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by Van Fleisher & Todd Ritchey

Chapter 3 – Talent Optimization

Getting the Right People Doing the Right Things!

If you’ve ever watched a baseball game or American football game, you’ve seen, no doubt, the use of specialists – putting in a left-handed batter against a right-handed pitcher or a hard-charging defensive line in passing situations.

They represent the likelihood of the best possible outcome in those situations. And staying with the sports analogy, the movie “Moneyball” epitomized the use of data to select the right players or personnel to get the job done.

In a general sense, we do this in business, too.

The people good with numbers can usually be found in the finance department. Those with computer skills in IT. And if you have an engineering degree, you’ll probably be found in the engineering group.

It’s commonsensical, but talent optimization goes beyond this…

Consider the “number crunchers” in finance. They may all be equal based on their mathematical skills, but when it’s time for a big presentation to the board, one or two people might be selected for their presentational skills. And while you probably don’t want a risk-taker in accounting, having one on your mergers and acquisitions team could be a good idea.

Talent optimization plays a vital role in a business’ strategy and organizational structure. There’s no point in setting aggressive sales goals if you have end-of-life products and a weak sales organization. And if you want an organization focused on innovation and speed, the behavioral requirements of the organization’s roles will need to tilt toward risk tolerance and speed of decision-making. 

Talent Optimization

So, what exactly do we mean by “Talent Optimization?”

Talent Optimization (TO) involves using a well-thought-out strategy to guide the way people are hired, how teams are built, and how the business culture is designed.

For talent optimization to work effectively, the business strategy must meet the following criteria:

  • Deliberate: It should be written following careful consideration of how your company competes, prospers, delivers on its mission, leverages external opportunities and internal assets, and structures its operations.

  • Simple: It should have a narrow focus. A strategy that aims to do too many things will fail.

  • Actionable: It should incorporate an execution plan.

  • Agreed upon: It should be agreed upon by all key stakeholders. All stakeholders must be aligned with the strategy execution plan. 

  • Communicated: It should be shared so that all employees understand the goals the company is trying to achieve. 

TO also involves knowing people by what isn’t on their resume – their personality, emotional traits, and creative skills. Leaders can leverage tools and techniques to collect and measure people data that will help predict how people will behave and interact in organizational settings. These insights help talent optimizers understand the people in their organization and improve the way they work. 

If subjects like this make you uncomfortable or cause an uncontrollable eye roll, give us a call, and we’ll help you over any doubt you may have.

Think about it…

What if you had a team full of very bright people struggling to achieve a goal that involved a great deal of innovation?

Your team is focused on a scientific area requiring compliance and consistency. Now, what if you also had a better understanding of your people, and someone from another department had similar skill sets but also scored highly in innovation and creativity.

What if that person was added to that team? 

We’ve seen this firsthand, and the results speak for themselves. How did the team feel about achieving their goal? What did the new team member think about the role they played? If you know the inner strengths of your people, you can design more effective teams, departments, and even entire companies.

All this from simply putting the right people into the right jobs.

Organizational Structure & TO

Most companies think of their organizational structure as a permanent state or changeable only by an exceptional circumstance—like an acquisition, a new product, or a division that has grown or changed to a point where it can’t keep operating successfully as is. But perhaps you should see organizational structure as an ongoing practice intended to anticipate and adapt to change.

It’s a natural evolution.

Like individuals, organizations can and often need to evolve to adapt to change. Thousands of leading MBA programs would go out of business if they didn’t!

Seriously, though, the pandemic has forced most companies to restructure. Partially due to the requirements during of COVID. And now by employees who are imposing demands.

The companies who refuse to adapt, or do so clumsily, will pay the price. Understanding your people can also help with designing or redesigning your organizational structure. 

If you are planning to, or are in the process of restructuring – focus on roles, not individuals – no matter how tempting.

Building teams and departments around individuals can cause problems. If that person leaves the organization, the position might be difficult to fill because it wasn’t built around a job description, but rather an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Your organizational structure should be intentional, strategic, and aligned with the business results you’re looking to achieve. Then, put the right people into the right jobs to ensure your success.

Selecting a structure that maps to your business strategy also involves the following considerations: 

  • Do we need to create new jobs or modify existing ones?  
  • How do the jobs relate to one another? 
  • Defining span of control. 
  • Defining workflows and systems. 
  • Understanding behavioral requirements of roles.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how good your people are or how hot your industry is. If you don’t get your organizational structure right, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

The proper organizational structure is one that’s aligned with your business strategy.

So, a small startup with an approach focused on competitiveness, customer intimacy, speed, and intensity will need an operating model that enables rapid decision-making. This type of organization requires a flat structure with relatively few middle managers.

By contrast, a large organization in a highly regulated environment may need a more hierarchical structure with several layers of management to maintain compliance.

Laugh or Cry

While working at a clothing manufacturer, their training department wanted to make a training video that could be used as part of an onboarding process. They asked a member of our consulting team to suggest which employee should be featured. We immediately thought of the employee who consistently outproduced the other 200 employees doing the job. 

She was rejected because … “She doesn’t follow our procedure.”

Your Leadership is Your Key Talent

Even more essential than common sense is having the right leadership team to achieve your strategic objectives.

