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Talent Management: The Mission
is First! But We Need the Right
People to Accomplish It

By Edward J. Williams, MAEd, MHRM, MBA

I recently heard an Air Force general ask the leaders in his organization whether the mission or the people should come first. Whether in the military or in business, the answer to this question, although counterintuitive to some, is simple: the mission comes first! This is simple as long as we stay focused on the fact that the business provides the purpose for the people. This is certainly not to imply that people are not a critical component in accomplishing the mission. In fact, I would submit that people can and will determine the success of the business. This is where an effective Talent Management strategy makes its mark. Who are the people affecting your business? How do you ensure the right people are in the right jobs? Are they trained for the job today as well as for the challenges the business will face in the future? Do they all think alike, come from the same background and solve problems the same way? Or, did you stack the deck for innovation and diversity?

The best way to ensure we select the right people is to first understand how we, as leaders, interact within the mentoring and selection processes. As discussed in previous articles, determining the competencies required for the job is critical. When considering an external candidate for a position, you will look for demonstration of the competencies in their resume and in the questions you ask during the interview. Do you have a full understanding of the competencies required for the position? Even more important, are you ensuring that you place the appropriate weight on the competencies, as opposed to extraneous factors such as shared background, prior relationships, similar problem-solving approaches and the like? In other words, are you focused on hiring a person that best fits the job profile or a person that is most like you?

Even though the competency-based approach is best whether the candidate is external or internal, it is my strong belief that its greatest value is achieved when applied to internal candidates. I also believe just as strongly that this is where our talent management strategy has its greatest opportunity for failure. This is the point where, if we are not very careful, we may focus too much on whether the individual thinks the same way we do, makes the same choices and agrees with the majority rather than thinking out of the box. After all, we will have had a great deal of time to assess their style when they are internal candidates. An example of this failure to embrace the value of differences can be found in the book “Gender Intelligence” by Barbara Anniston and Keith Merron. The authors discuss the flawed approach taken by many organizations where women are expected to demonstrate more male behaviors to be considered successful. The authors argue that a “gender intelligent” approach calls for using the inherent strengths and styles of women as a benefit. This thought process can be applied to all of our people interactions. If performance and potential are valued over style (rather than the other way), the combined styles of all employees together become a multiplier.

In my career, the best teams I’ve worked with had the following characteristics:

1. They were built with a purpose – we ensured each team member had the required skills for their job
2. They were diverse – in background, experience, education and ethnicity
3. Innovation and open discussion were not just ideas, they were requirements!

As you begin the important work of determining the right competencies for your organization and evaluating your current staff (i.e., skills inventories, gap analysis) there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of building high-powered teams:

1. Focus on Performance and Potential when determining the right person for the right job

  • Demonstrated experience in the competencies critical to the job (Performance).
  • Ability to meet the expected future challenges of the job (Potential).

2. If you’ve already developed your competencies, assess the strength of your understanding and do the same for hiring managers reporting to you.

  • When interviewing candidates for a given job do you know how the competencies would be demonstrated? Are you able to develop appropriate questions?

3. Make innovation a way of life for your business.

  • If you are in the process of developing your competencies, build this in now. Seek innovation and out-of-the-box thinking in every position and at every level.
  • If your competencies are already developed, look for innovative people in your hiring processes. You should find it in the questions you ask during the interview. You should look for it in your search for demonstration of the
    competencies in each resume’.

Your mission, the reason your business exists, absolutely does come first. But, never forget that it takes the right people in the right positions to drive your success. Don’t guess at what it takes to be successful in roles that are critical to your business; develop your competency models, fully understand and adopt them, and make sure the right people are building your future!

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2 replies
  1. Sarah Daniels
    Sarah Daniels says:

    Knowing what the competencies are and determining whether candidates have them are two different things. As you mentioned, the interview process is crucial to determine this. Hiring managers must ask the right questions.

  2. E.J. Williams
    E.J. Williams says:

    I absolutely agree with you Sarah. The hiring manager will need to determine the existence of the required competencies during the interview process. But prior to that, we must provide the hiring manager with the right tools for making that determination. Without good tools, he or she is likely to revert to a less measured approach. Thanks for your comment — E.J.

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