Daily Archives: March 7, 2008

To Win the Talent War, You Must First Defeat the Enemy Within

As evidenced by my recent Talent Week series, and many posts on Talent here on this blog, a major war for talent is building, and you stand to lose your business if you don’t start preparing now. However, as clarified in a recent McKinsey Quarterly article, before you can win on the global talent battlefield, you have to first insure that you’ve defeated the enemy within.

The article notes that, to a considerable extent, executives should be blaming themselves for their talent woes. Although it’s true that shareholders and investment analysts are largely responsible for the obsession with short term performance, it is managers who too readily treat talent in a reactive, knee-jerk manner – by hiring additional sales and marketing people only after new products take off and by cutting discretionary spending on people development when performance drops. As Charles and Don were quick to point out in their posts, the best way to acquire the talent you need is often to develop it within. Furthermore, companies that cut talent are making the worst innovation mistake they can make. This failure to focus on talent creates a vicious circle: a lack of talent prevents corporate growth which creates additional performance pressures which causes executives to put even greater emphasis on the short term which starts the cycle again.

Furthermore, when companies do make talent a priority, they tend to fall into another trap where they adopt an overly narrow focus on HR systems and processes – which diverts attention away from the place where the biggest obstacles lie: their heads’. Systems and processes don’t create innovation – innovative people, with the right experience and training, do.

Then there’s the seven obstacles to good talent management:

  1. Senior managers don’t spend enough high-quality time on talent management
    People are the key to your success, so why aren’t they your top priority?
  2. Siloed organizations that do not encourage constructive collaboration and resource sharing
    Establish organizational wide goals and organizational wide teams and focus on common objectives. (And whatever you do, don’t tear all the walls down and build an “open environment” thinking that it will solve all your problems.)
  3. Line managers are not sufficiently committed to the development of people’s capabilities and careers.
    Which is not surprising, since they take their lead from the CEO who is consistently failing to put people as his or her top priority.
  4. Line managers are unwilling to differentiate their people as top, average, and underperformers.
    Differentiation is not necessarily a bad thing. If you don’t know who’s underperforming, than you don’t know who is the most desperately in need of training. And if you don’t know where they’re weak, how will you select the right training?
  5. CEO’s and senior leaders are not sufficiently involved in the shaping of the talent management strategy.
    Talent management needs to start at the top.
  6. Senior leaders do not align talent management strategy with business strategy.
    Talent needs to support the business. Shouldn’t the two be aligned?
  7. Line managers do not address under-performance effectively, even when chronic!
    This is a triple whammy. First of all, under-performers might not even realize they are (chronically) underperforming. Secondly, they are not getting the help they need. Thirdly, it’s sending a message to the rest of the organization that under-performance is okay.

In summary, you need to win the battle within before you’ll be ready to fight the coming war.