Smart Leaders Do More Than Talk About Talent
Those of you familiar with my work know how much I detest politically correct sound-bites. Even worse - when those sound-bites are used in an attempt to make statements which embolden a corporate position that doesn’t really exist to begin with. Just because something is written in a vision or mission statement, placed on a website, included in company collateral material, or frequently espoused by corporate leadership doesn’t necessarily mean its true. In today’s post I’ll examine one of the most frequent offenders; “Talent is our biggest asset.”
Rarely do I speak with an executive who hasn’t taken more than a few sips of the talent messaging Kool-Aid. They don’t miss a beat as they speak of the quality of their talent as a key success metric. In fact, many of them will emphatically state that talent is their single biggest competitive advantage. If I only had a nickel for each time a CEO has told me “We have the best talent in the industry.” Reality check – as polished as their rhetoric tends to be, the simple truth of the matter is that their elocution doesn’t match their business practices. They often talk the talk, but rarely do they walk the walk.
The sad reality is few companies seem willing to make the requisite investments needed to successfully align their actions with their management speak. It has been my consistent experience that talent is one of the most often discussed, and least effectively actioned issues at executive leadership meetings. If CEOs spent half as much time on talent initiatives as they do complaining about talent, their organizations would see significant improvement thus obviating the need for all the grumbling.
Here’s an observation for your consideration; when an executive leadership meeting is called and there isn’t a dedicated executive level talent resource present, you don’t value talent as much a you think you do. I’m not talking about inviting your HR manager to attend the meeting for a few minutes, but rather having a C-level talent executive with a regular seat at the table. If your company doesn’t have a Chief Talent Officer, Chief People Officer etc., then you are likely just paying lip service to the value of talent.
If you just downsized and gave your previously “highly valued assets” their walking papers, then you might not value talent as much as you say you do. One of my mentors once cautioned me about treating people like furniture saying that “individuals are not inantimate objects to simply be moved around and discarded, but that people require a constant investment of time and money to develop to their full potential.” He strongly cautioned against short-term hires, and believed that you shouldn’t hire anyone whom you couldn’t keep and develop over the long haul. I would encourage you to read a previous post on “Workforce Reduction.”
If recruiting, training and development is being charged to a mid-level manager whose real domain expertise lies in administration and compliance, then talent will likely become your largest contingent liability as opposed to your biggest asset. In a previous post entitled “Who Should Do The Hiring” I go into great detail as to why recruiting and hiring should not always be siloed away as an HR function.
Bottom line…if you have high employee turnover (see “Cutting Employee Churn“), a fractured corporate culture, a lack of leadership development and mentoring programs, regressive compensation programs, and a lack of C-level focus on talent then talent cannot be your biggest asset. Don’t hype…stop complaining…fix the problem.