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3 Not-So-Secret “Secrets” about Talent Optimization

People are my life. I have been in the people business for over 25 years. You might interpret this as a love of people. Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't actually love people. If I loved all people, I would be terrible at my job. I was recently reading an HR book that just hit the shelves titled "The Rise of HR - Wisdom from 73 Thought Leaders." One of the very first pages of the book outlines several historical HR myths. One states "HR professionals go into HR because they like people." The modern reality is "HR is not just about liking people, but about understanding and solving people-related problems in organizations. In fact, HR often requires tough people choices to assure business results." I resemble this remark.

That said, professionals in my line of work spend the majority of their time studying people. Things like: how to take care of people, how to work with people, how to nurture and lead people to be their very best self. I love this part of my role at Element Three. Finding the best fit where a person can spend most of their time working within their strengths. Matching them with a role that brings out the best in them every day. Providing people with tools, resources and encouragement to reach their fullest potential. There is nothing more rewarding than witnessing the metamorphosis from a fresh new hire to an accomplished high achiever.

That said, another historical HR myth in the book referenced above is: "HR is responsible for the organization’s talent, leadership, and capability." The modern reality is "Line managers are the primary owners of talent, leadership, and culture; HR professionals are architects who design blueprints and inform choices." This means I am here to create the tools, resources, and guidance to find, keep, and develop top talent. But, as you know - the number one reason why people leave their company is crappy managers. That is why it is so very important to focus on continuous development of internal leaders and managers. Create a team of leaders that others will follow willingly and you are set up for success. Create a team of managers that lead by fear and consequence and you will fail...sooner or later.

So, where do you start creating an environment where your most loyal and dedicated team members have leaders to follow and goals to work toward? How do you set people up for success, how do you give them direction, how do you create a dynamic environment that caters to individual strengths rather than a cookie cutter talent development program?

Step One

Understand that ALL PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT and embrace the challenges that come with developing individuals individually. Take the time to really learn about your employees. What gives them energy, what drains them? Run your employees through assessments that work for you and that help you identify what makes them tick. What are their key strengths? What do they love to do? Where do they struggle? What do they hate to do? Where do they want to go in your organization? Here at Element Three we use the DiSC assessment profiles (post hire), which is an assessment on behavior centering on four behavioral traits. This assessment is used individually and in teams and impacts the creation of individual development plans. This is a powerful tool to help employees learn how to communicate effectively with others as has a number of other applications both inside and outside of the organization.

Step Two

Understand that not everyone strives to lead and manage and that is okay. Develop potential but understand the limits that individuals have - some people want to grow beyond those limits and others hold tight to staying within their comfort zone. If someone is really good at one thing and that is what you need them to do for your company to succeed, for crying out loud, let them be great at that one thing. Let them be happy doing it really well for you and for them. Reward them for that effort. How do you figure this out? Well...Talk to them! Engage. A lot. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Apply what you learn about people and then help them to build a career path propels them in the right direction. You can certainly use assessments at this juncture as well to determine whether a person is well suited for a management or leadership role in your company. You will need to really understand what success in those roles looks like and benchmark so you have something to assess against. No assessment tells all. You still have to get to know people on a very basic level to guide them appropriately.

Step Three

Identify your key potential talent early. Have a plan, encourage their development and PARTICIPATE in their development path. You will be amazed at how much learning YOU do by going through the talent development process with your top performers. Designate Executive level mentors, create different levels of learning and provide safe forums for them to learn, ask questions, make mistakes, think freely and express opinions and ideas. Understand that some of your key potential talent will be great leaders and some will be great managers. Now and then you find those who can do both. Figure out the right patch for advancement and make sure your development opportunities align appropriately with that direction. Recognize and reward the wins. All of them. Big and small. Encourage risk taking and make it safe to make some mistakes. If you invest early and often, when the time comes for them to take the stage, they will be ready. And, everyone wins. At Element Three we are developing a 3-Tiered leadership development path that focuses on different stages of high potential talent and our Executive leadership team is responsible to guiding people at each level.

The talent development process will teach you a lot

Yes, I know, it all sounds so "elementary." This is not rocket science. The hard part comes when you have to execute on these steps and see people as the individuals they are and realize there is no cookie cutter answer to the complexity of optimizing talent. If you can't or won't take the time to customize your approach at such a granular level, you will be left scratching your head and wondering why your state of the art, standardized, technology-driven development tracks are failing. This stuff takes time. Time is the one resource that is not renewable. I am willing to wager that it takes a lot more time to FAIL at finding, keeping and growing optimal talent in your organization. Now stop staring at your screen and get up and go engage with your staff. It will be worth your time. I promise.