Clustering Your Star Talent

Source: HBR, Jan 2017

What steps should organizations take to make the most of their star talent? Our research highlights five best practices:

Know who the stars are in your organization.

It is difficult to deploy scarce talent effectively without first identifying your company’s A players. Most companies employ some form of assessment based on performance and potential, typically as a vehicle for determining compensation and career progression. Following this approach, A players are employees who score highly on both dimensions.

Know where your A players are (and could be) deployed.

Knowing who your stars are is just the beginning. You also need to know how effectively they are being deployed. For each star in you company, ask two important and related questions:

Where are they currently deployed?

What role is each star currently playing in the organization? This information will help you assess how effectively you are deploying scarce star talent.How fungible are they? Could they perform some other role with the same (or similar) performance? Your most valuable people are both highly proficient in their current roles and highly versatile. If you find that you have underinvested scarce talent in a number of critical roles, versatile stars can help to fill these roles.

Identify the business-critical roles in your company.

Not all roles are created equal. Some are inherently more important than others in successfully executing a company’s strategy and delivering superior performance. The best companies identify these roles explicitly. They ask themselves: “Which roles benefit the most from star talent?” and, by implication, “Which roles can we afford to fill with ‘good enough’ talent?” Having the best software programmer in the world makes little difference if your business is consumer packaged goods. But having the very best brand managers and marketers may make a big difference. The best-performing companies put their talent where the money is.

Treat star talent as a company-wide resource.

Organizations commonly struggle with moving great talent from one part of the company to another. Your star talent can quickly become the property of a single business unit or function unless you have the processes and practices to ensure that these scarce resources are invested on behalf of your entire company, not just the division, business, geography, or function where they currently reside. Organizations that put these practices in place make better use of their existing talent and avoid the artificial shortages of talent that can be created by parochial hoarding of A players.

Ensure that business-critical roles get first dibs on star talent. Once your leadership has the information it needs to determine who and where the stars are in your organization, it must be ruthlessly nonegalitarian in the way it assigns talent. It must make sure that business-critical roles are filled with A players first, and then turn its attention to roles that are important but less business-critical. Only then can you be assured that your star talent is being deployed as well as possible.

Ever since the start of the “war for talent,” companies have invested billions to attract, develop, and retain the very best. Now that war looks like a stalemate: Most companies, on average, have the same amount of stars. The companies that perform the best are the ones that treat star talent as the scarce, hard-won resource that it is.

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