A CHRO explains how his organization grows from within.
By Michael E. Pepe
Leaders often talk about talent as if it is absolute. We create strategies for recruiting top talent as if it is a well-defined cohort of people that is easily targeted. But talent isn’t that nicely packaged. It truly does depend. Today’s leaders need a pragmatic framework for understanding talent in a complex organization. The astute observer of talent will see that it depends on the relative strengths of other team members as well as the organizational context.
With every new vacancy, the hiring manager is likely to ask their recruiter to provide them a viable slate of top talent individuals. Yet the reality is that candidates will be the best of the talent inventory available in the market at that time. Talent is actually determined by myriad factors: what we are willing to pay, benefits, work/life balance considerations, location, and opportunity for growth. Consider that a student who stars on the basketball team of his high school of 400 students might not make the cut for the basketball team of the high school across town that has a student population of 5,000. That’s relativity in action.
In business, we need to embrace the reality of relativity. An individual who is the best in one situation might be middle of the pack in another. And, incidentally, the experience one has at the top of any group is likely quite different than the experience in the middle or at the bottom of that same group. Exploring that kind of relative rank with prospective new hires may shed light on their values and approaches they may bring to your organization. When we recruit or promote individuals, we are looking for great talent and potential relative to the situation and available talent pool. So we need to have an accurate assessment of the organization’s talent situation and how that impacts the kind of performers we should be trying to recruit.
Talent is demonstrated in context. Talent in one environment may not constitute talent in another. An individual who has years of successful experience marketing in an established firm with a strong brand may be significantly challenged to succeed in an identical marketing role with a startup firm. The context and situation have enormous implications on what constitutes talent. As leaders and talent professionals, we must be diligent about defining what talent means in our organization in very specific terms. Otherwise, it’s easy to end up chasing talent that isn’t likely to succeed in our unique context.
Build From Within
There is no better evidence that your organization’s perspective is paying off than by filling key vacancies with internal top performers. And that is just what Virtua has done. Under the leadership of Virtua’s CEO Richard Miller and board of trustees, the organization initiated a bold transformation to stay ahead of healthcare reform. It started at its most strategic point: the Virtua Mission and Vision. The purpose was to develop both to be more meaningful for employees, community members, and patients. Once that was achieved, the organization was realigned to ensure it could be executed. With the organization design set, getting the right people into the right places was pivotal for the transformation to succeed. This is where talent relativity and context crystallized.
The talent management system at Virtua has many layers. Senior executives conduct talent reviews quarterly using standardized criteria including performance results and competencies. The information obtained from the reviews are considered from several strategic angles:
• Executives identify individuals with growth potential in their
current and future roles.
• Executive also identify “flight risks” create strategies to address,
retain, or exit.
• Emerging business needs are identified and talent is
• Employee skill gaps are used to consider curriculum development.
• Values alignment is also considered.
A “talent dashboard” is used to track status and progress of talent pipeline, retention, engagement, growth activities, career progression as well as the ratio of internal to external placements. The talent solution for any organization must be unique to the nuances of the business and the talent tolerance of the senior leaders. Capitalizing on your internal talent requires commitment to the growth and success of others, discipline, objectivity, willingness to avoid hoarding good people and a level of trust among leaders that where the talent on the table goes is in the best interests of the organization and in the spirit of its mission.
Michael E. Pepe, Ph.D., is chief human resources officer for Virtua, one of New Jersey’s largest health systems.