Strategies to develop your top talent

Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category

Keep Your Top Talent

Leadership development programs aimed at rising stars have become a staple of most large organizations.  Here in Shanghai I see this in the people practices of global multinational companies, whether American, European, or Asian.

Most people acknowledge that the top talent is where you can have a great impact on business results, either in a positive or negative way depending on how you manage it.

An article in Harvard Business Review by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt shed some interesting light on the topic.
What I have found surprising in my own experience is that despite the effort, money and time being spent, the results are often lackluster, at least initially.  Maybe our expectations timeline is too short.

Here are some ideas about what works and what doesn’t in developing your top talent.  This came from research in more than 100 organizations worldwide over 2005-2011, which clearly has been tumultuous time in the global economy.

10 Critical Components of a Talent-Development Program

1. Explicitly test candidates in three dimensions: ability, engagement, and aspiration.

2. Emphasize future competencies needed (derived from corporate-level growth plans) more heavily than current performance when you’re choosing employees for development.

3. Manage the quantity and quality of high potentials at the corporate level, as a portfolio of scarce growth assets. (more…)

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Strategy-driven organizations

“We’re so busy putting out fires and trying to keep the business going that strategy just doesn’t show up on the screen.  We seem to drift a lot,” one leader confided in me.  I could relate because I’ve been part of an organization that couldn’t maintain a strategic focus.   We had flavor-of-the-month and reliably we would worry over sales each quarter, but strategy never got consistent attention.

The lack of strategic focus is a leadership issue, even when the leaders of an organization “live and breathe” strategy or see themselves as very strategic (but you might be surprised how many don’t).  Such organizations also find it difficult to hang on to their talent for long. (more…)

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The year ahead – 2010


We start a new year and it’s a great opportunity to do some personal strategic planning.  Well-run companies and organizations take time annually to plan strategically for the future and to set their course of action.  Why not give yourself the same advantage?

I wrote a guidebook to help in the process of personal strategic planning that is available for the asking.  Send an email or request it from me directly and post a comment about how you’re using it.

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Is anyone out there scratching your head trying to remember the last time you were in a “strategy meeting”?  For most readers of this blog, the problem is not that you are rarely in a strategic situation, but that you probably don’t recognize it as often as you should.


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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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Keeping top talent

We interrupt this holiday shopping season with an important announcement.

Retail is down this year.  The world economy is in a slowdown mode, a recession that is being felt in many places across the world. 

Some businesses are playing pure defense and fighting for survival.  Not all of them are making it.  Others are ” hunkered down”  and trying to ride out the storm.  A few are looking for opportunities and places to grow.  All businesses must do some sharp thinking and planning about top talent.  For those who are shedding jobs and having to let workers go, the challenge that follows is:  how do we keep/retain our top talent?  A similar question occupies those who are playing defense and riding out the storm, though perhaps with less urgency felt.  The entrepreneurs and opportunists see this as a prime time to scoop up additional talent.

It’s not easy to focus on talent strategies when the headlines get darker and steal our attention almost daily.  Those who develop a discipline and ability to keep their eye on talent are the ones who will pull through this and be farther ahead of the game when things do get better.  Business cycles show that there are better times ahead.  It takes vision now to plan for the coming growth and to put/keep the right talent in place to harvest it.

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Insights on Leadership

I have taken part in two annual meetings for boards I belong to in the past week.  It has given me a sharper sense of what counts in terms of leadership in organizations. 

First, a lot of what goes into “leadership” arises from a person simply being willing to take action, to be used for a specific purpose.  Leaders are NOT born for greatness; most are simply willing to step forward when many others are not.  As I look at those who assume leadership roles in groups, a large part of leadership is simply being willing to lead and following that up with action.

Second, good leadership makes a lot of difference in setting a particular tone for a group that they lead.  Whether people are energized, depressed, confused, enthusiastic–a lot of it has to do with the quality of leadership that is being exercised in the group.  

Third, from what I’ve observed a board’s effectiveness is directly related to two things:  how much time they spend reacting to what has already happened or is imminent, and planning what they want to happen or anticipating changes that are yet to come.   The most effective boards focus their energies on proactively planning for the future.

One of those board meetings I was part of required preparatory work and we met three long hours, but we focused on strategic planning and everyone afterwards acknowledged this was one of our best meetings in recent memory.  The other meeting was fairly short, reactive in focus and unfocused.  What a difference leadership makes in helping people focus strategically!

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Strategy and Business

I was facilitating an all day strategy session for a large business unit yesterday and a leader sitting next to me leaned over and confided, “I knew about this initiative but I haven’t given it any thought.  With all the ‘noise’ and distractions, I have to focus my attention on what impacts my business directly.”  I appreciated his candor and also realized that he is most likely in the majority.

Why do I focus on strategy?  Two basic reasons come to mind:  waste and leverage.  I see far too much waste in business: wasted capital, wasted effort, misplaced or misused talent, wasted ideas.  You can often trace these back to an inadequate or a wholly missing strategy.   That’s the downside.  I also see the potential for impact, for leverage, for positive business advantage by giving a little more thought to strategy and execution.  If people took more time to ask “What are we doing?  Why are we choosing that approach?  How will we get there?  Who will play the key roles?” then a business and its people could make a much more positive contribution.

At the end of the day, the same leader turned to me and said “This was a really worthwhile effort and I’m glad I took part.  Our business also booked an additional $2m that we didn’t expect this quarter while I was in this session.  I wish all my days were this productive!”  I smiled as I thought about the many other leaders I’ve worked with who have “mysteriously” experienced similar outcomes.  The truth is, good planning positions us for success.


P.S.  Leaders wanting to stay current on strategy and business might want to check out the magazine published by Booz Allen Hamilton.

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Do you have a strategy?

The majority of smaller enterprises and businesses do not have a stated strategy.  A strategy at the most basic level tells you how you are going to succeed in business.  Clearly, every business needs a strategy, and most think they know what is required to succeed.  Logic would say that they therefore have a strategy.  But let’s look deeper into this.

Why do I say most businesses don’t have a strategy?  Just look and listen and the reason becomes clear.

Look at results.  Why do many businesses fail and others struggle for long periods?  One reason is a lack of a defined  strategy.  That means stating what they believe is needed for success and then regularly looking at their assumptions and challenging them.  A different problem is companies who are successful for a while (but are not truly aware of their strategy) and then find themselves in a painful situation when their customers or the market or the competition suddenly shifts and they are behind the curve.

Second, listen to the reasons business leaders give for not thinking hard about strategy.  When a company is successful, the argument is basically “Don’t mess with something that’s working.”  There are a lot of excuses for not doing what you know you should be.  It is easier to look outside and pin the responsibility on something else external.  If things are not going well, you can be deluding yourself with hope, optimism or just bad excuses. 

So, what should you be doing?  First, take time to actually define your strategy.  How are you going to succeed in business?

Second, play the “what if” game for a while.  What will happen if your competition starts winning market share from you, or brings out a new product/service that gains favorable attention in the market?  What if your top five customers were to defect or you lost their business?  What if a new, well-financed competitor enters your market and the rules of the game seem to suddenly change? 

Finally, make an appointment in your calendar right now to do some serious thinking about strategy before the month is over.  Resolve to follow up on it in three months.  Strategy is actually an ongoing process, not a once-and-for-all event or an annual ritual that is meaningless.  Instead of having a strategic plan (slightly better than no strategy at all), focus on thinking and planning more strategically on a regular basis.

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