Hiring people with right aptitude & attitude is hard

Profound wisdom like winning a war equally applies to the war for talent in today’s corporate world. Most organizations recognize that talent is scarce and go all-out to woo people who they think belong to the shrinking talent pool. But how they manage the hard-acquired talent is altogether different. When the leadership team of an organization finds and refines a framework unique to their organization that stitches together, they will have resolved the puzzle of talent management.

Piece one is all about competence or ability. In this knowledge era, competitive advantage is directly proportionate to the intellectual capital an organization commands. Core competencies need people capabilities to deliver value. In other words, core competencies may represent a strategic choice but execution clearly is a people capability. Building high-leverage competencies and capabilities are key to building competitive advantage and people who demonstrate top-notch capabilities are valuable.

The second piece is aspiration. Nothing has ever been achieved in any sector, be it science or art medicine or management, without aspirations. Aspirations underlie audacious goals. Aspirations make people think louder, work harder, learn faster, be more creative, take more risks and reach for the stars.

The last piece is engagement. Individuals are engaged or disengaged. Research by leading consulting firms such as Hewitt and Hay has confirmed that the single most bothersome fact for most organizations is the issue of engagement or actually the lack of it. And if you have an engaged workforce any larger than the global average of 20%, you have reasons to be happy.

And now the equation is fairly simple. An employee is your top talent if he or she is high on ability, aspiration and engagement. Any one of these three factors missing is a cause for concern and calls for a concerted approach from the leadership team. It calls for an organization-wide approach to deliver a maximum return on the investment made on people.

Here’s a model that basically segments the people in an organization based on the combination of aspirations and ability. This does not include engagement since engagement does not follow any pattern with the talent segmentation. Eagles fly high like those employees who are high on ability and aspiration. They have a focused vision. They can spot the target from a distance and get at it.

Likewise, there are employees who have high aspirations but do not have the accompanying ability to sustain their success. Dodos are extinct now. They represent those who neither have the ability nor have any aspirations and, therefore, have no future in an organization. They are wrong hires or have become misfits. PoPos stand for Passed-on & Passed-over.

Despite ability this category of employees do not show aspirations and as a result they go unnoticed. In any case, they are not top talents but may be needed to manage certain critical jobs. Well, the idea here is not to pigeonhole people but to provide a simple framework of focused interventions by segmenting the talent. Eagles need coaching for sustaining their success while others need mentoring for raising their aspirations. Dodos need a soft landing and PoPos should be preserved for critical jobs.

Aspirations are often shaped by role models, family and peer pressures and individual motivation to self actualise. A fine line differentiates aspirations and delusions of grandeur. Unless appropriately guided, aspirations may lead to unfulfilled dreams.

Ability needs continuous honing. With half-life of knowledge being reduced to 2-3 years at the most, learning to learn becomes a critical success factor. Half-life of knowledge refers to a timeframe by which half of all our knowledge becomes irrelevant. With the kind of explosive growth we are witnessing, this is getting shorter.

This is a problem with the smart younger generation. Being smart and intelligent is mistaken as being knowledgeable. When this happens, learning stops and ability degenerates into disability. Employee quest for dabbling in too many things results in breadth being misunderstood for depth. Carefully crafted competency models and career paths will go a long way in ensuring that the cream rises to the top and stays there.

While ability and aspiration managements lend themselves to reasonable framework, ensuring that employees are both rationally and emotionally engaged is a Herculean task. Interestingly, studies by consulting organizations indicate that there is no particular correlation between the talent segments and their engagement drivers.

First line managers need to be trained on inspiring employees and on being perceptive to symptoms of disengagement such as loss of interest, skipping important meetings, excessive complaining and the like. Ability needs to be managed with the help of robust competency models and framework.

Aspirations need to be shaped with appropriate role modeling, mentoring support and career guidance. Engagement must clearly be facilitated through manager training, accountability and focus on complex factors such as communication, compensation, culture and career growth. While published frameworks and approaches could offer guidance, talent management has to be done in the context of organizational specifics.