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Secrets of a successful talent review – part 2

Posted by Justin Field on January 14, 2010

In my last post, I wrote about performance calibration as being one of the secrets of success for talent reviews.  But performance isn’t the only dimension of top talent.  The other dimension we look at is potential.  Now with performance, it’s well understood by most managers and executives, and we can place some measures around performance, to make it easier to pick the appropriate performance rating for an employee.

With potential, it’s so much harder.  We often get asked, what is this thing called potential?  And what does it mean?  Potential for what?  So we’ve tried to invest more time in educating managers and executives about our definition of potential and what it means.

In the talent review, we quickly found that some managers really get the idea of potential and how it can be applied to their business.  They understand that they have to build and grow the next generation of leaders.  They understand that most of the time it’s better to build and grow internally; and that only some of the time it’s better to buy talent externally — and really great leaders have the ability to distinguish between these two situations.

On the other hand, some managers were less solid in their understanding of potential and how to apply it to their organisations.  A high performer is not necessarily top talent, unless they also have high potential.  We saw a few cases where the employee’s performance was being rewarded, rather than focusing on the high performance and high potential employees, who have the potential to go one level up or even two levels up.

Now we’re thinking about what to do.  We don’t think quotas of top talent are the right way to go:  the “right” number of top talent depends solely on the requirements of the business.  In growth economies you need a solid bench of front-line and middle managers, with a good portion that have potential to grow to higher levels and lead the business into the future.  In mature economies, you need less of the accelerated pool, but you still need enough top talent to sustain the business.

We are tossing around ideas about getting much more specific and detailed in our measurement of talent.  At present we use questionnaire that is applied equally to individual contributors, front-line managers, directors, vice presidents and above.  It gives us a really good first cut of the population, but we need to take it to the next level.  We call this next level “second filter.”

What might this second filter be?  What would be involved?  Well it comes down to two parts:  defining what is necessary for success at the next levels (I like to call this “plus one” and “plus two”); and then putting in place measurement instruments that uncover a high potential employee’s individual fit with the success definition.

Our ideas fall into a number of different initiatives.  Some areas of the business use assessment centres successfully.  Here a group of high potential employees is brought together for a day or two.  They are intensively tested and assessed.  The results are analysed and fed back to the employees, to help them craft their personal development plan.

We’ve also looked at detailed behavioural interviews (similar to that proposed by Bradford Smart in Topgrading.)  Here, we’d have two consultants interview high potential employees, to gather information about their personal capability and motivation, compared to the success model.  The interview process also involves detailed one-hour reference check interviews, with two or more referees, to get independent validation of the high potential employee’s skills, capability and potential to grow.  The output of the interview processed is viewed from an organisation level, but also fed back to the employee, with development recommendations, so they can craft their personal development plan.

Another option is to use psychometric instruments like Hogan HPI.  This tends to give some view of the employee’s true potential, but we need to match this information with the employee’s motivation to achieve and their motivation to gain power and influence, to get the full picture.

So really, an ideal approach would be a blend of these initiatives.  It would give us concrete reliable information that is predictive of success:  we would know that certain characteristics lead to promotions and sustained high performance over time.

If you have other ideas about potential and how to measure true potential, leave a comment for me.

Posted in leadership, performance, succession planning, talent review, top talent | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Secrets of a successful talent review

Posted by Justin Field on December 22, 2009

Well, folks, we’ve just been through a talent review here.  You might think the process is fairly well understood and everything should just go smoothly, but of course, real life is not that smooth, and nor is a talent review.

One of the problems we faced was around the calibration of performance ratings.  Specifically, employees with a performance rating of 3 don’t get on the shortlist of top talent; those with 4 or 5, have a chance, but naturally we’re looking for high potentials among that population.

In the talent review, we discovered that some groups had been very strict with their performance ratings, and that other groups had been lenient.  For example, when sales quota was a key measurement of performance, some groups gave quota achievement of 100% a performance rating of 3; other groups gave quota achievement of 90% a performance rating of 4.  Result:  those cheap (easily won) 4’s distorted the shortlist of talent for that group; the hard won 4’s in other groups came closer to our true definition of top talent.

So what’s the secret of success?  I’ve always said that effective performance management is the true foundation of effective talent management.  You have to have a good grip on who the top performers are before you can start segmenting that group down to find the high potentials.  And in a large organisation, you’d better be sure that the measurement of performance is the same across groups, otherwise it destroys the credibility of the talent review.

