How Leaders Harness Their Talent

top talent is more productive but needs to be managed

Your people enable your business to succeed. Apart from having the right product or service at the right price and the right strategies across your business, a successful and viable business also needs to have:

  • the right people
  • in the right jobs
  • making the right decisions and
  • with the right finance mix to allow sustainable growth.

Choosing the right people is often treated as a key but low priority by many managers – an inexact science at best. This means many people are employed who are not prime performers. From here inertia takes over as it is often regarded as being better to have someone in the position than no-one at all.

We all know employees who have the technical skills required for success. But how often and why do we see these skills not being used or applied for the success of the business?

Grasping the nettle and dealing with this tricky and often difficult issue is the role of the leaders in your business.


One study reported in the Psychological Bulletin (Sept 1998, Vol. 124, No. 2) revealed that top performers can produce up to 19% more than average performers in low skilled jobs and up to 48% in managerial and professional jobs.

There are three points in time when you can improve the management of your talent and reduce under performance of your people:

  • When you hire a new person – in other words, you get it right from the start.
  • On the job – you use training and staff development to improve performance of your existing staff.
  • Have the existing person leave the job – the most costly from both a time and money perspective – but still a necessity in certain situations.

Under performance is also more likely with staff who are not happy in their jobs, and often, they are not happy people to be around. People are most likely to be unhappy in their jobs for the following reasons:

  • They are doing something they do not like doing.
  • They are doing something in a way that they don’t like doing it.
  • They are doing something which is beyond their skills and competencies.
  • And most often, they don’t gel with their manager.

Unhappy staff are unlikely to perform to their optimal level and, they are unlikely to stay on board for the long term, particularly those who do not enjoy working with their manager. If they are good, they have a choice to work elsewhere – and research shows they do move on to other opportunities.


Managing talent is all about having the right systems throughout the human capital cycle, and communicating with your people so that they feel their efforts are valued and respected.

The managers in your business hold the key to managing your talent – retaining it, promoting it and hiring it. It is, after all, their job to manage’ and managing the talent of those who work with them is probably their most important act of management.

When someone is promoted to a position of management, they do not get handbook on ‘How to be a Great Manager’. This is the exact opposite to the process of training and skill development they went through when they were learning their trade or profession.

Yet management is a skill just like any other skill. Yes, some people are better naturally at it than others but as in most situations, the persistent learner can often outperform the gifted person if they are willing to put in the training and effort.

New managers are often expected to work it out for themselves or to learn from those around them who have been their managers. But, what happens if they have not had a history of good managers or, their current circumstances are very different to when they were managed in the past. How do they learn to adapt? Is the philosophy of ‘sink or swim’ really the best, most cost effective approach for the managers in your business? Or is there a better way which delivers better results?


First, they try to make sure the hire the right person for the right job. Then, they provide ongoing training in technical areas so their staff are kept up to date in their fields of expertise. The last and probably the most important step is they support their staff by providing them with mentoring and coaching so their people develop and mature in ways which support the company’s vision and culture. This ongoing training and development keeps their employees skilled, motivated and willing to commit more to the company.

Committed employees don’t leave for the wrong reasons and, they stay and build a stronger business for the shareholders.

The best businesses also have clear and streamlined management structures and reporting and, they reward staff based upon achieving performance targets over which the staff have control and input. This is all part of having good vertical and horizontal communication channels: top-down, down-up and side-to-side within your business and with external stakeholders as well.

Good communication starts with the hiring process, it flows through the induction process and continues with ongoing appraisals and reviews during the partnership of the employee with the employer.


Sounds challenging? Actually, it is a lot simpler than it looks. Let’s take a look at some key areas mentioned above.

  • Hiring, retention and promotion

When hiring, retaining and promoting top performers, many of the largest and most successful companies use profiling (a psychometric assessment tool) to identify top performers in a way that interviewing and reference checking cannot. Research by Prof. Mike Smith from the University of Manchester , showed that using the concept of job fit’ as part of the profiling of potential employees improved the average rate of hiring top performers from 1 in 4 to 3 in 4 (Research Psychological Bulletin Vol. 96, No. 1).

The best psychometric tools are normative assessment tools (the other tools on the market are called ipsative tools). The better normative tools compare the results from the person’s assessment to a larger external population and use a job benchmark as an objective reference point for the profiling. Ipsative tools measure the individual by the individual; they look inwardly for answers -therefore they do not compare the results to the outside world’ and they require the user of the information to figure out what the results really mean to their business.

Research shows that the best normative tools use the concept of job fit’ for their benchmark. In a research study by Greenberg and Greenberg entitled “Job Matching for Better Sales Performance” (reported in the Harvard Business Review Vol. 58 No. 5), job fit was found to be the best determinant of job success (i.e. it was more relevant than academic degrees, work experience and all the other usual ways of trying to determine job suitability).

Well structured normative tools allow you to focus on those key areas where someone is possibly out of alignment’ with the benchmark for job success for their job by providing interview questions and coaching tips on potential out of alignment’ areas.

The effectiveness of these tools is supported by research undertaken by Profiles International demonstrating a massive 2600% return on investment for its ProfileXTTM, the same tool used by BIR Human Capital Solutions. This research also showed extraordinary decreases in employee turnover in the businesses that used these profiling tools.

Ongoing development tools such as 360 degree feedback tools, team development tools, as well as sales and customer service focused tools can all add value to the mix to keep your employees performing and producing at their best.

Like all tools, however, the best results are obtained when they are used as part of a strategic process in your business. Implementation and ongoing development are the keys to your business success. Human capital talent management is no different.

  • Communication strategies

Good communication starts before you employ someone. It starts with the search for the right person and it continues through to the offer of employment. Some communications are marketing based (e.g. a job advertisement, congratulatory memos) whilst others are administration based (beg employment contracts, policies and procedures). Whatever their purpose, they are all important in the communication process.

Every sustainably successful business needs a suite of consistent, clear communication tools which can be used to communicate with prospective as well as current employees, particularly in the areas of employment contracts and breaches of these contracts. Whilst this is not a ‘sexy’ issue, it is an important one to get right as it protects your business from one of the highest business risks – disputes and disagreements with your employees which can impact upon morale, respect, trust and ultimately, the performance of your business.

And, every sustainably successful business needs the glue that holds it all together – the laying out of a logical and easily communicated organisational structure which covers job descriptions, job responsibilities and job Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s), all of which need to tie in together to create a consistent and seamless process from CEO to entry-level employees.

Together, these tools allow honest and open appraisals to be developed for all your staff around the key outcomes of KPI’s, so your talent can be managed and monitored on a regular and ongoing basis to ensure the best decisions continue to be made on an ongoing basis.

With the right talent management systems in place, your managers will be able to get on with the job of managing and leading your team, ensuring that the best decisions can be made to deliver the strategy outcomes your business deserves.

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