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The Top Talent Test (T3)

Organizations have many ways of identifying who their best people are or who their “top talent” is. It runs the gamut from companies conducting panel interviews, large scale calibration sessions and conducting predictive testing on who they think is “the best.” Now, I am not here to disparage any type of program or process that focuses on identifying, developing and retaining key employees. In fact, if you work for an organization that has ANY type of talent management practice in this area, you are already way ahead of the curve.

However, I am here to caution that often in our zeal to be ahead of the curve and rollout the next generation talent management practice(s), we often fail to hit the mark a bit and overly complicate the issue. To be perfectly blunt, if as a manager and leader I am doing my job properly, I know who my best people are (in terms of exceeding goals and delivering additional value) because I talk to them on a regular basis. We set goals, we set metrics and we have coaching sessions. Yes, there are many intangibles as well that need to be identified – the ability to innovate, demonstrated continual learning, coachability and desire to “be more”; however at the end of the day it comes down to the manager knowing their people because they TALK to them.

Talent management

I personally have a very clear line of demarcation that puts an employee on one side of the “top talent” line or the other. Quite simply, it has been my experience that the very best performers and “top talent” are those that want and crave accountability. Let me explain a bit further by looking at this through a different lens.

In many companies you will find top talent chameleons. These are the employees that have the ability to set themselves up to perform in areas they know they are strong in and avoid areas that they aren’t as good at. They know their shortcomings, but they are skilled at avoiding situations that they think will expose them. So, they pass on assignments that will stretch them, while continuing to excel in their current comfort zone. They are adept at focusing on what they want when they want to. Here is the key; you expose them by making them accountable. If you have identified someone as top talent but they avoid being accountable for anything…then I hate to tell you, but they are not top talent.

I have seen in many organizations the types that know how to get noticed and how to talk the talk and walk the walk; however, they are able to skate along because there is no accountability established. The manager has failed to set any solid goals and objectives, there are no measurements of success and no lessons learned due to failure. When approached about establishing goals and committing to delivering on something, you are met with nebulous explanations about resource issues, non-commitments from others and vague references to organizational shortcomings impacting their ability to deliver. You see, they are happy with the status quo. They love being able to act their way through things and let you “see” them as being a rising star, excelling at whatever it is they do.

Don’t accept this. As a leader, use the accountability test. Your very best people will thank you for it. Once they have been given accountability to deliver on something, the very best will go at their assignment with vim and vigor! They want the challenge and they are prepared to speak to their successes as well as their short comings. They are not afraid to fail as they see stretching and potentially failing all part of growing. Your best talent knows how to learn from failure and apply it against future situations.

So, the next time you think you have identified someone as “top talent” use the accountability test. You need to make sure you aren’t operating under false perceptions but in reality. Sit down with them; put their development plan and stretch objectives on paper. Tell them how their success will be measured. Tell them they are accountable…then wait for their response. Then, and only then, will you really know if that person is, in fact, top talent. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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