My key learning for 2010 is two-fold:

  • We have to publish crystal-clear guidelines for groups regarding how to score performance based on key measurements.  We need a consistent approach across all groups.
  • After the majority of performance ratings are in the performance management system, we need a comprehensive calibration exercise, especially for those groups that will later do a talent review.  If we don’t make some effort to calibrate, the talent review itself becomes an exercise in performance calibration, when we really want the talent review to focus on high potential top talent.

Leave a comment with your views on calibrating performance and the impact on talent review.

Posted in performance, succession planning, talent review, top talent | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Yankees Win World Series – What’s the Verdict on Moneyball?

Posted by Mark Bennett on November 13, 2009


All you need is a stone and a sling. Neither sword, nor armor.

To borrow some phraseology from Kris Dunn, “Wrong question, Sparky.” The takeaway from Moneyball is not about it being right or wrong, but how it asks you to reconsider the way you look at how talent creates value for your organization. The aftermath of its publication in 2003 teaches us that the larger game never ends; that there is no single optimal answer for all time. There’s no trick to winning either, but rather a way to see what others are currently missing or choosing to ignore, use that to your advantage, and also obtain insight into building a better strategy from it. A lot of people are still missing that point.

Public Service Announcement: This post is not all about baseball nor the ins and outs (no pun intended) of winning baseball divisions. Rather, it asks: Why should HR people still care about the Moneyball story, especially since 1) it has almost been played to death the last six years, and 2) it seems there’s all this proof that it didn’t work.

People still debate the “correctness” of Moneyball. They point out that the stars of the book, the Oakland A’s, didn’t win their division and the Yankees, with the largest payroll, won everything. Even many who agreed with the way in which the A’s had utilized measures that other teams ignored are now observing that it is no longer a competitive advantage since the other teams with larger payrolls were adopting those very measures. Many readers took away from the book that it was just a trick and once the trick had been exposed, the advantage was lost, so what was the point?

The point was that it wasn’t about coming up with a trick. That’s the narrow view. Moneyball told a story about how an organization that had a constrained payroll was forced to rethink the strategy for winning the most games. Rethinking your strategy is the point. That this story took particular twists and turns just made it unexpected, concrete, credible (to some), and in some parts, even emotional (i.e. “sticky”). It should come as no surprise that the specific steps, measures and outcomes didn’t maintain an advantage or last. The fact that your steps and measures don’t produce the same results they used to does not necessarily mean you throw them out, especially to revert back to previously discredited measures.

That is itself another takeaway; competition never rests and you must keep searching for the next thing that will help you win. One very good way to keep winning is to focus, as Peter Bregman writes, on playing the game you can win. Malcolm Gladwell recently wrote a piece for the New Yorker about this very kind of thinking. In “How David Beats Goliath,” Gladwell gets into David’s thinking:

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones.

In other words, David figured he wasn’t going to win playing by the other guy’s rules, so instead he focused on something less conventional. Conventional wisdom at the time was that you fought brute force with brute force: sword against sword, armor against armor. Nobody thought any other route had a chance, so why bother? It’s not about playing a one-time only trick either; it’s about confronting the harsh reality of a situation and choosing the option that gives you the best chance.

There are people still applying the real lessons of Moneyball (and many other books that came before and have followed) and are finding/rediscovering insights into how to win, how to play the game they can win, or even change the game so they win. Kris Dunn and Tom Davenport show how basketball teams are benefiting from focusing on measures that better reflect the overall benefit to the team when a player is on the court vs. individual measures. This would seem to have some application in business as well. But again, this isn’t all about finding a trick that nobody else has discovered yet. Sure, it’s great when the competition is still looking in the wrong places while you trounce them, but you also want to use this information to get better understanding and insight into how your business and the marketplace, and the pieces that comprise them, actually operate and interact. That is what will really help you continue to win going forward.

Photo by hawkexpress

Posted in strategic hr, top talent, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Making more Top Talent with better job fit

Posted by Meg Bear on October 16, 2009

TRAs a Maximizer theme the concept of Top Talent is an especially personal one.   In fact, I have managed to get a team of directs that are all Achievers, which was something I knew about them, before I even knew there was such a theme.

