Sunday, October 23, 2011

Think through the assignment

Great new book by George Anders - - The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent (2011).  Finding talented people - - talented people that are 10 times better than the next level - - should be one of those things that managers and leaders wake up in the middle of the night thinking about. 

Talent searches and talent alignment is much more about mismatches, blind spots, and false hopes than success.  Finding the right people for the right job at the right time is an exhausting process.  Consider the following from the book:

"That's the real talent problem in America.  It's not that we don't know enough about candidates.  Today's dossiers on serious contenders for a CEO's job frequently surpass what the U.S. Senate knew about Supreme Court nominees a few decades ago.  It's not that there are too few talented people to fill crucial openings.  This is a country in which talent proliferates.  It isn't even that competition for the most capable people is unbearably intense.  Many great talent discoveries of recent years involved overlooked prospects such as author J.K. Rowling and baseball pitcher Mariano Rivera, who attracted almost no interest from anyone at the time.  The real problem is that even some of the most diligent, ambitious organizations have built talent-scouting systems that don't work.

Peter Drucker, the legendary business-strategy scholar, spent much of his career studying the ways that organizations hire.  His advice always flowed from the same starting point.  Before you do anything else, he wrote, "Think through the assignment."  That sounds painfully simple.  It seems so obvious that many leaders dash past that step.  They prefer to get started right away on the high-stakes drama of grilling candidates and slotting them into a scoring system.  Yet Drucker was right."

Getting the "right people on an off the bus" is an overly simplistic view of the process and a underlying issue (The "bus" metaphor is rather silly in the context of a IBM or GE - - they can fill a large city).  Take the case of Rivera - - let's put him on the bus as a starting pitcher.  He fails at that - - does that mean Rivera is on the wrong bus?  Could be - - it could also mean that someone put Rivera in the wrong seat on the right bus.  Someone looked at Rivera and forgot to think broadly and clearly about context.  When picking starters and relievers - - someone forgot to ask "What is this job all about?"  The other key point, and Rowling is a good example - - we have a tendency to define people by "what they are not" versus "what they are".  A whole bunch of people never even ask Rowling to get on the bus, and that was a trillion dollar mistake (she found her spot not on another bus, but on an ocean liner).

If you cannot answer the "What is this job all about?" question at the start and get it properly resolved in correct context - - your bus is going to be a mess.

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