Finding and retaining talent

THE ability to find and retain talented employees is vital to sustained business success.

Attractive remuneration, stock options plans, medical benefits, and other incentives are attractive enticements for any employee. But what factors are important in attracting, focusing and retaining the most productive and talented workers?

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, in their international bestselling book “First Break all the Rules”, present the fascinating results from two Gallup studies conducted over a 25 year period. The studies searched for those questions that would elicit positive responses from only the most loyal and talented employees.

As it turns out, the key factors for attracting and retaining the most talented workers can be captured by 12 simple questions.  The more questions that an employee can answer in the affirmative, the more likely they are to be a productive and talented worker:

  1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  2. Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your work right?
  3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for good work?
  5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  7. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of the company make you feel like your work is important?
  9. Are your co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do you have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, have you talked with someone about your progress?
  12. At work, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

Great managers select for talent

I am in the process of reading “First Break All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman. The book makes the insightful point that great managers understand the difference between skills, knowledge and talent:

  1. Skills are abilities that may be acquired by training. For example, a mathematics teacher must be skilled in arithmetic, a secretary must be skilled in typing, and a baker must be skilled in baking bread. A skill may be taught by breaking down the performance of a task into steps, which can then be practiced.
  2. Knowledge is simply “what you are aware of”. There are two kinds of knowledge: (1) factual knowledge are things that you know; and (2) experiential knowledge are understandings that you have picked up along the way.
  3. Talent is “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied.” You may have an instinctive ability to remember names, or be in the habit of playing with numbers and equations in your head – both of these are talents. A talent is any behaviour that you find yourself doing often and which can be applied in a productive way.

Skill, knowledge, and talent are all necessary elements to achieve excellent performance, talent being the most important element. Skills and knowledge can be taught relatively easily, however talent is difficult to teach. For example, one of the key talents required to be a great accountant is “love of precision”. Love of precision is not a skill, nor is it knowledge, but this talent is needed to excel at accounting.

The definition of talent is seemingly innocuous but has a powerful implication – excellence requires talent. A great manager understands that to excel in any role requires talent because each role, when performed with excellence, requires certain recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour.

Understanding the importance of talent, great managers are good at identifying the talents of their people and then allocating each person to a role where they can use their talents most effectively.