When I think about using a Talent solution to get business value, I have to know what business leaders want.  What keeps a business leader up at night? Is it wondering if their team will meet their Performance bell curve?  Or if they will be using a 3 or 5 point rating scale?  I’m guessing not.  In fact the entire performance process is a means to an end, to a business person (or conversely a PITA but I’d rather not cover that part in this blog).

What a business leader wants is to be successful.  Successful in their business, seen as capable to their leadership and exceeding on their objectives.  For business leaders to scale they need teams who are able to deliver for them.  Here is where we get back to top talent and job fit.

When people are doing the job that is best suited to their strengths, they become top talent.  Making that connection between individual motivation and job role is not just a touchy-feely ideal, it’s smart business.

The better I can position people to do what they do best, the more they do for me. The more they do for me, the more I can do for my boss and my organization.  So, to me as a business leader, the more top talent I have the more successful I am.

So what I want from a talent solution, is to help me get people aligned into job roles based upon their strengths.  When I can do this, I get all the goodness from the rest of the talent strategies.  Goal alignment and attainment become easy,  engagement improves and overall output  is optimized.

To make all this work for me, I need more data.  I need data that I have never captured before.  Not just your competencies but your strengths.  Not just your career plan, but your motivations.  The more rich data I have, the better job I can do getting people to become top talent.

So now we are back to systems and scale.  Systems today have a better ability to gather and make use of data.  With the rise of social software, and a heightened awareness of the importance of a personal brand, people are volunteering more data than ever before.

These are exciting times for those of us who are allowed to find unique opportunities between technology and business. For awhile now I’ve been anticipating a shift in what defines a talent solution.  Initially I thought it was just my own personal boredom with having done this for so long, but now I realize that what I have really been doing is a lot of thin slicing to get to the most obvious of “a ha” conclusions.

The job of a talent solution is not really to measure talent.  The goal of a talent solution is to use the measurement of talent to drive better business results.  If you are just doing the former and not getting the latter you are missing out.  It’s time to think bigger about what can and should be possible with technology.

Are you doing that today?  Is that your talent strategy?  If not why not?  What is your plan?  Hit me with the comments and give me your ideas, I promise to use them for your benefit.

Posted in Career Development, engagement, Innovation, Job Fit, leadership, performance, profiles, social network, talent review, top talent, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

The June Leadership Development Carnival is Up!

Posted by Justin Field on June 9, 2009

Dan McCarthy has assembled a great collection of leadership development articles in his June 7th Leadership Development Carnival.   We are proud to be featured for our article entitled Are you a talent magnet?

Dan has collected over thirty great posts on all aspects of leadership.  Go and have a look and have a read of the fantastic materials on his Carnival page.  As Dan advises in his article, you may want to return on multiple occasions to dip into the fount of knowledge he has assembled, and then reflect and review once you’ve had the chance to digest all of it.

Happy learning about leadership!

Posted in carnival, leadership, learning, top talent | 2 Comments »

Are you a talent magnet?

Posted by Justin Field on May 26, 2009

I was reading materials on performance management and came across the concept of being a talent magnet.  We know that we want to retain top talent and we do a lot of good things to keep high potential / high performers in the organisation.  But taking the organisation perspective, and particularly the manager perspective, do you, as a manager have a good track record of retaining high potential / high performing employees?  Are you a talent magnet?

A manager who is a talent magnet will, over time, develop a reputation for leading high performance teams and for developing and retaining key employees.  The organisation will know this and respect them for this. 

Managers who lose talent, or who develop a reputation for driving talent away from their teams, will naturally end up with mediocre or low performing teams. 

I am hoping that we can find a good way to measure this, as a talent metric:  talent magnetism.  If you have a good idea of developing a metric for this, leave a comment on this post.  Personally I am thinking about the rate of loss of top talent, over a five year period (or some similar rolling average).  I think a long time frame, like five years, is really required in order to see the true trend regarding a manager’s track record.

Posted in engagement, Innovation, performance, top talent | 5 Comments »

Authenticity is the new black

Posted by Meg Bear on May 14, 2009

2683142961_651dfd7926_mI tweeted this the other day, as one of those random things you think to yourself, and somehow end up writing down.  It’s possible this is just my own personal way of responding to the voices in my head.   Don’t judge.

At the time, I was thinking specifically about leadership.  How, as a leader, the more you try to hide from your team, the dumber you look, since they already know what’s wrong with you (probably better than you do). 

