This is the first article in a series by Hein Knaapen, the former CHRO of ING Bank, and CEO.works’ new managing partner in Europe.
Driving Company Performance By Connecting Talent to Value™
As an executive advisor, chairman and board member, I help CEOs, CHROs and CFOs focus on what drives performance and delivers value. And in this day and age, I tell them that if they aren’t paying attention to where value is shifting in society, they will be putting the future of their companies at risk.
We build and grow our companies because we wish them to perform better for our stakeholders. That performance is measured by what we deliver to stakeholders that they value. That, in turn, gets expressed as the value of the company. The best companies have a strong, almost raw ambition to create much more value than they currently do. When a CEO and their senior leadership team couple this ambition with a desire to survive the current crisis and have things be much better than they are, then rapidly and effectively connecting talent to value becomes a leadership imperative.
Since the first wave of COVID-19 hit, I have seen more and more leaders making time to reflect on the tsunami-like shifts in value we are experiencing, the work that must be done to create value today and tomorrow in this new context, and the talent required to get this work done. Unfortunately, all too often, a company’s people-related activities are too remote and too disconnected from the business itself to have an impact. The people in HR not only take on far too much and reduce their effectiveness. They also get caught up in selecting and using the latest talent management tools—without having any clarity about which business problems actually need to be solved and what work really needs to be done in the organization.
The Talent to Value process helps companies be much more selective not only about which problems they are solving now to create value today and tomorrow, but also about what work people need to be doing to deliver that value.
Playing for such high stakes calls for a certain combination of sound skepticism and endless curiosity.
Why skepticism and curiosity? When leaders talk about the business, they are naturally evidence-based, critical and rigorous in their thinking. When they talk about people, even the most senior executives lose all their objectivity, precision and thoroughness and shift to intuitive viewpoints.
Talent to Value gives them an evidence-based framework within which they can identify the roles critical to the organization’s ability to create and capture value and the people whose capabilities and superpowers they need to fill those roles. The key to success in all this is to not jump to conclusions. Instead, it’s better to use this framework to challenge everyone’s thinking and to keep probing to reveal not only the data that is behind the statements being made, but also the assumptions, beliefs and concerns.
As a senior HR professional, what I like about the thinking underpinning the Talent to Value methodology is that it is a textbook example of getting to the pure simplicity on the other side of complexity.
There is nothing intellectually “difficult” you have to get your head around. Admittedly, it is helpful to have some business experience and some life experience under your belt. But the process was designed by highly accomplished HR professionals who have a thorough, hands-on understanding of all the intricately inter-related dynamics of business. Fortunately for us, they have very effectively transformed a messy hairball of complexity into a robust pearl of simplicity.
Two issues worth drawing your attention to here when using the process. First, I have found that some companies have trouble executing the set of talent replacements, appointments and reassignments that fall out of a Talent to Value plan. This is where the organizational hierarchy can, if not addressed correctly, win out over mitigating the value at risk. And second, sometimes the fact that not all critical roles in the organization are located close to the executive leadership and board becomes an issue for board members. This can lead to political debates and infighting that tempt everyone involved to agree to adding to the initial list of critical roles, even though that ultimately dilutes the power of the process.
Over the course of my 35-year career, I have increasingly come to appreciate the essential importance of linking talent management with corporate performance.
As a leader myself, I know that life tempts us every day with distractions that would have us give in to the desire for ease and mediocrity.
But I have found that, if you apply the Talent to Value process rigorously from beginning to end, you can avoid that temptation and stay focused on what needs to be done to ensure the survival of your company.