism, but from a belief that risk is a constant and that, depending on the circumstances and people involved, its nature and scope will be variable. Instead of naively ignoring risks, realistically seek them out so that you can discern which ones can and must be mitigated.

The Talent to Value methodology is clearly too elaborate to be practically applied to all jobs in an organization. However, these three original elements, if applied more broadly to the beliefs underlying our other talent management practices, can help us stay more closely connected with the shifts our businesses must make in today’s dynamic environment. What happens, for instance, if we apply these three fundamental principles to talent development?

 

VALUE-FOCUSED TALENT DEVELOPMENT

Part of the value that you, in the CHRO role, create for your company comes from building the organization’s critical capabilities. Shorten the timeline of that build and you make it possible to realize the company’s value agenda faster.

Conventional talent management often organizes around succession planning for the biggest, most complicated jobs in the organization. To develop capabilities our organizations require before they are needed, we make assessments, rank people based on their “potential”, and create personal development plans. This way of dealing with talent development could be improved by applying the fundamentals of Talent to Value.

First, how we define “potential” itself tends to be very generic. Usually we speak in terms of what we anticipate a person will generally be able to do based on what they have already done. We start with subjective assessments of past performance. Yet our assessment often lacks the granularity that would enable us to predict future performance. More often than not, we intuitively assume that individuals who have a style we like have more potential. This brings us dangerously close to relying on personal preference when it comes to choosing our top talent. Yet this very same style may not be exactly what’s needed when facing the challenges of tomorrow.

Principles #1 and #2 from Talent to Value (the link between the talent and the role, the Jobs To Be Done) help us be more clear and precise in our thinking here. Potential is not a general ability. It is indicative of specific future contributions and is related to tomorrow’s outcomes. Therefore, it should always be evaluated relative to a specific future role. As in, we t can measure “potential” in terms of a set of inherent capabilities and superpowers that could be nurtured so a talented individual can successfully perform a very precise set of three to five Jobs To Be Done in the not-too-distant future.

Second, we normally nurture capabilities by exposing a high-potential talent to bigger and bigger challenges. Senior executives in big corporates, steeped in the myth of the corporate hero, often purposefully fast-track this approach by literally throwing their “hipos” into the deep end to see what they will do.

Results will vary whenever you assume the person you have sent out on a bold quest will be able to deal with anything they encounter. True, some individuals will do whatever they have to do to win, even if it’s difficult or dangerous, and will eventually, through this exposure to risk, get where you need to them to be. But many, many others will struggle along the way. It is unreasonable to think that everyone will be able to figure things out on their own. And it is unwise to choose to not be that strict about their performance as they do so. (This is how people who demonstrate a great style often get away with sub-par performance.)

Developing generic heroes in this way is a slow practice. It doesn’t assure the company’s continued performance—and it doesn’t necessarily give you the exact capabilities you will need.

Principle #3 (seek risk) of Talent to Value avoids needlessly exposing young talent to unidentified risks. Even if you wish to be bold, you can ask yourself what risks are inherent in the design of a critical role. Usually many can be mitigated. For the ones that cannot, you can then make your talent decisions based on the time in which results must be achieved and evidence about what each individual is ready to tackle. You can discern what capability each incumbent or candidate must work on and then guide their learning to support their growth in the role. All this means you’ll have more insights into what went wrong when, and if, people do fail. And when they succeed, it can take less time to prepare them for the challenges of even bigger roles.

In future articles, I’ll be exploring how the insights inherent in the innovative Talent to Value approach can improve other existing tale

Topics: CEO, Choices, CHRO, Connecting Talent to Value, C-suite, Execution, Leadership, Mobilization, Organization, Strategy, Transformation, Value, Hein Knaapen Series


Hein Knaapen

Hein is an internationally recognized expert on HR innovation, talent development, and organizational capability building. As an advisor and mentor, he aims to guide leaders toward maximizing the return on their talent investments.