Talent – When Enough is Not Enough

One of the things I am known for at work is my view that we sometimes over-design or over-think things. One of my coworkers refers to this as the GSD – Gardner Sufficiency Doctrine.  It’s that point in a process where you realize continued investment will yield diminished returns.  Some people call it the 80/20 rule.

Yesterday, Jennifer Miller – another member of the HR Blogger Network, posted this interesting piece on leaders who produce great talent. The key point she made is that if you have great leaders, they are producing a great pipeline even though those talents may leave. The implied message is that being a great leader includes the capability to select, nurture, and promote great talent at a rate greater than the organization needs.

When it comes to leadership accountability for developing the next leaders, there is simply never enough. You may not keep investing in coursework or seminars endlessly, but leaders should never stop investing in the true development of people. I laid out the importance of all-employee development in this post. We all should be continuing to develop, and leaders should be driving greater capabilities.

It’s called “employment at will”, and it works both ways. We are foolish if we believe that we are going to hold on to every talent indefinitely. So we need more than enough. In manufacturing we pursue strategies of make-to-order and just-in-time to minimize holding costs and optimize customer service. But we still overproduce to account for inaccuracies in our assumptions and for the variability in the market. We should be looking at talent in much the same way.

In your talent reviews do you find the following happening?

  • John Q has been listed as “ready in 1-3 years for four years running
  • Mary B has been on the list of Top Talent for three years now, but no one is sure what the right next job should be
  • Mark J is getting close to retirement, yet there hasn’t been a ready-now successor on his list since his favorite protege left the company three years ago
  • Sophia R is listed as the successor to three different leaders, and they all think they have a good plan

It looks like the supply side is not keeping up with the demand side. Having good recruitment is one strategy, having good developers is another. Having both is probably the ideal situation.

I worked for one organization that added an annual award to managers when they were able to have their employees promoted elsewhere in the organization. There were no secret pools of talent there. And there was strong competition for great jobs.

I’m siding with Jennifer on this, and putting my sufficiency principle aside.

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