Talent – How to Have it and How to Keep it

It’s Harder Now than it’s Ever Been

There are a huge and growing number of extremely talented young people in our world, but the traditional deployment of the hierarchy of business does not always see or allow the most talented people to be at the top of the organisation. Given the electrifying pace of business today, it’s no longer feasible for the CEO or even the ‘C-suite’ to be on top of everything that is going on in the business. Consequently, they are not always the best initiators of new activity or solvers of today’s problems. Therefore, progressive leaders will always look to harness the talented people that they can learn from all over the business. They also look to hire employees that can bring something new to the table, and who vitally, believe in the company’s values. And, to ensure that these gifted people are kept happy, they must be recognized and treated well no matter where these special people lie in the hierarchy. There is nothing more tragic than when very talented people just aren’t a good fit for your organization, but more often, the real problem lies in a leaders’ inability to harness or align their employees’ talent to the mission. Either of these situations can cause employees’ talent to decay or, worse, give them a reason to move on to a more engaging position at another company. Your job, as a leader, is to recognize when your talented people at all levels aren’t being used to their fullest potential and correct the situation.

Never Stop Learning

I had the very special opportunity to interview Laszlo Bock in London, when he was the Senior VP of People Operations at Google, at the launch of his book “Work Rules!” Laszlo shared brilliant insights from the inside of Google, and how Google treat their people. With the importance of keeping talented people, Laszlo Bock emphasised the need to “do the right thing” and ensure that you are fair across the board with your employees. “Empowering employees” was proven to increase productivity and performance within the workplace, and keep those talented people happy. “Even in a time of flat wages, you can still make work better, make people happier. Indeed, it’s when the economy is at its worst that treating people well matters the most”. When looking for new talent, Jonathan Rosenburge, former SVP of Products at Google says: “When you’re in a dynamic industry where the conditions are changing so fast, then things like experience and the way you’ve done a role before isn’t nearly as important as your ability to think. So, generalists not specialists, is a mantra that we had internally that we try hard to stick pretty closely to. Specialists tend to bring an inherent bias to a problem, and they often feel threatened by new solutions.”

When Talent on its Own isn’t Enough

Leadership author, Chris Cancialosi states below some common talent issues leaders’ face that could hinder your business’s success in building high performance teams: • The “lone wolf”: The lone wolf archetype makes for a great western, but in today’s hyper-connected business world, that mindset just doesn’t work. You could have the smartest guy in the industry working for you, but if he can’t interact with the rest of your team, he’s ultimately a drain on morale and productivity. A successful business requires a team of people who make use of each person’s talents through effective and productive communication and collaboration. • Misaligned talent: Businesses can fall victim to misaligned talent for many reasons, but what happens far too often, time and time again, is talent being evaluated based on short-term operational needs versus long-term business goals. Perhaps you needed someone to fulfill certain responsibilities at a pinch when your business was growing, but now that person is stuck in a role where her talent is being wasted. Leaders must be able to see past pressing operational needs to the future performance of the company, which includes putting your best and brightest in leadership and strategic roles. • Disengaged talent: If a talented employee is bored or unmotivated, they’re not going to perform to their highest potential. Getting employees out of their comfort zones, but not in panic mode, will help employees feel like they’re contributing to a greater cause and experiencing individual development. Those employees will know they are truly putting their strengths to good use and will go above and beyond for your business. However, fail to provide a challenge that fully utilizes an employee’s talent, and that talent will start to mold.

