Finding the Best Talent: It’s Not Like Searching For the Holy Grail

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May 15, 2014

As a result of the dotcom era in the late 1990s when the demand for talent created a recruiting frenzy, “talent management” and “talent acquisition” became the prevailing buzz-phrases.

With U.S. demographics showing that there will be a dearth of talent in the decades to come, we can expect that there will be fierce competition for scarce human capital. As a result, many executives and HR folks have decided that the key to success is finding and hiring the “best” talent.

More than just finding the best and brightest

Makes sense right? There’s no question that talent acquisition is critical to the success of any organization, and many business and HR leaders have sought to study and emulate the recruitment and employment practices of well-known companies such as Google and Apple, considered to be among the leaders in the field of talent acquisition.

Surely, we can learn a great deal by studying these leading brand name companies, but at the end of the day, there’s more to building a capable workforce than simply hiring the best and the brightest.

Hiring the best talent is not the Holy Grail.

Throughout the history of sports, there have been plenty of teams that had the best players but didn’t win a championship. Nor can everyone on a team be the star player. There have to be individuals who play specific roles for the team to achieve its goals.

Certainly, in order to perform well, every sports team or business entity needs to have some top performers. In sports, just as in business, at every level, there are the “good,” “better,” and “best” players. All three of these categories of people are needed to play their roles effectively if the organization is to win.

The problem: Not enough who are the “best”

The problem is that in any industry or geography, there are only so many of the “best.” In any competitive pool of people, the availability of talent is the shape of a bell curve. This means that there’s only a small percentage of top talent just as there’s a small percentage of bottom talent.

Most of the talent pool is made up of average or above-average people. These are the “good” and “better” people, but not the “best.”

Just as true, the reality for most employers is that attracting and hiring top talent isn’t feasible on a consistent, repetitive, and long-term basis. There are only so many Googles that have the brand power to attract and hire the best. The reality is that blue-chip, well-known companies who consistently perform at a high level will have an edge in attracting top talent.

So what about the rest of the companies who need talented people?

Talent utilization is the answer

The name of the game for most organizations is to have the “right” talent, not necessarily the “best” talent.

These organizations need a small percentage of top players who will be counted on to lead the company in key positions, but in any organization, if only 20 percent of the people are contributing to overall performance; the remaining 80 percent are either a financial drain or an opportunity cost.

In companies who strive to mobilize their workforce as a competitive advantage, the idea is to involve not only the top 20 percent, but also the majority of people who make up the “good” and “better” people. One of the principles that companies like General Electric and Schlumberger Limited practiced during the late 90’s, and still do today as leaders in their respective industries, is the importance of finding people who are the “right fit.”

This is not to say that these companies aren’t able to attract a high level of talent, but rather, that they’re more interested in attracting and hiring those interested in what the company has to offer over the long-term.

In the emerging practice of “human capital management,” where the human capital of an organization is collectively leveraged as an asset to gain a competitive advantage, “talent utilization” is as critical to an organization as talent acquisition.

What distinguishes talent utilization from talent acquisition is the action of “placing” and “utilizing” individuals and teams appropriately to ensure that the right people are in the right place.

Implementing RP@RP for the organization

“RP@RP” is an indispensable element of high performing human capital management organizations. In the implementation of “Right People at the Right Place,” the main focus is not only on the employee as an individual contributor, but also as a contributing member of the team or organization.

Putting people in the right place to contribute to an organization not only applies to the specific job the employee is assigned to, but, also applies to organizational teams that are established, including task forces, committees, and project teams. Many times, organizational initiatives that require these types of work teams are critical to the current and future performance of the business.

Every organization needs to have good people performing in both their own jobs and organizational roles. The challenge for many organizations is when there aren’t enough good people to assign to organizational initiatives. The result is the “20-80 rule,” when 20 percent of the employee population is assigned to 80 percent of the organizational initiatives.

This becomes problematic because organizations will tap the same resources over and over again, and management then complains that there aren’t enough good people to select for these organizational roles.

It’s a vicious cycle and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Companies need to spend more time and effort cultivating a greater percentage of their workforce, being sure to match up the right people for the right organizational assignments.

For example, it makes perfect sense for a high performer/high potential to be enlisted as a champion or leader in launching an important organizational initiative. But, this wouldn’t be such a great idea for a person who isn’t performing well in his/her current job, regardless of his/her potential.

Reversing the 20-80 problem

With serious organizational planning the “20-80” problem can be reversed, and a good starting point is to evaluate all employees using a “performance/potential” grid. Utilization of this kind of “performance/potential matrix,” whether it be a 2×2 box approach or a more sophisticated approach is essential to an organization as a whole, and much more valuable than only analyzing individual potential and performance.

  • First, it can serve as a tool for workforce planning by examining the big picture view of the performance and potential of the total workforce.
  • Second, by looking at sub-groups of the organization’s population, it can provide valuable information in skills or demographics areas that require additional focus.
  • Third, it can be a source of useful information in the early planning stages of an organizational initiative, as management decides which individuals should be enlisted as organizational champions or team members for a particular initiative.

Getting to a situation where 80 percent of the employee population is actively participating in organizational initiatives may not be realistic in the near-term, but a strategic approach to building organizational participation can result in at least 50 percent employee participation without too much difficulty.

How to build a better workplace

There are plenty of ways to build workforce participation, increase employee engagement, and talent utilization. Here are a few simple examples:

  • Assemble organizational task forces for initiatives crossing functional boundaries, and select leaders based on performance, skill or potential. Make it a rule that no one can serve as a task force leader more than once in a two-year time frame.
  • Make it clear in performance management that employee performance is based on individual job performance and organizational participation.
  • Give employees the opportunity to present to upper level management on the results and accomplishments of team initiatives. This not only reinforces organizational participation and motivation of the workforce, but it builds management confidence when trusting people within the organization to accomplish results without being micro-managed.

Companies that aspire to practice human capital management to its fullest understand that it’s imperative to have the right people in the right job. In the ultra-competitive global business environment that we work in today, the best performing companies make people their primary asset.

Talent utilization is the critical component

Organizations that strive to leverage their people as the key differentiator recognize that “talent utilization” is a critical component.

Determination of the best talent management companies can no longer be defined by hiring the “best” talent, but instead need to be evaluated by the percentage of the workforce that is actively engaged in helping the organization achieve its business strategy and organizational goals.