Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Talent Blinking...

So can we enable better informed talent decisions? That is the question...

George Anders in his Harvard Business Review blog this week, titled "Today's Biggest Talent-Management Challenges," shared his perspective after attending a Conference Board conference focused on talent management. During his attendance he came away with some relevant insights we have to consider...

1. We aren't sure what we're looking for.
2. Talent development is just a slogan, not a way of life.
3. We don't know how to get better.

The information and perspectives he shares would lead you to believe that we are unable to create simplified processes that enable talent decisions within our organizations. Talent decisions are so complex that we need complex processes to make them work.

Marc Effron of the New Talent Management Network thinks otherwise. Marc Effron's new HBR book "One Page Talent Management: Eliminating Complexity, Adding Value" will come out later this year. His premise is we add layers of complexity that slows the process down. And in today's hyper-competitive global economy where competitive advantage can last for seconds or minutes...as Human Capital Management (HCM) leaders we have to enable fast talent decisions.

So now you are thinking (I assume...because I did), how do we speed up talent decisions for the business. Let's take a page from Malcolm Gladwell.

Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink" advocates where rapid cognition enables quick decisions (There are examples where it didn't work well). That theory is that people are able to make decisions in critical situations based upon sometimes very limited information. Talent decisions are both complex and critical...so how can we do it better?

One place where "Talent Blinking" is happening came from my experience in the United States Navy. I participated and saw the Navy's version of talent management and how these decisions were made in seconds, but not more than minutes...

My experience came at the Navy Intelligence Commander Sea Screening board. At that time, there were a number of talented Commanders in Naval Intelligence, but only a few sea duty opportunities for them that would make them eligible for Captain. Hence a sea screening board to review the available talent and make selection decisions based upon each individuals cumulative performance. This board was determining who could be successful in Naval Intelligence in the future.

The week prior to the board a team of board reporters (including myself) would review the performance records and look for gaps in information. Any gaps found were passed to the individuals to get the necessary information (In the Navy, the individual is responsible for ensuring their performance and award documents are sent in for these boards...so individuals own a part of the process and that is a good thing).

The following week a group of senior Naval Intelligence officers would start reviewing these performance records of individuals. These seniors participated in the process because of several things.

1. They had a personal sense of duty to make sure the best talent was being developed.
2. They had a responsibility to the customer, in this case the operational Navy, to make sure the best talent was available to support mission execution.

Prior to the board commencing, the board chairman (in this case it was the senior Naval Intelligence officer...the Director of Naval Intelligence a two-star Admiral) gave guidance on what he thought the future looked like and what type of performance areas carried the greatest weight for people to be successful.

Once the guidance was provided, board members divided the records up and reviewed each in detail. They would make notes on records such as smiley faces, up and down arrows, etc. Once completed the board moved into "The Tank"...a decision support center to make talent decisions...

In The Tank are chairs with five buttons hidden from sight (Allowed for anonymity and no influence from other participants) that signify values of 0, 25, 50, 75, and 100. At the front of the room were three large screens where the cumulative information of an individuals performance record was flashed on the screen...for seconds. That's right seconds...talent decisions within this environment were made in "Blink" speed.

While this selection process was Naval Intelligence leadership selecting Naval Intelligence talent, the larger selection process for promotions through the U.S. Navy is the same system with Air, Surface and Submarine officers making these decisions at the same speed. This group makes decisions in many cases without knowing the individual being discussed or their background. They are able to make critical talent decisions because there is a simple, common process and analytics to back it up.

What makes this work are instantiated processes and sound analytics that allow decisions to be made quickly. For organizations to be successful and overcome the things that George Anders references as continued problems in talent management, the processes should be as simple as possible and the analytics have to be robust and understood so quick talent decisions can be made and executed.

The moral of this story are few but important...

1. Keep the talent processes simple - the process in this case was long standing. Everyone understood it and their role in executing it.
2. Definition of Talent is in each Person's Mind - the definition of talent and an individual's ability to recognize it is based upon their current and future environment, own experiences, and organization view. These things shape what we want to see in talent that is positioned for future success of organizations.
3. Create a Talent Management Culture - Easier said than done I admit, but a number of organizations are successful at this. Marc Effron's 2010 State of Talent Management study indicates that it is possible. We have to leverage where organizations have been successful and apply it to the environment at your organization.
3. Talent Blink - identifying talent and what it should do next for continued development and. Organizational success can be a relatively stable and quick process. Yes...there may need to be some lengthier discussions about some talent, but leadership can make these important decisions if properly prepared.

So food for thought...



  1. Thank you for sharing this information. I heard that chris van someren is doing something like that. He also train his employees to be able to make a decision in seconds.

  2. Thanks Mike...I have reached out to Chris...