How to Align a Team’s Talents

Business moves very fast today. Often, business leaders get caught up with other priorities and let the performance and direction of their teams fall by the wayside. Here are three simple remedies to get your talented people back on track: 1. Engagement: The most effective way to align a team’s talents is through honest ‘in person’ dialogue. Don’t assume that the environment is both positive and enabling. Take the time to evaluate internal processes and dynamics, and there’s no better way than hearing from your team about what is – and isn’t – working. This will help create alignment and do more for your team’s energy and morale than any task management system or monetary bonus ever could. 2. Look at your business objectives: When you enable your valuable talented people to be part of the decision making in how they are best deployed in the context of business strategy, they will start to naturally align themselves. Leveraging the strengths and preferences of employees according to where they fit within your long-term business objectives will naturally bring out the best in your people and organization as a whole. This will help ensure that all employees know their roles and how their actions contribute to the bigger picture. 3. Put the right people in the right seats: Jim Collins said it best in his seminal book, ‘Good to Great’, when he advised that the right people need to be put in the right seats on the bus to drive performance. If your goal is building a high-performance team, find the right roles and responsibilities for the right employees. Find out what your employees enjoy doing and what motivates them to determine where they are best suited.

How to get Noticed!

OK, so you believe you are talented, but how do you stand out from the crowd and get noticed? In my interview with Laszlo Bock, Laszlo stated that when he decided to move into HR, he knew he would do well because he stood out from the crowd. How? He had a different skill set, he could bring statistical and analytical knowledge to the role, so that he could put together evidence-based experiments in the workplace and show the ways to improve productivity among employees, happiness in the workplace, amongst many other things. Laszlo strongly suggested honing your skills so that you could bring something new and different to the table that would benefit your organisation, and get you to the top faster.

The Customer is Kin

In Brad Stone’s The Everything Store, former Amazon executive Jeff Holden was quoted as saying that “PowerPoint is a very imprecise communication mechanism. It is fantastically easy to hide between bullet points. You are never forced to express your thoughts completely.” Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, defined the antidote. Every time a new feature or product was proposed, he demanded that the narrative should take the shape of a mock press release. The goal was to get employees to put some real life and energy into writing an exciting and accurate pitch for resources. This meant starting with something the customer might see first, the public announcement, and then work backwards from there. Instead of using PowerPoint presentations to kick start new initiatives, Amazon uses a narrative format called the ‘Mock Press Release.’ According to this disciplined approach, for every new feature, product, or service that employees intend to pitch within their divisions, they must produce a press release-style document aimed at exciting a hypothetical Amazon customer on their first hearing about the initiative. At Amazon they feel that if something isn’t exciting or even interesting enough for a customer and can’t be succinctly expressed in a mock press release format, Amazon probably shouldn’t invest in the idea. Should the pitch for resources prove to be successful, the second stage becomes all important for having the right talented people come on board. By enabling the employees to volunteer themselves and explain why they believe they are suitable for this project and the role they have in mind. The psychological contract for work moves to an emotional investment in each other’s success.

From Best Practice to Next Practice

• Build a culture of coaching – ensure everyone with people responsibility is trained on how to coach people • Provide training, mentoring, and guidance for your direct reports and ensure they do the same for their people • Be crystal clear on your expectations – these are best reminded by personalized stories that inspire • Develop a culture of frequent and straightforward performance management – everybody deserves feedback • Plan for the future – don’t become fixated and locked into only short-term requirements We will leave you with a thought from a good friend of ours, John Maxwell, who insists that the choices people make are extremely important, not merely the skills that they inherent. He says that successful people know that: • Belief lifts your talent. • Initiative activates your talent. • Focus directs your talent. • Preparation positions your talent. • Practice sharpens your talent. • Perseverance sustains your talent. • Character protects your talent You can have talent alone and fall short of your potential. Or you can have talent plus energy and ambition, and really stand out. Whilst experience is still important, the ability to ‘learn, unlearn and relearn’ is probably even more vital. This will enable a far more open mind when selecting talented people that may not have much experience or exposure in this area. Remember we can train any skills shortfall, but will always struggle with an attitude shortfall. “Do not punish people for being honest and truthful. The day we start punishing people for demonstrating honesty and truthfulness, will also be the day we start surrounding ourselves with liars and dishonest people. Reward the behaviour you want your people to demonstrate.” – Sanjeev Himachali