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Crafting a Game-Changing Talent Strategy

By Doug Ready

In a recent HBR I argued that game-changing companies are those with leaders who work relentlessly to reconcile the embedded tensions in pursuit of building companies that are: purpose-driven; performance-oriented; and principles-led– simultaneously. From studying dozens of companies I found it was relatively easy to possess one or even two of these capabilities- but succeeding at all three simultaneously felt almost impossible to most leaders. This is just one of the reasons why leadership is such an elusive capability in so many companies. We search for easy answers- for formulas- for simple solutions. They rarely come.

But one thing I have come to believe is that game-changing companies don’t just happen by accident. Indeed, they are supported by those willing to invest the time and energy to build and sustain a game-changing talent strategy. That means building a talent strategy that gets the mechanics right- what I (and my co-author, Jay Conger) call high functionality. But it also has high vitality – with deep C-Suite commitment; broad-based engagement; and enterprise-wide accountability for leaders developing leaders.

Yet, in today’s complex world, even this isn’t enough. Just as leaders need to reconcile a series of embedded tensions on a daily basis, talent leaders need to build talent strategies, in partnership with line leaders, that recognize and respond to a series of tensions facing their functions. I identified four key tensions facing talent leaders:

  1. They need to craft talent strategies that are strategic, yet are highly operational;
  2. They need to build talent strategies that work globally and locally;
  3. They need to focus on building a sense of collectivity yet be responsive to individuals who have their own career aspirations; and
  4. They need to craft talent strategies that are both enduring yet are regenerative and resilient.

The great news is there are a number of companies with leaders who get it (Unilever, NetFlix, BlackRock, Danone, IBM, and many more) and are viewing their organizations’ talent strategies as mission-critical to building and sustaining this notion of becoming a game-changing organization.

Let’s keep at it!


Doug Ready is Founder, ICEDR; Senior Lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management

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