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Strategies to develop your top talent

Archive for January, 2009

Personal Training

Here’s a personal anecdote that happened to me that I think says something about talent, how we assess it and factor it into our decisions.

benchpress_by_usodesitaI’ve wanted to start working with a personal trainer for some time.  Last year I talked about it with my doctor and she made some recommendations to me.  We worked on my diet and I spent most of last year getting the nutritional picture right (my doctor has an emphasis–and expert training–on functional medicine, which is exceedingly rare to find in my experience).

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Talent planning a top priority

New research highlights how important the idea of “talent” has become in the business world.  It is no longer a concern of the more progressive HR departments; trends indicate that it has become a key business issue that executives are paying close attention to. 

An annual survey of executives by the Aberdeen Group shows that over the past year talent planning has risen from tenth to second on the list of top ten business issues that companies are facing today.  This is really striking to me.  What I’ve encountered, however, is that executives can’t agree on what “talent”  really mean (beyond a superficial synonym for “our people”).

What do you think-why do we have trouble defining talent?

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Where is the top talent now?

First, a confession: I’m tired of the pundits and media piling on about the economy.  Yeah, things are messy and there are people having a tough time.  But there are other things happening too.

Layoffs mean that some good workers are getting indiscriminately released into the pool of the unemployed.   In other businesses, the top talent is biding its time, ready to move on when better times and better opportunities appear.  Smart leaders are making investments in discovering, measuring and developing their top talent. 

One problem is that most leaders don’t see the full extent of the talent they have.  Top performers are not the only talent in a company.   Leaders MUST get better at discovering the talent they have and learning what talent really looks like.

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A new era of responsibility

obama_inaugurationToday was a momentous day for the US and the world with the inauguration of Barack Obama.  In my opinion, the most meaningful line from his speech was when he invoked “a new era of responsibility”  and talked about the need to put childish things behind us and do some growing up.  This looks like a much-needed dose of reality and “tough love”  by an emerging leader who now has a very difficult and challenging job to do.

Leadership and change always begin with personal responsibility and truth-telling.  If you want to develop top talent, start by leveling with people.  Tell them the truth and enlist their help in being part of the solution.  Now is the time for responsibility and assertive (yet humble) leadership.

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Talent and hard work

Simple question:  Which is most important to success, talent or hard work?

There is a classic debate about muscle and perspiration vs. brilliance and natural intelligence.  Natural ability is certainly a tremendous help, at least it is an advantage.  Yet I’ve seen quite a few examples of really gifted people who didn’t have the right opportunities, or they didn’t apply themselves, or they squandered what they had through bad choices.

Hard work to me seems indispensable.  You cannot do without it, unless you are riding a mighty wave that is carrying you along.  The problem is what do you do when the wave plays out before you’ve reached your desired destination?  Without hard work, your wave riding is done!  So, success really is a lot about hard work and not quitting until you reach your goal. 

It’s really a false choice to try and decide which is more important.  If you have little talent, you’re going to need a lot of hard work and heart.  If you have a lot of talent, you’re going to need at least a little hard work in order to get a shot at success.  The more hard work you put in, the better rewards you’ll reap.

Let’s avoid the false choice.  The real key to success is an appropriate mix of talent AND hard work.

 

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Selling effectively with ease

Today I saw a great example of someone who at peace and very effective in his selling.  It started with a visit to the Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico on New Year’s Day. 

Walking among the snow and slush and enjoying the crisp, clear day, my family and I were there to witness the once a year Turtle Dance.  After waiting a while with no dance in progress, my wife saw a small adobe building with an open sign, so we went to check it out.  Inside they were selling crafts and what appeared to be souvenirs.  There were many people in this front room and a welcoming fire in the corner. 

Farther back in another room there were large handmade drums.  Not a typical tourist souvenir, but the product of obvious craftsmanship.  Still further back in a an obscure back room was a man seated at a table making hand-crafted silver jewelry.  Two dogs rested on the dirt floor, and two narrow skylights let in natural light from above.  Jerry was deftly making silver necklaces and in an easy manner explained what he was doing and what made it unique. 

After noting all of this we thought of leaving but were drawn to stay and watch and learn a little more.  Jerry obliged by describing what he was doing but wasn’t too talkative.  As soon as he finished the necklace and put it on a black velvet drop, someone bought it and took it away.

Jerry obviously worked for the love of it and every time someone new peeked in the doorway, he would casually invite them in and share a line or two about what he was doing.  There was no “come on”, no sales pitch and no great effort expended to persuade.  This artisan was clearly doing something he enjoyed and he was comfortable sharing it with people without juding their interest level.

Jerry taught me a lot about selling, not by his technique but by his ease, purposefulness and his lack of striving.  Of course I bought the next necklace he made, leaving him without any wares to display and soon he was on to the next piece even before we left.  Jerry’s sister from the front room twice came in to change money with him, and in the conversation it was clear that Jerry could easily make and sell 15 necklaces a day.  He showed care in selecting pendants, materials and making things with heart, and his craft was attractive to people.  He was not stuck with a lot of unsold merchandise.  In fact, it was amazing to think he was this successful working in an obscure back room. 

Who would have thought that on this holiday I would find such a great living example of someone who was so comfortable with sharing his craft and selling it with ease.  Thanks Jerry-may your spirit soar.

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