Thursday, January 29, 2009

Talent Matters

Two beliefs are essential for taking a well-planned approach to building a strong team:
1) People make a difference.
2) A difference can be made with people.
I haven’t met anyone who debates the first statement. Even kids on a playground have a point of view when choosing sides for a ‘pickup’ game, “I’ll take Bubba {even if I don’t like him that much}.”
And few doubt the validity of statement two: Otherwise, I’m happy to provide a limitless supply of candidates for your organization (and, by the way, you’re wasting money on your children’s education).
Cheap Talk: We’ve all heard it said in a variety of ways, “People are our most valuable asset”; “People are our source of competitive advantage”, and so on. What we don’t always hear is the unspoken ‘trailers’ to these statements. For example, “People are our most valuable asset … {just not you}.” Or, “People are our competitive advantage… {as long as we don’t have to spend any more money on them}.”
In search of a quick fix: Many are the organizations in search of the perfect process that will solve all of our talent issues. “If we: ‘Install a new software system’…, ‘Send a few people to classes {but not me}’..., ‘Post our new values and mission statement’, etc., “We’ll get what we want.” Good luck. You will do what you want, but I’m pretty sure you won’t get what you NEED. As anyone simply awake in a car today knows, great roads do not make up for bad drivers.
Get Real: No amount of background checks, resume searches, or even the sacred interview (which everyone I know thinks they’re great at) will guarantee that the person you think you’re hiring will be the one who shows up at work. {Note to bosses: People manage their resumes and their presence – especially in interviews -- just like you do.} Sure, you may weed out the documented thugs, but have you ever seen embezzlement listed as a key strength on a resume? Ever heard an applicant confess that they occasionally engage in acts of petty theft? Or, do ‘a little’ drugs? -- No? It happens all the time -- at work! As for background checks the most dangerous candidates are the ones who haven’t been caught yet.
Do you REALLY mean it? People say what they think, but do what they mean. If you (or your organization) really believe in these principles, then why aren’t they at the top of your agenda? Is your HR manager the most critically important person in your company? If people do make a difference, and a difference can be made with people – then shouldn’t you be doing everything you can to make your people the best? Shouldn’t you be GREAT at attracting, selecting and growing talent?
Good News: There are proven ways to make better decisions about talent. Done well, talent assessments, of both external and INTERNAL candidates, not only predict who will do well in the first month (a ‘slam dunk’ since we’re on our best behavior), but also predict who will do well in the twelfth (and who won’t make it that far). Additionally, we now know a lot more about what can be done to make a difference in people. Yes, people can be changed at work. Are you the same manager you were 10 years ago? Could you give career-enhancing advice today to the ‘you’ of 10 years prior?
The Bottom Line: If you spend more time reviewing your finances than you do your people, you may have your priorities wrong. Valuing money and investments is fairly straightforward. Valuing people is a complex task with mission critical implication. Is the risk of making ‘gut decisions’ or selecting talent that’s “good enough” really worth it?

by R. Chris Steilberg, Ph.D.

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