Understanding Top Talent

Understanding Top Talent

When I hear people talk about top talent, I get reminded of the elusive (and sometimes voodoo) experiences that I had in the past in corporate environments when identifying top talent.

I have to say, it always conjures up both good memories and bad.

There are winners, losers and masses of mediocrity ("wolves and lambs" I recently heard). There's seat-of-the-pants and gut-feel decision-making, and that leader who is oh-so-effective at swaying public opinion. There's honest attempts to be objective, but we all know that the numbers only paint part of the picture.

While there's no silver bullet, my experience tells me (in my past career and with the clients we work with today at PeopleInsight) that great success comes from those organizations that understand:

1) the cross-section of who, within an organization creates the most/significant value;

2) what their top performer profiles look like, and;

3) that talent acquisition, talent development and talent retention programs should not only align, but clearly drive towards replicating these success profiles.

Simply put, create a profile of those who realize the most shareholder value for you - then replicate (acquire, develop and retain).

Here are some thoughts how.

1) Identify Your Key Value Creators

This can be done simply and rapidly by extracting and mashing together some data sets from your key business systems. If you are told that's really tough to do, challenge this as there are tools commonly available today which are amazingly powerful and simple (contact me if you get no joy).

For best results you will want to segment your employee base (by organization, tenure, location, level, etc.) to understand value creation on a number of angles - for example: revenue/margin, chargeability or utilization, productivity (however you may define it), customer satisfaction/churn, cost of employee turnover by manager, employee engagement, etc.

From this, you will be able to pinpoint cross-segments of your organization who are likely to be most critical to your success in delivering your business outcomes - and that's not to say that others don't create value, or aren't an integral part of your machine that creates value. It says that the organization really feels pain when faced with chronic attrition or substandard performance in these areas - and for each dollar spent on driving engagement, retention bonuses or development programs, this cross-segment should deliver a higher ROI for the business.

2) Understand What Top Performer Profiles Look Like

A quantitative and qualitative approach needs to be adopted here. Quantitatively, the data will help you understand core demographics, tenure and career progressions, source of hire, possibly talent profiles driven from assessments, their book of business, the products they sell, their skillsets and competencies, the learning events accomplished, and their team profiles (this scratches the surface on what is possible - and certainly not all of which will be relevant).

But some organizations are starting to really extend this, just like a marketer would, and build out personas (i.e., the qualitative side of the profile). One such company is Software Advice - the authority on software selection.

Don Fornes, Software Advice's CEO commissioned a business psychologist to analyze the high-performers at their company, to see what drives and motivates them. The research concluded with four distinct personality profiles - The Giver, The Champ (and the Chip), The Matrix Thinker and The Savant. The profiles examine what makes these top players tick, the management style they respond best to, and how to identify and hire more people like them.


While appropriate for Software Advice, it isn't always necessary to define these profiles with the help of a business psychologist. Give a great facilitator-in-touch-with-the-people-side-of-business a few hours with an executive team, then the top-performers themselves and voila - you have your inputs (I simplify somewhat but you get the picture!).

3) Attract and Manage Talent Accordingly

With 1 and 2 in-hand, organizations can now create much more targeted and value-driven strategies and tactics across talent acquisition, development and retention.

Leading Edge Thinking - Maybe Not?

While this is revolutionary for many, here's what's really amazing...this isn't new. The best organizations have been doing this for a long time.

I started my career 20 years ago Andersen Consulting (which then became Accenture). And even back then, they were masters at understanding where value got created (masses of highly billable, highly mobile, fairly inexpensive "Staff Consultants"), they knew their optimal behavioural profile and talent characteristics (university recruits from schools x, y and z, who proved in the recruiting process that they were highly proficient across components of their time-tested behavioural profile), and they were "relentless" in targeting, marketing, on-boarding and acclimatising thousands of high value creators every year into one big leadership (and business) development machine. Very effective.

And this is but one example - many of which go back way-beyond 20 years.

The key is though, this level of insight is now attainable to the mass market - simply, affordably and with great benefit to small- and mid-sized organizations.

What are you waiting for?

It's your workforce data. You should use it.

New call-to-action

See PeopleInsight dashboards in action

See the dashboards & analytics that HR groups at leading organizations like Splunk, Stryker and DraftKings are using for better decision making and great executive conversations

Top 5 dashboards Free Trial