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The One Talent Question All CEO’s Should Ask

March 3, 2020

give their companies an “F”). Their finding revealed only 19% of the North American Directors surveyed strongly agreed that their companies were good at aligning their talent strategies with their business strategies.  Imagine the competitive advantage that could be gained if talent and strategy were aligned and talent was fully leveraged! Leaving the talent component of strategic planning to chance, or deferring it to fit the later occurring “HR cycle” inhibits an organizations ability to execute its strategy as planned.

Why Isn’t The Question Asked?

After many years participating in strategic planning and talent processes I have come to realize organizations are prone to making five dangerous assumptions about their talent:

  1. Talent planning is an HR process not a business process
  2. All roles are equally important
  3. They have the talent they need
  4. Talent is readily available to fill gaps
  5. Talent planning is too fuzzy to make a difference

Untested, these assumptions can put the strategy at risk and foster a culture where talent becomes an undervalued commodity. Another byproduct of these assumptions can also be a barrier to strategy implementation; internal leaders who compete for talent rather than collaborating to leverage talent, potentially creating a win-lose scenario for the organization and sub-optimizing organizational performance. This “talent hoarding” can also limit the number and breadth of opportunities available to high performing talent and can often contribute to talent retention issues.

How Does A CEO Know If They Have The Right Talent in the Right Roles?

Having the right talent in the right roles is so critical to strategy execution that it warrants a thorough evaluation of not only people, but also of the roles and their overall impact and alignment to the organizations key business drivers. Commonly, strategy/business planning is a Q3 activity while talent reviews are typically conducted in the following Q1/Q2 time frame, extending the gap between strategy and talent planning by as much a six months. Consider this; one key role void of the talent required for success may take four to six months to fill if the talent is obtained externally. Factoring in the process lag time, the delay in filling a key role with suitable talent may extend upwards of one year! Factor in rapid recovery from a recession that likely drained the talent pool and a desire for organizational growth and it becomes easy to see why boards are concerned. CEO’s should demand a thorough talent assessment as an extension of their strategy planning and expect it to contain the following elements:

  1. An understanding of the talent implications associated with the strategy. Without this context talent reviews may provide a false sense of security and lead to misaligned, well intended talent plans that actually work against the strategy.
  2. Differentiation between important and critical roles. The successful execution of strategy requires talented people, more importantly talented people in the right roles. Without clear differentiation the people most likely to positively impact strategy may be in the wrong roles or not in the organization at all!
  3. A facilitated talent discussion that evaluates talent in an integrated manner; standardizes the organizations talent “language” and calibrates talent between divisions, departments and teams.
  4. A talent map that summarizes the organizations talent “picture” in a simple, powerful format. The talent map can be easily referenced for future planned, or unplanned talent decisions.
  5. A talent plan that captures the key talent actions required to support the strategy; assigns accountability for completion; encourages all leaders to accept responsibility for the organization talent pool; and provides a mechanism for tracking progress.

Talent processes linked to strategy offer a considerable competitive advantage by streamlining the implementation timeline. For example; during a recent discussion a potential client explained that a past strategy to transform their organization was centered on creating a more customer focused culture. Unfortunately it wasn’t until they were well into implementation that they realized the skills and abilities of many of the incumbents were misaligned, regardless of the time and money spent developing the team, the mismatched incumbents weren’t likely to be successful in that culture.  The result was a disruptive, large scale personnel change that delayed the implementation timeline considerably. The lesson learned? Knowing the talent implications of your strategy and understanding the talent you have and don’t have are critical to successful strategy implementation and differentiating your organization from the competition. Don’t take your talent capacity and/or its alignment with your strategy for granted, talent is a key component of any strategy/business plan.

Don’t wait, if you haven’t already, ask the one talent question all CEO’s should ask; Is my talent aligned with my strategy?