How Do You Make Your Stars Align?

A recent Harvard Business Review article outlines some critical research from Bain & Company about how companies utilize their top talent. Their research shows that companies that are the best at utilizing their talent don’t have more talent than others – what separates them is the way they deploy their talent. The two ways that talent can be deployed are:

  1. Intentional nonegalitarianism – focusing the stars on areas where these individuals can have the biggest impact on company performance
  2. Unintentional egalitarianism – spread their A players more or less evenly across all roles

The mistake many companies make, the article suggests, is in choosing #2 instead of #1. In other words, find your top talent and create a swarm to solve the most critical problems.

My colleague Alexandra Levit has researched the concept of swarming and describes it as a way to think about teamwork – characterized by a flurry of collective activity from everyone available and able to add value. In swarms, people may barely know each other but come together to solve a problem at hand or form a team for a specific business purpose. This article published in TalentCulture provides a more detailed introduction to the concept as well.

So how do you align your stars and effectively utilize their talents to solve the most complicated problems at hand? Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Take a critical approach to identify the right stars. Don’t assume all of your high-potential employees are able to do the work at hand. Some research suggests that up to 40% of individuals in your HiPo program may not even belong there in the first place.
  • Create a diverse group. We tend to think about diversity in traditional ways like gender, age, etc. But if you broaden that definition to include a true variety of people with differing technical and functional skills, experiences and backgrounds, they can challenge the conventional approaches and come up with better solutions.
  • Focus the group on solving the most critically important business problems at hand. Concentrate their focus on an area where they can make the biggest difference.
  • Encourage experimentation and risk-taking. Give them room to ask “what if” and view failure as part of your path to progress.
  • Evaluate your ability to continue with this approach to create a more nimble organization going forward. Identify any organizational barriers, like structural hierarchy or ingrained culture, that get in your way as you try this approach. Find ways to make sure you chip away at those issues to make sure the next time you create a swarm becomes easier.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at sbrowning@people-results.com or on Twitter @sbPResults.

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