Although Talent Mindset: The Business Owner’s Guide to Building Bench Strength was written for business owners, the concepts are transferable to other types of “owned” businesses and lend themselves well to the talent challenges experienced by CEOs, Vice Presidents, Heads of HR and functional leaders within any organization. The realm of talent management is a fundamental focus point for HR and traditionally much of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of leaders in this function; however, Stacy Feiner has deliberately explained these topics in the language of business and not HR speak. The end of each chapter has a “Talent Insight” that serves as a little nugget you can pull and ponder from each section.
In simple terms, the book is organized like this:
Strategy and Culture are the bookends of the talent mindset philosophy. Between the bookends, there are three corridors (these are really big buckets or levels of process, but I prefer Feiner’s visual idea of a corridor) – Talent Acquisition, Talent Development and Talent Deployment. These corridors align with the general life cycle of talent within an organization. Continuing with the theme of three, within each corridor, there are three centers of Excellence (nine in total for those of us who are numerically challenged). This is a pretty unassuming approach but filled with highly engaging content. Sometimes it is the simplest of things that give us the most to think about. It’s not always beneficial to make things more complicated than they need to be.
Becoming a Product of Our Environment
"The people you surround yourself with in your organization make or break your success"
Any way you slice or dice it, your achievements are directly related to the people who work for you and alongside you. While the book is organized into three segments (don’t you just love the idea of “three”): Talent Acquisition, Development and Deployment, you can decide to jump in and focus on the area that is presenting the greatest challenge to you at that moment. WE don’t have to start at the beginning because it is a continuous cycle with one segment setting the stage for what follows. WE have the ability to make a positive impact in any of these three talent segments at any time. But what is most important is the action of starting. You will be missing out on potential business success if you don’t have the right employees in your organization, with the right skills in the right roles focused on the right tasks. And the foundation is always changing. What is right today may not be what is right tomorrow, but it will always be the world in which we need to generate business success. Someone (I honestly don’t know who, but this person must have been important) once said, you are the average of the ten people you hang around most. If that is the case, I spend more time at work than I do anywhere else; so, I certainly want to make sure those ten people in my organization have better ideas than I do! And I can influence this by who I acquire, who I develop and who I deploy….where and when.
The Heart of the Matter
"While Training is enterprise-wide, and Performance Management is one-on-one direction, the Leadership Development piece is the heart of coaching."
I love the idea that we need to adopt a bigger vision of training such that it “inspires curiosity, gives visibility, permeates silos and flattens hierarchies”. It is not just dollars. It is about walking the talk with regard to someone’s potential and taking the extra step of investing in this person’s potential. It needs to go hand in hand with performance management, but it offers so much more in terms of return. It’s a little like art and science. Calculate the numbers. Put criteria in place to select those who should be developed. (One of the criteria Feiner recommends is self-awareness. I could not agree more. A leader who does not grasp what is going on around them, does not continue forward as an effective leader….for very long.) View training as learning to solve problems in a collaborative way – the more it reflects your business, the more effective it is going to be. Training should deliver authentic opportunities to develop skills. Off the shelf programs that try and cram people into a mold won’t have the impact you need. It is about celebrating what makes someone unique and leveraging that uniqueness to harness even better results – for the business and the individual. Be on the lookout for those with leadership potential. Invest in your bench strength by deliberately not filling holes but hiring for future roles!
The Secret Sauce
"Employee engagement is a company’s opportunity to create the ultimate competitive advantage."
Employee engagement in the context of the Talent Mindset is the “secret sauce” of a company’s culture. Engagement for the sake of engagement will not grow the business, nor (I would argue) will it keep your talent engaged for the long term. Think about it this way: Strategic talent management is like a lifecycle, and engagement is the fuel that powers this lifecycle. It defines what the organization is about to the community, business partners and employees. Again, the beauty of the power of three! Engagement begins with recruiting and getting the right people into your organization. It then continues to generate momentum as you train these individuals and even greater momentum when you have them focused on the tasks that engage their hearts and brains while driving your business forward. When you get to the “sweet spot”, it is difficult to tell the difference from what is good for the organization and what is good for the individual. There is alignment and a sharing of benefits. To help get you started: define your organization’s core cultural competencies (what really defines your business) and values (what does your business stand for) and then measure how well your employees adhere to your culture. This is not your mom and pop’s traditional employee “how much do I like my job” survey. Take the time to ask people what they really think! And then take the time to really listen. Since when has tackling engagement been so uncomplicated?
Feiner provides solid numbers to support the business case for employee engagement. What is disappointing is the lack of action organizations have taken. The percentage of organizations that succeed in this area continues to be disappointingly low. The good news is this leaves lots of room for the rest to take advantage.
Putting it all together, making efforts at the beginning to select the best people that fit your culture – hiring for the role not filling holes, providing feedback, but more importantly developing accountability – drives engagement that grows the business. It’s this engagement the supports a fantastic culture that helps attract the talent you need and the continuum continues.
Feiner’s book is concise in its content, but expansive in the outlook it can provide your business. It almost made me long to be a business owner and drive this type of change in mindset where I work, but I think that does the content a disservice. As a leader in an organization (even if I am not the owner), I can impact this mindset in my functional area and begin to plant the seeds to support other leaders in developing this mindset in their areas. As leaders, we can start anywhere. It does not have to be at what we would traditionally identify as the beginning. Just start anywhere along the Talent lifecycle and look forward to the positive impact you can have.
One final thought….if the arguments are so compelling for this shift in mindset, why do we continue to think about the employees in our businesses in such a traditional manner? Why do we become sidetracked with new and trendy employee perks and traditional HR buzzwords and labels? Why do we continue to settle with simply meeting expectations in this area where it is clearly possible to exceed? Perhaps it is true that old habits die hard.