A New Angle on Talent Development

By Mark Burden

Much of the discussion on talent development in recent years has focused on training, coaching and mentoring. These are all valid approaches and worthy of pursuit. But as the talent landscape shifts over the next several years, our approach needs to shift with it. As Baby Boomers retire and flood the market with job openings, the upcoming Gen X and Gen Y candidates, being significantly fewer in number will have the pick of the litter. Companies will often discover that they are stuck with (blessed with?) the talent they already have and will be forced to develop from within.

The problem with traditional approaches to talent is that they are much like the old question, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is, of course, “only one, but the light bulb has to really WANT to change.” In other words, if the individual is either unable or unwilling to make the changes you deem necessary, no amount of training, coaching or mentoring will help. So where does that leave us?

In a dwindling talent economy companies will not find it so easy to replace existing talent. Oh sure, there will always be the market leaders that everyone wants to work for, but what about the rest of us? Not every organization can be the number one firm in their segment.

Enter the concept of job/role realignment. Some people cringe at the thought of re-working existing structures and processes – others thrive on it. The reality is that we will all have to do it going forward. The changing talent landscape will force all of us to re-evaluate how our people do their work. If the Baby Boomer retirement trend will mean a shortage of talent for available roles, then many organizations will be faced with the reality of getting more done through fewer people. Yes, technology could fill some of the gap, but it isn’t always the answer for lessening the workload (remember that there was no “Cc” button on the old fax machine).

Getting more productivity out of people is an age-old problem. Efforts in the past have typically focused on equipment/technology, process and training. In the future we’ll need to consider more seriously the inner pre-wired talent of each individual: their pre-existing assortment of interests, attitudes and capabilities. In his landmark work, “What’s Your Genius?”1 author and psychometric guru Jay Niblick uncovers the startling fact that most people are geniuses at something. No, they don’t have a Mensa calibre IQ, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but they do have an area where their efforts produce more results than in others.

A typical (and immensely frustrating) example is the sales person who has terrific skills with regard to presentations and relationships, but none whatsoever in lead tracking and follow up. So what do we do with them? Usually we put them on some kind of CRM software and haul their sorry mess into the office once a week to grill them on follow-up. As they say, “How’s that working for you?”

A better approach is to identify both their talent areas and their non-talent areas using state of the art psychometric assessment tools and then realign the job requirements to suit their style. By eliminating from their responsibilities all the things they don’t and can’t do well, and filling up those time slots with things they do really well, we maximize their potential for productivity and efficiency.

So, what about the lead tracking and follow up? The answer is simple. Someone else in the organization will have the capacity to do an excellent job at this on their behalf. This same “someone else” will also likely have no interest in cold calling and presenting. If we realign the responsibilities so that they both do what they are wired to do, we maximize productivity and employee engagement.

Clearly this example is over-simplified (on purpose). The astute among you have recognized that the “someone else” will need to move some of their old responsibilities to others in order to make room for the new ones – and so on, and so on. This is why a holistic approach is necessary. The entire organization needs to be evaluated and realigned to match the talents of the people you have.

Sounds daunting? Sure, it could be. But it just might be your reality when the jobs-to-talent ratio shifts the other way.

The task is made simpler through the use of assessment instruments. Today we can accurately and easily pinpoint the talent and non-talent areas in people, enabling HR professionals and strategic initiatives personnel to determine the best realignment “fits” for the talent they currently possess. The trick is to know what talents your people truly have and in what quantities.
With thousands of psychometric assessment options available it can be confusing at best and downright daunting at worst for the uninitiated. Here are some key components to consider.
Go with established principles. This isn’t to suggest that anything new is risky, but human subconscious wiring hasn’t changed a whole lot in the recent past. Most established protocols were developed in highly clinical environments – often purely for the academic pursuit. Occasionally, the rush to market for newer products can impede the research process. Products in today’s market that are based on older, more established research are less likely to have been hampered by the drive to start generating revenue.

Does the assessment measure what it says it measures? This sounds obvious, but be careful here. There are many behavioural assessments out there that also claim to measure motivational styles. Such claims can sometimes (though not always) be a red flag. The questions that can measure behaviours are very different from those that can measure motivators, so you need to make sure that both kinds are present in the instrument, and in sufficient quantities to be an accurate and valid indicator.

Know what you mean by “talent”. Identifying what you need to measure is critical. A profile that measures only behaviours is not sufficient for this type of exercise. Behaviours are adaptable (many models even measure the adapted style) so they don’t tell you enough. Motivators alone will not show you what you need (meeting the motivational requirements doesn’t speak to how their brain is functioning). To be complete a profile must also deal with cognitive structure – how a person thinks. Knowing the mechanics of their thought structure (balance, clarity, and biases within the dimensions of thought) will show you how their decisions will be made and will uncover where their true talents lie.

The bottom line here is that new strategies for the deployment of talent in the work arena will be necessary going forward in order for organizations to remain competitive. The talent landscape will change radically over the next five to 10 years and successful navigation of that landscape will require radically new ideas. Keep in mind that both recruitment and retention will be affected. Employees who are deployed in their talent areas and do not have to face the frustration and discontent of working with their non-talents will be more engaged, more productive and, therefore, more likely to stay. If finding new people to replace retirees will be that much more difficult, consider how important it will be to hang on to those who aren’t retiring.

Job/role realignment can streamline your organization and deploy your talent where it will deliver the best possible return. A big job, yes, but far better than the alternative.  

Mark Burden is a Certified Behavioural Analyst and Business Coach specializing in talent selection and development. Certified in several profiling instruments, Mark works as a consultant in both the public and private sectors advising on job-talent alignment, employee engagement and performance.

1 Niblick, Jay, What’s Your Genius? (St. James, 2009).