ESTIMATED READING TIME – 6:00
There are five essential truths of talent optimization.
1. Talent optimization exists within a business context.
Talent optimization doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s informed by business strategy and it produces—or fails to produce if not implemented—desired business results.
Most businesses have some form of a business strategy. Many times, this strategy reads out in technical or functional terms, and the people part is missing or disconnected. Using a talent optimization approach, your business strategy provides context that will inform your design, hire, and inspire efforts.
The business strategy is the reference you’ll measure all key actions and decisions against. Because of that, strategy is the starting point for talent optimization: Anything you do relative to people must be aligned with the business strategy.
It’s best when employees connect with the business strategy at an emotional level—directly or indirectly. Mechanisms exist to create this emotional bond. For example, mission statements explain the organization’s reason for existence, while vision statements paint an image of the ideal state the organization wishes to achieve. And the strategy, which defines the way the organization will succeed, also requires a dose of aspiration and a personal connection.
Let’s be clear: Talent optimization isn’t about developing a new business strategy. Many professional firms, universities, and experts are dedicated to creating successful business strategies. Talent optimization is about translating an organization’s well-designed strategy into business results through a human lens.
To facilitate this translation, the business strategy should meet three criteria. It must be:
- Explicit and clear
- Agreed upon
There are many tools and frameworks leaders can use to structure a strategic plan such as OGSM (objective, goals, strategies, measures), or the balanced scorecard. Regardless of the framework you use and the extent of your effort, the strategy must be expressed in simple terms and be easy to understand.
37% of executives say their No. 1 priority is talent strategy.
– State of Talent Optimization Report
When business results fail to meet expectations, talent optimization gaps are the most likely culprit. If you’ve skipped steps in your design, hire or inspire efforts, your people won’t be able to work together at their best. This will create a drain on the organization and muck up how the work flows through it.
Talent optimization is essential for bringing strategic goals to fruition in the form of business results. For example, if your business strategy is to innovate and create new products, you’ll want to design your organization’s executive team to include leaders who are innovative and not averse to risk. Additionally, you’ll want to hire the best candidates for open positions, and you’ll want to ensure that individuals, managers, and teams are executing at their full potential. This is the only way your organization can produce optimal business results.
Here’s a visual to help you understand how business context wraps the talent optimization discipline:
2. Every business problem is a people problem.
As a leader, a significant portion of your day is likely spent dealing with problems. It seems that every day presents new challenges—some external and many more internal. Even when things are running smoothly in one part of the business, a problem crops up in another. An otherwise well-functioning part of the business suddenly begins to show signs of failure.
For all of the attention that we pay to the inevitable stream of shortfalls, setbacks, and surprises, we often overlook a simple truth: Every business problem is a people problem. While you may tell yourself that you have systems delays or that your processes are too complex, this belies reality. Who implemented the systems? Who designed and executed the processes? Your people did.
This isn’t to say that your people are bad or unskilled, or that they’re the wrong people. It’s just that any business malady—any strategic initiative that’s at risk or any performance target that’s lagging—presents evidence that some aspect of talent optimization has been improperly adopted or skipped entirely.
If you seek to optimize your business results, there’s simply no other way than to maximize the performance and experience of your people.
3. Talent optimization is driven by people data.
Talent optimization is driven by people data. When business leaders measure people data and apply the resulting insights, they’re empowered to make objective decisions rather than subjective ones. There are a variety of tools and techniques talent optimizers can use to collect and measure people data.
While it’s true that people are complex, this is no excuse to just accept the status quo. With the right people data in hand, a talent optimizer knows that the way people behave and interact in organizations is in fact predictable given the business context. What matters most is to take an objective, systematic approach to understanding people in organizations and using the resulting insights to make improvements to the way they work.
4. Talent optimization must be embraced by leaders at every level.
Talent optimization won’t work if it’s only implemented in the C-Suite. While talent optimization must begin with buy-in at the top (executives will be the first messengers and champions of talent optimization) it can’t end there.
Organizations that roll out talent optimization must adopt the mindset of leaders at every level. This means that leadership extends beyond VPs and directors to first line managers and even individual contributors. Anyone in the business can and should be regarded as a leader, whether that means they manage down, up, across—or self-manage.
5. Talent optimization protects against the four forces of disengagement.
Employee disengagement is a widespread issue that causes organizations to lose billions of dollars to poor productivity, absenteeism, safety issues, poor client service, and toxic workplace cultures. By some measures, more than 70 percent of U.S. employees are disengaged.
Disengagement causes employees to withhold “discretionary effort” and to deliver the minimum amount of work to stay employed. Inevitably, when employees don’t give it their all, business results suffer.
Four factors cause disengagement:
- Misalignment with the job: Poorly defined positions, sloppy hiring processes, or evolving business needs create a mismatch between employees and their roles. Lack of job fit directly impacts motivation and productivity.
- Misalignment with the manager: The relationship between employees and their managers is the most critical contributor to engagement, yet many managers are poorly equipped or not trained to effectively understand their employees’ individual needs. They struggle to communicate with and motivate their employees.
- Misalignment with the team: Team-based work is more critical than ever, yet poor communication, insufficient collaboration, and inability to manage the tensions inherent to teamwork continue to extract a massive tax on productivity and innovation.
- Misalignment with culture: To be productive and engaged, employees need to feel they belong. When they feel out of tune with their organization’s values, or when they lose trust in their leadership, their own performance suffers, and they can create a toxic work environment that undermines productivity.
Optimizing talent means always considering these four factors: job, manager, team, and culture. An optimized organization keeps these factors top of mind with every people decision and action e.g. when it measures employee engagement, when it selects an organizational structure to support its business strategy, and when it expands its workforce.