What Should Leaders Do To Build Talent Quality & Depth?

Why do some companies always seem to have more than their fair share of talent? Why do these same companies seem to build better talent faster?

Recently Marc Effron, President of The Talent Strategy Group and Jim Shanley, President of The Shanley Group wrote up their* answers to these two critical questions.

Their combined experience, research and interview data tells them that companies stumble in this effort because they haven’t answered the fundamental question: What should leaders do to build talent quality and depth? Their answer is to emphasise six critical roles that leaders can play …

  • Drawing from “The war for talent” research (by Michaels, Ed, Helen Handfield-Jones, and Beth Axelrod published by Harvard Business Press in 2001) Effron and Shanley note that high performing companies have a shared talent mindset: “They have a consistent company approach to managing talent and managers are clearly accountable to execute that approach”. At the individual manager level this means that managers make finding and growing great talent the core of their business agenda: they are “talent evangelists”. These “managers make finding and growing great talent the core of their business agenda. They speak up, down and across the organization about talent and the importance of having superior talent.”
  • An “active investor” approach to talent involves the manager reviewing his portfolio frequently and making choices about where to increase and decrease investment – just as he would with every other asset in the company. “They don’t keep production equipment because it’s been around for 20 years and they have warm feelings towards it. They don’t allocate their marketing budget evenly across all campaigns to be “fair.””
  • Effron and Shanley know that the “talent accelerating manager” “builds better talent faster than other leaders inside and outside your company. She understands that talent grows fastest using big, challenging assignments and meaningful experiences. Because of this, her highest potential talent are in roles where their capabilities are tested and stretched on a daily basis.”
  • The “performance driver”, according to Effron and Shanley, “ensure[s] that their direct reports are performing at the “top quintile” of performance for their compensation level as compared to their peers globally. He is not shy about communicating that 80th percentile performance is the expected performance standard.”
  • The “talent scout” is characterised by constantly scanning their “own organisations and others for superior talent. They meet with the company’s highest potential leaders across departments and geographies to get to know them and to calibrate them against their current team.” As a result “talent scouts” have a pipeline of talent available internally and externally and they seldom have “empty seats”.
  • The “transparent coach” is blunt, direct or candid. They know that in the moment, accurate and honest feedback accelerates development by reducing the cycle time for learning. They may use feedforward** or feedback but they ensure that the messages are received.

Effron and Shanley recognise that these capabilities may seem aspirational. Two or three of these roles can, however,  be learned by every leader in any company.

Vitas Consult can provide tailored development through which your leaders and managers can learn, role play and develop the two or three roles they feel most comfortable with. Together with suitable accountability arrangements this can enable your organisation to build better talent faster than your competitors.


* Formerly Global Practice Leader, Leadership Consulting at Hewitt Associates, Marc now consults using his “One Page Talent Management” approach, which emphasises science-based simplicity, transparency and accountability. Jim Shanley was formerly lead executive for talent and learning at the Bank of America.
** Feedforward as a management term has been used by Avraham Kluger since 2006 and by Marshall Goldsmith in one of his prominent management articles.