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Management: Selecting For Talent First - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Selecting For Talent First

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Selecting For Talent First

How do the world's greatest managers find, focus, and keep talented employees? The Gallup Organization interviewed over eighty thousand managers (and one million of their employees) around the world in order to identify what the great ones had in common, according to First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt W. Coffman (Gallup Press, 1999). What the surveyors discovered isn’t exactly the slap in conventional wisdom’s face the book’s title implies, but it does offer some interesting takes on managing well, and it all begins with selecting for talent.

Good managment “demands discipline, focus, trust, and, perhaps most important, a willingness to individualize,” say the authors. This wilingness is tied to recognizing talent, and hiring first with talent in mind. Here is where survey respondents’ ideas get somewhat subversive. Most of us think of talent as a sort of intangible, beyond-skills, beyond-knowledge, where-does-it-come-from magical trait that cannot be taught. While some of this may be true, Buckingham and Coffman say great managers see talent as “any recurring pattern of behavior that can be productively applied,” and these talents can be grouped in three general categories: striving talents, thinking talents, and relating talents. An employee might be great at speaking in front of others, but the skills of speaking clearly can be learned. Because those skills are so visible, they often obsure true underlying talents such as “the ability to develop a framework by which to make sense of things” or “an ability to create enthusiasm,” talents the authors name “concept” (a thinking talent) and “stimulator” (a relating talent).

More than experience or brains, talents can be capitalized on across different jobs within a single employee, because they are recurring patterns of behavior, the inner framework upon which people organize their perceptions and actions. Six months after the mandatory, company-wide “Serving with GRaCE” training some executive spent too much money on, almost everyone in your organization will forget the individual bullet points that spelled out the acronym G.Ra.C.E., so when confronted with a new task, an employee is more likely to call upon those recurring patterns. One might break it down into clusters of meaning, then put it all back together and deliver the product. Another employee given the same task might seek input from coworkers, taking the best of everyone’s ideas and clearing a new path to the same product. Both, given the freedom to work the way they work, can be successful with the manager who recognizes their specific talents and then gives them space in which to operate.

“Each individual...is true to his unique nature,” say Buckingham and Coffman. Great managers “recognize that each person is motivated differently, that each has his own way of thinking and his own style of relating to others...They try to help each person become more and more of who he already is.” If there is only one takeaway to be grasped in this approach to selecting for talent, the authors break it down this way: “People don’t change much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw ot what was left in. That is hard enough.” Experience, loyalty, brains, and charisma are all admirable traits for potential hires, but what are the underlying recurring patterns of behavior that manifest themselves in these traits? Those talents are what great managers focus on.


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