Several companies in Thailand are talking about the need for organisational change to be competitive in the global market and ensure sustainable growth. Organisational change in most cases involves restructuring at least a part of the workforce.
The success of change lies in finding the right person for each newly defined role. Conventionally, organisations reposition their employees based on experience and past performance, assuming those who performed in the old structure will perform in the new. Great managers reposition people based on each individual’s unique talents, ensuring that each employee contributes toward the success of the organisation and each employee enjoys individual success.
Selecting people and positioning employees is one of the key roles of a manager. Conventional wisdom advises managers to select for experience, intelligence, and determination. Talent is mentioned mostly as an afterthought. Great managers would agree with all of this advice; experience can teach valuable lessons, intelligence is a boon, and will-power is impossible to teach. But conventional wisdom stops short of recognising there are other kinds of talents, and the right set of talents are the real pre-requisites for excellence in all roles.
Defining talent: Normally we associate talent only with celebrated excellence.
Great managers on the other hand define a talent as "a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied." The emphasis here is on the word "recurring." Your talents, they say, are the behaviours you find yourself doing often. You have a mental filter that sifts through your world, forcing you to pay attention to some stimuli, while others slip past you, unnoticed. Your instinctive ability to remember names, rather than just faces, is a talent.
Any recurring patterns of behaviour that can be productively applied are talents. The key to excellent performance is finding the match between your talents and your role. Every role, performed at excellence, requires talent, because every role performed at excellence, requires certain recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour.
Conventional wisdom assumes either these behaviours can be trained after the person has been hired or that these characteristics are unimportant to job performance. Both assumptions are wrong.
First, you cannot teach a person to form strong opinions or to feel the emotions of others or to revel in confrontations or to pick up subtle differences between people. Second, talents like these prove to be the driving force behind an individual’s job performance. Therefore, no matter how carefully you select for experience, intelligence, and will-power, you still end up with a range in performance.
Maximising talent: So if you can’t carve out new talents for your people, what, if anything, can you change about them? First, you can help them discover their talents. Great managers are adept at spotting talent and then repositioning their people so that they can play to that talent more effectively. Second, managers can teach their people new skills and knowledge and move talents to strengths.
An important point to note here is that skills and knowledge are different from talents. Skills are the how-to-do’s of a role. They are capabilities that can be transferred from one person to another. Knowledge is simply ‘what you are aware of.’ Knowledge could be factual, things you know, or experiential, things you have picked up along the way.
Selecting for talent: Great managers have simple techniques to help find a match between the person and the role. The first is to understand the role and the talents sought. To identify these talents, look beyond the job title and description. Think about the culture of the company. Is your company highly structured or does your company encourage the entrepreneurial spirit?
Also think about how expectations will be set for the role and how closely the person will be supervised. Think about your managerial style and the other people on the team. In other words, you need to consider the entire work environment in which this person must fit. Studying your best performers is another means to ensure that you have identified the right talents to select for.
The examples of the success of this philosophy are many. Our research has shown that sales people in roles that maximise their talents are the top performers in their companies’ sales force and sell four to ten times as much as the average performers. A look at your best people should be enough to tell you that talent matters.
Selecting for talent is the manager’s first and most important responsibility. Selecting for talent is the first of the four keys to being great managers. The others are: setting expectations by defining the right outcomes, motivating employees based on their strengths, and developing employees by helping them find the role that best matches their talents.
This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on August 20, 2003. Reprinted with permission.