Top Talent is a top priority for organizations today, it provides the much-needed capability-edge that drives high performance. These are the “A” players of the organization- those who consistently deliver superior results, steering the organizational ship towards success. They are high performers and high potentials, individuals who have the ability, drive, and aspiration to hold leadership positions in an organization. These are the people whose personal values and vision are seamlessly aligned with the organizational values and vision, and hence they naturally sprint towards success. But such top talent does not come easy. Whether the question is about hiring them, promoting them or retaining them, engaging with top talent requires a methodical approach, one that begins with identifying who they are. Only when you accurately identify who qualifies as the critical talent of today and tomorrow, can you place your bets on such a person to propel forward the organization.
Why identify top talent?
Top talent needs to be treated differently. Top talent today resides at every level, right from entry level to the CXO suite. Their success factors may vary depending on the level, role, profile etc., but top talent exhibits some bare-basic underlying competencies, as well as an alignment with the organization. This is what differentiates the extraordinary from the ordinary, and what will make your organization stand out as a competent player.
Dr John Sullivan states that top talent produces as much as 10 times more than the average worker, while they often require less than two times the pay.1
But it is not just about direct ROI, top players help others improve their performance, by serving as mentors, trainers and role models. Thus, the qualitative advantage is that top talent creates a cascading effect, the strong foundation based on which the future organization can be built.
The client ROI from top performers is evident, it results in 48% better customer service and 13% increase in sales.2
Challenges in identifying top talent
Despite this reality, organizations do not invest enough or invest rightly in identifying top talent. In many functions, TA function is still stuck with traditional approaches to talent assessment, which are unstructured and biased.
99% of candidates are hired based on first impressions. 2
Taking a leaf from the above statistic, one can imagine the damage done if such ambiguous processes are applied to identify top talent. This is a potential pitfall, with a very little guarantee that the selected employee is the right one to succeed, leave alone taking along others along the success-path. This lack of substantive talent assessment measures is a stark reality- there is a 50% likelihood of hiring managers making a poor decision. 2 This is a result of inherent human-biases that creep into the assessment process. Some of the common biases that result in poor hiring decisions are:
- Confirmation bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one's pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.
- Attribution bias: The tendency to try and find reasons for one’s own and others' behaviours and motivations.
- Affinity bias: The tendency to show a marked preference for candidates to whom one can relate to.
These are only some of the many biases that may result in poor hiring decisions. Another disadvantage of having these inherent biases is that it often results in a similar type of person being selected. This is a total antithesis to the diversity-focus which is believed to foster innovation and ideation. Not only this, bad hiring leads to plummeting engagement levels, increased turnover and reduction in customer loyalty and company revenue. Much of this stems from lack of structure and science in assessment processes.
Only 14% of unstructured job interviews can predict top talent.2
This state of affairs presents a challenge as well as an opportunity. HR must move away from unstructured talent assessment tools and look to add rigour and science to make them more standardized, competency-oriented and concrete in the outcome. Only then can we expect to reap the real benefits of our top talent.
How to identify top talent?
HR must devise a systematic “criteria-based” approach to realise the ROI of talent assessment:
Understand the business need: Any talent strategy must tie into the business strategy. The first step, therefore, is to be clear on the business strategy i.e. where is the business going currently and in the future- the vision and mission. As an HR, you must partner with business and gain a strong grasp of the future needs of the organization, this will help understand what type of leaders need to be developed from within, and build the necessary interventions.
Establish the business-competency linkage: Understand the non-negotiable skills that will help your organization achieve the above vision and mission- these are your success competencies. These success competencies must be defined as both immediate and future- competencies, in sync with the short-term and long-term strategy. Analysing these success factors will help you understand the desired underlying behaviours, at an organizational, functional, team and individual/employee level.
Translate to ideal role profiles: The next step is to outline the responsibilities and role profiles based on the above-determined competencies. It is important to know the ideal talent profile to be able to identify the degree of the gap in a role-holder. Also, as an TA Professionals make sure to anticipate certain futuristic roles and factor those in. This step is crucial to create a “desired top-talent structure” and “ideal profile” list. This will help break down the assessment criteria to an individual level. When the criteria are well-defined, it will also help create meaningful deviations, for example when looking out for a diversity-pool employee, you know what not to expect.
Design the assessment process with the right tools: Use a combination of scientific rigour and technology innovations to curate a process with the right assessment tools for your desired top-talent role profiles. Make sure you build discipline in the process, from nomination to screening to actual assessment- tools like assessment centres, role-plays, scenarios, simulations, etc. Dig data points to dial-in objectivity- performance appraisal scores, 360 degrees feedback, learning goals, manager meeting memos, etc. Another important element is to make the assessment adaptive, so that it adjusts to suit each individual’s capability, and delivers the best results.
TA departments tend to invest heavily in talent assessment processes, only to realise they do not yield the desired results. It is high time to break free from this faux pas and ask the real question- “What’s the ROI of our talent assessment?”. It may be advisable to rope in some deep consulting expertise. For example, Aon’s Assessments are designed such that Top Scorers are 3.5x more likely to be top performers, and 4x more likely to be productive. This can be the starting point to build a high-performing organization on the foundation of top talent.
2Why Assess to Select Talent, “Talent, Rewards and Performance”, Aon CoCubes