Thursday, November 10, 2011

People Before Numbers

My search started during a conversation at the Spring 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. As a small group of us explored issues related to performance management and talent development plus how to prepare for effective succession planning, I not only realized how inter-connected all of these issues were but I also realized that I wanted to know more about how very large companies integrated these elements into a coherent and consistent talent management system.

During the coming weeks and months, I started asking questions about this subject to a variety of leaders in many different organizations. While the answers were interesting, I just did not feel like I was getting my arms around the whole picture. Then, when reading a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, I came across some information about a book published in 2010 that I had missed reading. It was authored by Bill Conaty, former Senior Vice President at General Electric, and Ram Charan, co-author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller book Execution. Their book, The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers, Crown Business, 2010, explains that “If business managed their money as carelessly as they managed their people, most would be bankrupt.” Together these two authors explain that talent is the leading indicator of whether or not the success of an organization happens over time. As they explain, “In the fast-changing global marketplace, the half-life of core competencies grows shorter.... Only one competency lasts. It is the ability to create a steady, self-renewing stream of leaders.”

Furthermore, Ron Nersesian, the head of Agilent Technologies Electronic Measurement Group, who is quoted within the book, points out, “Developing people’s talent is the whole of the company at the end of the day. Our products all are time perishable. The only thing that stays is the institutional learning and the development of the skills and the capabilities that we have in our people.”

The book, The Talent Masters, explores in-depth how a variety of companies like GE, P&G, Novartis, Hindustan Uniliver, and Agilent, create and manage their total leadership development systems including such elements as same-day succession planning, performance management, leadership development and career management. The essence of the book revolves around seven core principles. They are the following:

1. An enlightened leadership team, starting with the CEO who really “gets it” and sees talent development as a competitive advantage.

2. A performance-driven meritocracy, a willingness to differentiate talent based on results as well as the values and behaviors behind those results.

3. Explicit definition and articulation of values, citing strong company beliefs and expected behaviors.

4. Candor and trust, leading to better insights into people’s talents and potential, focusing on development needs to accelerate personal growth.

5. Talent assessment/development systems that have as much rigor and repeatability as systems used for finance and operations.

6. Human resource leaders as business partners and trustee of the talent development system with functional expertise equal to the CFO’s.

7. Investment in continuous learning and improvement to build and continuously update the leadership brand in sync with the changing world.

As I worked my way through the book, I enjoyed seeing how the principles played out in different companies and yet resulted in the same consistent and positive results. For those of you who are seeking new insights and perspectives on these subjects and have the time to read 302 pages, I believe you will find this book very worthwhile.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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