Talent Activation to accelerate the pace of strategy implementation

By Saar Ben-Attar & Henry Chandler

If you are a CEO, or a people leader in any capacity in an organisation, what question is keeping you up at night? For many of the leaders we work with, and while they may use not these exact words, it often is: How can I take the people that I spent so much time with, those I see the talent in and turn their efforts into our company’s growth and performance?”

But we’ve figured out a much simpler way of saying all that.

“How can I activate my Talent” 

These leaders have long recognised that people are their most valuable asset. And their high potentials (HiPos) are an even more valuable asset to tap into. They know that organisations with a strong leadership bench strength exhibit significantly higher business performance. Yet developing high potentials is fraught with difficulty. A HiPo program, seen by many organisations worldwide as the feeder to its leaders of the future, is statistically more likely to fail than succeed – 50% of HR managers lack confidence in their programs and a staggering 5 in 6 HR managers are dissatisfied with the results of their programs.

Potentially, this means much of your investment in a HiPo program is at best wasted and, at worst, feeding your competitors with some of your most highly valuable people. This is where talent activation comes in.

There are three parts to managing Talent Activation:

  • Link Talent with strategic drivers – exponential impact to be gained by being deliberate in linking high potential leaders to strategic drivers in the business (their ability, aspirations and engagement vs. strategic roles). Leadership development practices do not exist in a vacuum. The best leadership development systems are anchored in—and driven by— business strategy. Why is the leadership development connection to business strategy so critical? Business strategies change in response to increasingly disruptive forces, putting a premium on strategy execution skills. Leadership traits must mirror and keep pace with the strategic challenges of the business. The skill sets of leaders must correlate with the business challenges faced by the organisation and how we choose to respond to these.
  • Focused Talent Mobility – increase engagement and performance of HIPO’s through a focused talent mobility approach, which links them with key strategic assignments. One important finding is the linkage of leadership development to real-time organisational experiences. The advantages of experiential development for leaders are many. First, leaders are challenged to take on real problems with immediate feedback and payback. This “mainstreaming” of leadership development connects managers to projects which have both educational and business consequences. Another experience-based leadership development tool is the rotation of managers across disciplines, divisions and geographies. Despite a large percentage wanting or requesting rotation as part of their leadership development efforts, less than half (45%) of the organisations are utilizing rotational or developmental assignments as a regular component of their total leadership development package. However, many leadership development practitioners would like to see their organisations take greater advantage of rotational assignments. One respondent we spoke with advocated for a multi- functional organisational rotation because “you cannot develop a CEO with a single discipline background.” In most organisations, rotational assignments are reserved for high potential leader candidates. Organisations use these assignments to “round out” the leadership package in a way that positions individuals for executive management slots.
  • Develop Leadership and Strategic Capabilities – unlock future leadership and strategic capabilities through accelerated leadership development, by stretching leaders to apply strategic foresight, practice agility and partner them with accelerators, such as business partners in the broader ecosystem, innovation coaches and other global experts. If business strategy sets the core purpose for leadership development, then capabilities stand as the primary clusters of knowledge, behaviour and motivations organisations strive to instil in leaders and what it will take of the organisation to thrive in the future. These ‘future-fit’ capabilities tend to be highly differentiated and very specific to individual organisations. Leadership behaviours most likely to impact the development of such strategic capabilities could then be clustered into several primary domains, such as Setting Strategy, Running the Business Efficiently, Generating new Revenue, and Engaging Talent.

Every CEO and frankly every organisation, should be preoccupied with talent activation. Because that’s how you take human potential and turn it into contribution. It’s the challenge of taking one person’s talents and deliberately and effectively turning them into performance.

Key questions Impacting the design of your talent activation approach, should be:

• What are the strategic drivers of the organisation?
• Which strategic capabilities will differentiate us? Give us an edge?
• What is a key or “strategically-critical” position?
• What constitutes a high-potential leader?
• How transparent should HR be in communicating with individuals who are identified as high-potentials and designated successors?
• How should high-potential employees be prepared for advancement?

In summary, talent activation is about understanding strategic drivers and matching those with high potential leaders that can and want to make the required impact. This approach helps to provide continuity in the leadership pipeline and to develop a deeper capacity for leadership and performance. But to implement an integrated and effective succession management process there first needs to be an explicit link drawn between what the organisation values as talent and the core strategies of that organisation.

Henry Chandler is a leadership associate of Ascent Growth Partners. As a trusted advisor to top teams and senior leaders, in Learning, Leadership and Talent Development, he is passionate about creating leadership development experiences that instil a deeper level of self-awareness in leaders and help businesses thrive in complex and fast changing environments.

Saar Ben-Attar is the founder of Ascent Growth Partners, a specialist consulting and advisory firm, with offices in Singapore and South Africa. The Ascent team works with organisations from around the world to discover new pathways to growth and help build the capabilities they require for their business of the future. In the process, the organisations adopt new mindsets, build new capabilities and utilise advanced tools, to realise their growth ambitions.