Your team doesn’t need you to be without flaws, but they do need you to be a good leader.  I believe that you cannot be a great leader without authenticity

This does not mean that you need to be without privacy.   Sharing  personal information is not authenticity, it’s a personality trait.  In fact, being authentic requires you to establish boundaries that are in line with your personality.

Without authenticity there is no trust and without trust you do not have a high functioning teamAuthentic leaders build trust because they can acknowledge when they have gotten off course.  That helps the team correct and sets the example for collaboration.

When you find yourself wanting to hide behind a facade, remember authenticity is the new black and those who lead with authenticity will ultimately be the most successful.

Posted in leadership, personal, teams, top talent | 5 Comments »

Are you tough enough? Am I?

Posted by Meg Bear on May 12, 2009


I attended an excellent conference last week from the Professional BusinessWomen of California.  As with all good conferences, I found myself both challenged and inspired across personal and professional dimensions. 

My moment of introspection, was around the concept that it is often the simple things that hold us back

I found myself wondering if I am really as tough as I think I am.   Tough enough to succeed? 

Not just tough enough to hold up under a lot of stress, or tough enough to meet the demands of the role, against the odds.  Sure, against that yardstick, sometimes I win and sometimes I lose but, in general, I pick myself up and try again when that becomes necessary.   

At this conference, I was presented with two questions that I had to stop and think before I answered (never a good sign frankly).

  1. Am I tough enough to ask for what I want?  Am I brave enough to put what I need out there clearly and directly?  Of course, in asking, I have to be willing to be told no.  But without ever asking isn’t the answer also no?  Seems that we are often bad at math when it comes to this idea doesn’t it?
  2. Am I tough enough to receive a compliment?  Oh my, this one is even more complex.  Why is it we think it more polite to brush off a compliment than to acknowledge it?  “It was nothing” seems to come out before we even hear the compliment, or worse we attempt to change the subject.   Why do we miss the opportunity to say “Thank you, we worked very hard on that” when someone recognizes a job well done. 

I honestly am not sure I am tough enough for this.  Getting the courage to ask for what I want for myself and my team is tough.  Especially if it is something that challenges the way things are currently done.  But I do think, that the act of not asking and the act of not acknowledging compliments, get in the way of progress (both personally and professionally) so I realize I must learn.

Which leads me to my next big topic, and that is authenticity.  I’m still working out my thoughts on that one but I do believe that there is a correlation between authenticity and effectiveness that should not be underestimated. 

I am very interested in your thoughts on these topics.  Hit me in the comments and share your tricks to being more authentic and effective.  How have you learned to ask for what you want and what has been the result?

Posted in Career Development, communication, leadership, performance, personal, top talent, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Do you wear your stripes with pride?

Posted by Louise Barnfield on April 30, 2009

school-uniformMy UK school days have receded into the far too dim-and-distant past, but I still remember our uniform.

Through 9th grade, the winter uniform at our all-girls school (junior high and high combined) was a traditional gray pinafore (skirt and bib), with striped shirt. 10th graders, however, were allowed to ditch the bib and wear a plain gray skirt. (The ultimate was in the final two years at senior and prefect level, when dress-code was further extended to any style of black skirt and solid color shirt.)

A typical ruse of the 9th graders (and later even 8th graders) was to unstitch the bib from the skirt, and replace with some kind of temporary fastening (velcro, poppers, or even just safety pins)! During the day, the bib was dutifully attached, with no outward signs of tampering. However, as soon as they left school premises in the afternoon, to head off into town or meet a group of boyfriends, they ripped off the bibs thereby achieving the appearance and status of those a year senior.

Of course, if they got caught by a teacher ‘sans bib’ there was hell to pay, but that just added to their sense of bravado – sounds pretty tame in comparison to what many teens get up to these days, doesn’t it! 🙂

On the other hand, 10th graders were not amused. They felt they’d earned the right to wear their senior uniform with pride, and that that right was undermined and devalued by the rules not being observed. (…and ‘they’, of course, included those who had themselves played the popper-game a year previously!)

In the military, uniform and rank are strictly observed. Each rank is immediately recognized for exactly what it signifies, by anyone with knowledge of the hierarchy. Officers wear their insignia proudly on their sleeves. There’s no opportunity to hide or misrepresent one’s position.

Not so in the corporate world.

