Finding local talent to employ and keep business successful

There is a fable about a successful farmer in the ancient world who one day heard a story of the riches to be had from seemingly ordinary rocks mined from the earth. He became obsessed with diamonds and sold his productive farm to set out in search of the gems. He spent his entire fortune traveling the world in search of riches but never found the diamonds he sought. Soon after he died, the largest diamond mine ever found on the continent was discovered on the very farm he sold to finance his quest.

Just for a moment, let's pretend there was a special machine that took a retina scan of every employee in your business and, based on this scan, it could tell you exactly what each employee was capable of becoming in the future. You could then create a customized development program that resulted in the most profitable and fulfilling use of every employee in your business. Would you use such a machine, if it were available?

Business leaders often discover an internal conflict between taking care of the immediate concerns of the business and a longing to "do it right" and manage more strategically for long-term success. Beleaguered executives often confess that even if they did have a perfectly clear picture of the best way to develop and manage their people, current circumstances wouldn't allow it.

Research has revealed that mediocre supervisors work under the assumptions that: Everyone should be able to learn how to do a job with training; and the greatest employee growth is realized by focusing on improving the employee's areas of weakness.

In contrast, exceptional supervisors believe that: Everyone has unique and enduring talents; and people's greatest potentials lie in developing their areas of strength.

Great managers constantly look for ways to develop and leverage each employee's strengths rather than getting trapped in trying to fix weaknesses.

Business leaders serious about identifying, developing and deploying talent understand that in today's world getting the right people doing the right things is the most important differentiator in any successful business. How they understand and manage people should come before thinking about how they will effectively compete in the marketplace.

For most business leaders, this is a difficult shift in mind-set to make. After all, business leaders are normally evaluated by quantifiable measures expressed in numbers: annual revenue, earnings, units moved or the organization's credit rating - all "hard" financial measures of success. It's easy for business leaders to think they can control and manipulate these hard metrics through decision-making and the priorities they establish for their organizations.

On the other hand, understanding and deploying talent is much more difficult and isn't so readily quantified. It requires more humility to assess qualitative measures, and that doesn't fit the "alpha male" concept of many leaders. The $64,000 question is, "How can we balance the scales by creating equally compelling measurements for identifying, hiring, developing and optimizing talent?"

As of yet there isn't a retina scan that measures potential and illuminates the most effective pathway to success. But it's getting closer. The convergence of psychometrics with job benchmarking is opening up new methods to identify deeper or undiscovered reservoirs of potential in people. It comes down to understanding the job, understanding the employee and applying resources to polish the fit between the two. Exceptional leaders have experienced breakthroughs in performance by asking - and answering - three simple questions:

1. What talent patterns does this job require in order to achieve superior results?

For every job there are specific activities, rewards and evaluative-judgment patterns that result in superior performance. By defining these in detail, business leaders can develop clarity about the job requirements that will lead to superior performance. This picture of what the job requires can be used to improve the hiring process, create highly customized training and development strategies and pinpoint the most important performance-management issues for continuous improvement.

2. What natural talent patterns does this person bring to the job and how should we leverage this talent?

Every individual brings a unique combination of behavioral tendencies, motivational biases and evaluative-judgment inclinations to their work. When these fall in relative alignment with what the job is asking for, superior performance is practically inevitable (we call them, "a natural for the position"). When there is misalignment between these talent patterns and what the job is asking for, it doesn't matter what education or past experience the employee brings, there will always be a struggle to perform at a superior level. This is the hard work of managing others - to understand and leverage the strengths and to work around or neutralize the weaknesses.

3. What is the most effective way to develop and focus each person's talent for success based on the alignment between the job and the person?

Diagnosis is 90 percent of the cure. If business leaders can develop a high-resolution image of what a job is asking for, how natural talent patterns relate to the job and then learn how to apply this knowledge to leverage strengths and neutralize weaknesses, they will begin to understand that their people represent one of the greatest underutilized resources in the organization.

Most leaders think they are effective at identifying opportunities. They pride themselves on their ability to understand the dynamics of the marketplace, to develop products and services that create future wealth, to build a loyal customer base and to manage the financial statements for increased net worth and cash flow. As savvy as these leaders may be when it comes to markets, products, customers and assets, they continually miss the greatest treasure of all. As a result, they forfeit their own acres of diamonds.

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