The execution of a given business strategy will require specific leadership abilities. For example, an organization that seeks to increase quality and predictability will require executives who can design systems and processes, communicate effectively, and coordinate complex cross-functional initiatives. 

A senior leader in an organization will naturally be proficient in a given leadership style based primarily on their behavioral style.

For example, a highly extroverted leader may naturally be adept at collaboration and persuading others. That same executive may need to develop leadership abilities that don’t come as naturally, such as the ability to design complex systems.

Quantitative tools such as surveys, skills inventories, and strategy maps give context to a leader’s behavioral profile and skills. 

To ensure effective leadership for your organization, you must: 

1. Map leadership competencies to the business strategy.

A core tenet of TO is the need to take an objective, data-driven approach to align people with the business context. This starts with mapping leadership competencies to your business strategy.

For example, if your organization’s strategy calls for innovation, competencies around leading for the future or leading through agility will be critical.

By contrast, an approach that emphasizes command and control may require leadership capabilities such as leading quality initiatives or leading through systems thinking.

The leadership competencies needed to build and maintain a fluid organization are quite different from the leadership competencies suited to slowly developing, consistent environments. 

To create your map, start with each key initiative or strategic activity included in your strategy. Next, identify the specific leadership skills and behaviors required to execute the activity successfully. 

2. Identify and evaluate the senior leaders’ fit with the required competencies and decide which competencies they’ll need to develop to execute the business strategy.

Again, it’s essential to take a data-driven approach here.

You can measure the leadership abilities of your senior leaders by using some combination of personality assessments, proficiency ratings from C-level executives and peers, or 360° reviews.

What’s most important is to evaluate this data in the context of the leadership abilities dictated by your chosen strategy. Ideally, your senior leaders will fit your desired leadership competency profile.

However, you will likely find gaps relative to the organization’s leadership requirements.

3. Develop and execute a plan to address leadership gaps.

Senior team members can develop their leadership abilities.

Self-awareness and willingness to grow will often allow senior leaders to avoid stagnation or negatively impact company results. A senior team member who’s adept at taking a structured, systematic approach when working with customers may be able to develop a similar ability when designing internal controls and methods.

It’s important to know that people can stretch and grow through self-awareness and deliberate practice. However, if a strategy calls for specific abilities and a leader is unwilling or unable to address this need using the approach above, they should be replaced with someone who possesses the required capabilities.

Another option is to delegate initiatives to less senior team members. 

4. Embrace a philosophy of “leaders at every level.”

The best companies have leaders at every level of the organization. While the scope of leadership may be more limited for middle and first-line managers, their opportunity and responsibility to lead are the same. Their influence may be even more significant as they lead greater numbers of people. 

Even within the lower-level workforce, individual contributors should regard themselves as unofficial leaders since they influence the work done and those around them. Their importance cannot be underestimated. We have seen unofficial leaders win over their colleagues when even the most heartfelt requests from senior managers failed. 

There are three primary reasons for striving to establish leaders at every level.

First, even the most adept senior leaders cannot scale the business on their own; they need lower-level leaders to reinforce their intent.

Second, a leader may exit the organization, creating a leadership void that must be filled.

Finally, developing future leaders will foster greater employee engagement and leadership readiness as the organization evolves. 

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is becoming increasingly important, especially with the issues thrown at organizations by the pandemic. Personnel issues, supply chain challenges, fluctuating consumer demand, and changing business processes demand agility.

So it’s not surprising that agile and flexible organizations are better positioned to take advantage of changing situations like market forces or technological advances. 

As a leader, you must be willing and flexible in terms of your leadership style and methods—and so must the rest of the leaders in your organization. Leaders are sometimes called on to direct multiple groups of contributors simultaneously, which means they need to find ways to engage with different personality types effectively.

Agile leaders flex themselves to meet the needs of their teams, while maintaining steady progress toward the task at hand, and the company vision. Your senior leadership team must work well together to execute your strategy.

The best way to ensure team synergy is by understanding team dynamics. Having an awareness of what each leader is good at and where each leader might need to stretch and develop new skills. When everyone on the leadership team has this awareness, individual and group productivity blooms

A well-functioning senior team is also key to establishing your culture and influencing organizational behavior. When the team at the top takes decisive action and communicates well among themselves—when they demonstrate self-awareness and a willingness to grow—they set the tone for the rest of the organization. 

For your senior leadership team to be as effective as possible, you must:

  1. Consider the senior team as a mini organization. 
  2. Create awareness of senior team members’ similarities and differences.
  3. Have senior team leaders monitor and manage team culture.
  4. Create flexibility and the ability to adapt to change. 

Key Takeaways from Chapter 3

  1. Make sure you have the right people doing the right jobs.
  2. Talent Optimization plays a crucial role in strategy, and strategy helps drive talent optimization.
  3. Know your people by what’s not on their resume.
  4. Re-examine your organizational structure. Ensure it’s the right one to deliver your strategy.
  5. Evaluate your leadership in the context of your strategic goals. Make adjustments as required.
  6. Establish a culture of Leaders at all levels.
About the Author

Van has worked in over 30 countries helping large companies and small. Author, mentor, board member, CEO, and team leader have been some of his job titles, but his passion is helping businesses succeed through their own employees' efforts.

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