Decades ago, the title of Secretary was a respected position. A true secretary had excellent typing and shorthand skills, as well as a great deal of responsibility for the smooth running of their bosses’ calendars and lives. Then, mere typists started calling themselves secretaries to inflate their resumes. Firms started advertising for personal secretaries, hoping to attract the cream of the crop, then personal secretaries became executive secretaries, until the word fell into such disrepute that the alternative terms Personal Assistant or Executive Assistant were spawned.

In 2007, Wharton School’s Knowledge@Wharton published an excellent article: Chief Receptionist Officer? Title Inflation Hits the C-Suite, discussing the cheapening of titles, and the reasons behind inflation infatuation! But it’s not just C-level; the same issue pervades every level of the corporate chain.

While companies have figured out that “many times it is cheaper to give people a title increase than a raise increase”, I believe they have created a rod for their own backs, not only by devaluing the titles, but more significantly by demeaning and alienating the employees who have genuinely earned their ‘stripes’.

As the article above notes: “Firms should be deliberate about how they give these title awards out to employees, because each additional person who gets a C-level title dilutes the currency of the title structure.”

How meaningful are titles where you work, and does your HR department care? Have you earned your stripes, or are you one of the unjustifiably bib-less? Do you see over-inflated titles as a necessity to represent your company effectively, or just an ego-trip at the expense of others?

Yours sincerely,

Chief Senior Principal Vice Managing Dogsbody and Bottlewasher

Posted in hr, management, teams, top talent, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

How is an Airliner not like Shrek?

Posted by Mark Bennett on February 1, 2009


"We know you have a choice in ogres, and we thank you for choosing us."

Yes, it is true. Snide comments about cabin smells and passenger attitudes aside, the list of differences is probably fairly lengthy.


If you haven’t been following the saga of the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner,“ the short version is that Boeing’s strategy and the fit of the 787’s Dreamliner design to that strategy initially appeared to be a good call. In addition, its main competition, the Airbus A380, was plagued with production delays and it looked like the 787 would come out the winner.


However, the last couple of years have had more and more news about 787 production delays and periodic status updates from Boeing that delivery of the 787 would be delayed to (increasingly frustrated) customers. Many have observed that these problems coincided with, among other factors, the laying off of many experienced employees in tandem with the outsourcing of large sections of an incredibly complex supply chain. The rationale behind these actions was to reduce costs in addition to navigating sensitive geopolitical considerations when trying to land deals with foreign airlines.


What does this have to do with talent? It’s interesting to see in an article from BusinessWeek, via Evolving Excellence, that Boeing is now reversing some of those decisions (although it is a delicate process in that the geopolitical concerns have not gone away.) In addition, some of the thinking behind the original decisions have come to light:


Union officials say past executives at Boeing used Hollywood as a model as they developed their plans to outsource production on the 787. Moviemakers bring together independent contractors—actors, camera operators, publicists—on a project basis for many films, avoiding the expenses of having all such staffers constantly on the payroll. By treating planes as such projects, advocates of outsourcing figured they could do the same in producing aircraft.


Of course, this claim is coming from people with a huge vested interest in keeping work in-house, so we should take what’s being said keeping the source in mind. Nevertheless, the actions taken by executives did occur and the consequences of those actions have cost the company over two years in delays and billions in revenue. The upshot of course, is that building jets is not at all the same as making a movie. With aircraft production, there is constant back and forth between design and production as assemblies and subassemblies turn out not to quite fit, or constraints about flow on the assembly floor are not factored in, requiring changes, and so forth.


As Evolving Excellence eloquently put it, “But the real bottom line is that Boeing has apparently woken up to the reality that making a 787 isn’t exactly like making Shrek.”


Indeed. Boeing has suffered both in terms of longer delays getting production issues resolved (let alone the inevitable delays that come from assembly providers that in turn are delayed by their part supplier delays, etc.) but as they pull more production back in, they are finding that the talent they need, but was previously laid off, has to be hired back.


So the question is: are companies carefully weighing the risks of how much and who they lay off to reduce costs, whether it’s to get a bump in stock price or to make payroll? Are companies just digging a deeper hole for themselves by single-minded layoffs based solely on salary cost, when that could mean losing the most experienced and therefore perhaps the most productive employees who hold the key to a turnaround? We’ve recently witnessed the collapse of Circuit City, and although the causes are likely numerous and stretch back to various mistakes over several years, many have already linked its demise to the recent layoff of experienced workers in an attempt to reduce payroll costs.

Posted in global, management, performance, top talent, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »