The greatest talent planning myth of them all

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If I had to run down the biggest myths around talent planning in companies, I’d start with these few:

The umbrella term “talent planning” refers to (a) getting good people and (b) organizing those people in ways where they can grow individually and benefit the company. Often, we do neither. And now we have some new research on that!

Some talent planning research

This article called “The Best Companies Don’t Have More Stars; They Cluster Them Together.” Another way to think about this: the A-Player issue above. Everybody who hires for their team wants “the superstar,” but honestly, most employees are drones. And very few people “hit the ground running” either. (That would happen more with internal recruitment, i.e. promotion, however.)

Anyway, this “stars” article is research from Bain. Here’s the crux of the research:

  • On average, 15% of a company’s workforce — roughly one in seven employees — are A players, or “stars.”
  • The amount of star talent does not differ dramatically between the best-performing companies in our sample (the top quartile) and the rest (the average of the remaining three quartiles). Stars made up 16% for the best, and 14% for the rest.

So, only 1 in 7 employees (15%) are “A-Players.” And having slightly more stars may elevate you to the top quartile of research, but barely.

Welcome to the talent planning myth.

What is the real secret sauce of talent planning?

Per said article:

The best-performing companies deploy their star talent in an intentionally nonegalitarian way. That is, they focus their stars on areas where these individuals can have the biggest impact on company performance. As a result, the vast majority of business-critical roles — upward of 95% — are filled by A-quality talent.

Logical. But many companies don’t practice this. Instead, they hire/recruit for specific roles — and once a person is in that role, it’s nearly impossible to get out to another role. So a company might hire a “crack sales guy” who should truly be in marketing, but the process of getting him to marketing will take years. He’ll flounder in sales, get put on a PIP, and eventually exit or be fired. It all comes from intractability. Amazing, because most companies these days are claiming to be “agile” — but have no idea what agility looks like when it comes to their people. Those roles are locked because “Goddamn it, we need those KPIs hit!”

A partial list of everything hiring managers are allowed to hide behind

  • “I am way too busy to run point on this search.”
  • “HR has the functional knowledge.”
  • “I cannot spend my entire day meeting with HR about open roles. I have real targets to hit.”
  • “If we can’t find who we need, clearly there is a skills gap.”
  • “HR has the functional knowledge for on-boarding. I’ll talk to the new hire on Day 4. Busy week.”
  • “Don’t we have a portal I can communicate with this hire through? Not enough time for one-on-one meetings…”
  • “That team-building you sent is good, Joe! I’ll read later!” (** moves to trash **)
  • “One of my objectives for this year is talent planning, of course! Need those A-Players!” (** rushes to update spreadsheet for boss **)

Why talent planning is broken

In short: we allow people to worship at The Temple of Busy and think people are tangential to the mission. “I’m a Products guy, Steve! I’ll design the next great idea!” Then, we root it all in a department that (a) execs don’t care about and (b) also has the ability to fire people.

How do we expect positive results around talent planning from this ecosystem?

How can we fix talent planning?

Step 1: care. That’s pretty much the first step for most things.

Then: move it away from HR to sales/marketing, or in conjunction with HR.

Step 3: make every manager come up with a 1-year plan and a 3-year plan for their personnel needs.

Now: find ways to talent poor talent decisions to bottom-line losses. Here’s one way.

Step 5: meet and discuss this stuff every six months. Let HR “come to the table.”

And most importantly, perhaps: put people where their strengths can shine, even if that’s not the department they entered under. You want people in the slots to make you money, not move shit from Column A to Column B for you.

What else would you add about talent planning in the modern age, and how to fix it?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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