How to Use Talent as a Corporate Differentiator

Man in a Business suit picks one red cartoon figure out of many in grey to select only one to lead

The results of our recent proprietary organizational alignment research powerfully support the premise that there is an optimum combination of business strategy, corporate culture and talent to
maximize performance. When Strategy, Culture and Talent are aligned, companies significantly outperform their peers in terms of revenue, profits, customer satisfaction, leadership effectiveness and employee engagement.

But peak performance does not necessarily start with having the best talent.

Before investing in sweeping talent initiatives, start by making sure that your business strategy is perceived to be clear, believable and implementable by those who need to execute it.  If people do not have confidence in the strategic direction or if their goals and accountabilities are unclear, your talent investments will be diluted.  Once your strategy is clear enough to act, your next step is shape and align your high performance culture for that specific strategy.  You will know you are on the right path when your corporate culture is understood and consistently leveraged to get desired results.  Hiring top talent into a toxic or unaligned corporate culture is a recipe for conflict, disengagement and attrition.

Once your business strategy is clear and your organizational culture is aligned enough, it is time to attract, develop, engage and retain talent that fits your unique situation. We define talent as the workforce that leaders build and manage to create a unique advantage their competitors cannot replicate. One good indicator of success on the talent side of the equation is observing that people who are a good cultural fit are most likely to be high performers.

If you want to build talent at your company so that it becomes a differentiator that boosts you well ahead of your competition, make sure that you put the right talent in the right positions at the right time.  Also make sure that you wisely invest in key players in the key positions that matter most.  Here is what you need to make it happen:

  1. The full support and commitment of the executive team.
    Leadership should set the tone, provide the resources (time, money and support) and hold line managers, not Human Resources, accountable for selecting, engaging, developing and retaining the talent that will get the job done in the way it needs to be done. While HR can certainly play an important role, line managers have a profound impact on your ability to attract, engage and retain talent.  Great leaders attract talent.  Great leaders develop talent.  And great leaders create an environment that allows people to perform at their peak.  If leaders do not consistently value and reward people as their most important resource, it is difficult to have the required talent practices in place to recognize and retain top talent.
  2. A talent planning and recruitment strategy that aligns with your organizational culture and supports your business goals.
    Know your true culture well enough that you can use your corporate values, practices and behaviors to bolster your selection process. Do not be fooled into hiring for your aspirational culture. Make sure your employee brand reflects the day-to-day realities and attracts the talent you want…the talent that fits in with your culture and is likely to stay for the long haul.  For example, a recent high growth client’s culture has been described as aggressive, fast moving, direct, confrontational, sink-or-swim, and results-oriented.  If new employees survive the first year, they tend to stay for the long haul – which is good.  But the first year attrition rate is 37% and increasing – which is bad.  The true culture is not accurately described on the company website or fully revealed in the current interview process.  A more authentic interviewing and screening process that uncovers cultural fit could save the firm both time and money as they struggle with finding adequate resources to support their 40% year-over-year growth.
  3. Be specific about your expectations and hold employees to the standards you have spelled out.
    To achieve high performance, you need to create and stand behind performance goals that are clear, accurate, transparent, fair, achievable and relevant. Not only do you need to consistently recognize high performers, but you must also ensure that low, non-improving performers move on so high performers stay engaged and motivated without lowering the performance bar. Employees need to understand how their job performance is measured and believe that performance evaluations are fair and appropriate.
  4. Provide meaningful development.
    Keep employees at their performance peak with targeted learning and development opportunities that enhance the most important skills required to increase current and future performance. For the best results, make sure that the desired performance improvements and targeted skills matter to three levels of stakeholders: (1) the individual, (2) their boss and (3) the business.  We call this 3×3 Relevance.  Without it, your chances for behavior change and performance improvement are slim.  Employees want to know that leaders are willing to make investments to make them more successful.  They want their job to provide the chance to learn and grow.  Do you provide enough opportunities for employees to learn new skills that will help them to succeed?
  5. Measure, review and recognize performance often.
    Quality coaching and frequent feedback practices will encourage the behaviors you seek. As a manager, be accessible, open and straightforward as you interact with your employees. Make sure employees know where they stand and provide the unwavering support they need to succeed.  Goals and accountabilities should be clear to everyone on the team and people should feel confident that, if they contribute to the organizations success, that they will be recognized.
  6. Share the mission, vision and importance of people with all employees.
    Talent kept in the dark or underappreciated will fade. Keep the core purpose of the company in front of everyone so they can believe in what you want to accomplish as a company. You want your people to feel a part of the team and be confident that leaders of the organization are setting the right course.  Then, let people know how they fit into the company’s future plans.  To increase employee engagement, have a clear and explicit talent strategy that shows how the leaders of the organization are committed to making it a great place to work.
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