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Use Current Talent, Don't Dream About Desired Talent

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After Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, came out in 2001, all the rage in management has been about getting the wrong people off the bus, getting the right people on the bus, and putting them in the right seats. Then the bus will go to amazing places. I call this talent management: attracting, retaining, and developing the right talent for your organization, and letting go of the wrong talent for your organization.

Recently, I shared this concept at a speech, and a woman raised her hand and said, “Dan, I’m not going to be able to replace any of my employees for the foreseeable future. So how do I succeed with the people I have?”

Tough Economic Times Require Innovative Talent Management

Supposedly, we’re moving into some very tough economic times in the near future. The basis for this theory is that nearly every paper in the country has been dedicating headlines to the impending economic decline. Psychologically, this constant barrage of doom and gloom predictions weighs on the investments companies are willing to make toward improving the future.

In other words, as a manager, you are probably going to be allowed to fire employees, but not hire new employees. So unless you’re willing to do all of the work yourself, you better find ways to increase productivity with the team on board right now.

Conduct a VSP Audit

Every employee brings something to the table, and the DNA of that something is the combination of the employee’s values, strengths, and passions. As you work to unlock the treasure that an employee can bring to your organization, search for the answers to these three questions:

  • What are the person’s values?
Values are beliefs that determine behaviors. Write down a series of statements that you think describe what guides the person’s behaviors on a regular basis. Then ask the individual to describe what is guiding his or her behaviors. See if there is alignment between what you see as the person’s values and what the individual perceives them to be.
  • What are the person’s strengths?
Strengths are what the person has the capacity to do well. Whether it is inspiring members of a group to dig for difficult customer insights or to think creatively, write down what you perceive to be the individual’s strengths. Then ask the person to explain his or her strengths.
  • What are the person’s passions?
What gets the person excited? What activities or responsibilities does the individual relish? Write down your perceptions of the person’s passions, and then ask the person to describe his or her passions.

Leverage Talent

I’m defining talent as “the combination of values, strengths, and passions that generate desired outcomes.” One of the most important responsibilities of a manager is to put employees in positions where they will have the greatest positive impact on improving key organizational results.

Take a few days after the initial conversation that I described above and answer this question for each employee, “How can this person use his or her strengths and passions to improve our highest desired business outcomes while staying within his or her values?” Then ask the employee to answer that question as well.

As you work to clarify the answer to that question, continue to reflect on the best role in the organization for this person to fill. It may very well mean creating a new role. Don’t worry about the flak you might get. The goal is to take current resources and achieve better business outcomes. Staying with an old organizational structure just because that’s the way things have always been done may very well keep you from ever achieving sustainable, profitable growth.

Once you’ve gained an understanding of all of your employees, take out a sheet of paper and write down how the individuals could be deployed to achieve the best outcomes both for the customers and for your organization. Take a week or so to get really comfortable with the new distribution of talent. Then meet with each individual and explain your rationale for the new setup. Some people will love it and some will hate it. That comes with the territory.

Sometimes Subtraction is Multiplication

Many times managers have told me about a problem employee who has eaten up an enormous amount of time and energy. I always say, “Have you considered firing the person?” That usually stuns the manager, and the person will say, “Dan, we want to give the person every chance to succeed.” In about 80 percent of those cases, I hear the manager say six months later, “I should have fired the person six months ago.”

Not every employee automatically has the type of talent that can be leveraged successfully in your organization. Sometimes an employee simply is not going to work out for your organization. Rather than using up all of your time and energy trying to “fix” someone who would be better off in a different organization, I encourage you to let the person go.

Try the questions I outlined above to see if you can decipher the person’s values, strengths, and passions and how they can be deployed successfully. But if you can’t find a role where the person can add value to your organization’s desired outcomes, then be okay with letting the person go.

This can be, and will very likely be, difficult both emotionally and financially. It costs money to let a person go. You may not have the resources to replace the person. And you may have a friendship with the person that will probably be severed. However, you may very likely multiply the productivity of your organization by letting the person go. And that needs to be your first consideration as a manager.

About the Author

Visit Dan at Dan Coughlin is a business keynote speaker, management consultant, and the author of Accelerate: 20 Practical Lessons to Boost Business Momentum, which made it to #25 on the Barnes & Noble Business Bestseller List. He has been quoted in USA Today, the New York Times, and Investor’s Business Daily. Dan’s clients include Coca-Cola, Toyota, Boeing, Marriott, McDonald’s, AT&T, the American Bar Association, and the St. Louis Cardinals. He speaks on entrepreneurial habits, quality, leadership, branding, sales, and innovation.
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