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Why Talent Matters More than Ever

By Doug Ready

It’s crazy out there…no doubt about it. We all feel it every day. What we thought we knew about “winning” is at best a half-truth. We’re imposters if we think otherwise. The uneasiness factor has never been stronger. The good news is we’re all in the same boat. It’s just as crazy if you are trying to win if you are a Chinese-based company, a German-based company, a UK-based company, a Brazilian-based company, or an American-based company. But while we might all be facing similar challenges in this new race to win, the companies that will endure will be those with CEOs and line leaders who view their talent as their most precious strategic resource. That’s the difference- it is now CEOs and senior executive teams that understand that what will make an organization transform from being a simple value-creator to a game-changer is their organizations’ capacity to attract, acquire, engage, align, develop, and retain not only the best talent they can acquire, but the right talent that will propel them into the future.

CEOs and their top executive teams are placing their focus on a few critical strategic priorities: business model innovation; the pursuit of smart sustainable, profitable growth strategies; the digital transformation of their core business processes; and the rationalization of their cost structures, often in post M&A environments. Not one of these challenges can be met without the right talent being applied to addressing them creatively. A financial services company doesn’t become a technological innovator without having the talent with the right combination of technological acumen, strategic insight and customer orientation. A consumer products company can’t penetrate an important yet unfamiliar emerging market without leaders who have the perspective to understand that customer preferences vary in small but important ways around the world. Leaders such as Larry Fink, Chairman of BlackRock and Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, are poised to navigate their companies into the future with remarkable success. Why? While they rely on their HR leaders for intellectual insight on human capital matters, and make no mistake, both companies have world class HR leadership, these CEOs are the ones who are leading the charge proclaiming that talent development is the most fundamental accountability of line leaders. Larry Fink has turned this proclamation into an embedded organizational process by creating what is called the BlackRock Human Capital Committee- a 46 member council of the company’s most senior leaders who make sure that BlackRock’s talent practices help stimulate growth and drive change. And Paul Polman insists that his managers move around the world in stretch-based assignments so that by the time they reach senior leadership roles they have an embedded understanding of the entire company as well as customer needs globally.

These are companies that win through talent. Their CEOs are the strongest talent champions in their organizations- and as such, their organizations become talent magnets- attracting the highest caliber talent possible.


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

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