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Where, Oh Where, Is Your Talent?
By Valarie D. Willis

It is 8:00 a.m. -- Do you know where your talent is?

Sure, you say, "They're at their desks, commuting in, with a client, or in a meeting."

Maybe I should pose the question as, "Do you know where your missing talent is?"

How many of you are thinking that the head count number seems to be right for the organization, yet something is terribly wrong with the talent pool?

Many organizations continue to face a talent shortage even when the headcount is right. There are enough people, but not enough of the right talent mix. Great talent comes into the organization and a few years later, if not properly developed and trained, that talent will be out the door. Not a lot of discussion about it, they will just leave and take their skills to an organization that cares about who they are and how they can develop their talent.

According to the Wall Street Journal (1/28/08), "Companies haven't been grooming talent and training enough employees for promotions and now have a mismatch of talent." It is like the organization is wearing mismatched socks, right colors, wrong pattern.

When I was in IT a few years ago, when technology and software were rapidly changing, we had a lot of talented people--if you wanted old generation software support. We were in desperate need of talent that could quickly grasp the new software languages, and we needed some of the talent that could maintain current systems.

It was a difficult balance to strike, but we had to make the decision to get some existing talent upgraded and hire in talent with the needed skill set. New people coming into the organization wanted to continue to update their skill sets and learn new things, even though they were not necessarily in for the long haul.

The mystery to me was why some of the existing talent did not want to move on to the new technology. They didn't want to leave their comfort zone, or perhaps I, as a leader, didn't paint a compelling vision to motivate them to reach for greater places. Retaining talent, motivating talent and developing talent is the job of a leader. It is a two-way street in that the talent is responsible for seeking out new interests, dialoguing with their leaders, and developing their talent.

Organizations have been warned for years that the new generation of workers are not going to stay forever, and that they need new, exciting and challenging experiences to stay engaged. Yet, knowing this, many organizations are not preparing future leaders, giving stretch assignments, or even identifying the key talent.

Great talent will stay on the move, and that means that organizations have to put plans in place to have a continuous flow of talent through the pipeline, either through training and development or hiring. Ultimately it is the role of leadership in the organization to become "Connoisseurs of Talent" as Tom Peters would say.

The focus needs to be on the future needs of the organization compared to the current capabilities of the talent. Leaders need to evaluate on a consistent basis and put plans in place to upgrade the current skills of talent. The talent in the organization should also be forward-looking to see what skills they need to obtain in order to stay marketable.

Ten Talent Tips

  1. Understand future needs of the organization and business units
  2. Have a method in place to identify key talent
  3. Give existing talent stretch assignments for development
  4. Reshuffle roles in the organization, people will learn new areas
  5. Make training and development a priority, even in the tough times
  6. Find out what skills are missing and fill the gaps
  7. Acknowledge and appreciate the great talent that you have
  8. Re-look at your mission and vision, are they bold enough to attract and retain?
  9. Implement coaching for development
  10. Become a mentor to aspiring talent

There is plenty of talent in the market--the question is, "Is it the right talent?" Take a look at your organization and ask yourself, "What skills are we missing that will help to take us to the next level?"

And then, do something about it. Send me your comments about how your organization is keeping and attracting the right talent.

Valarie Willis is a Senior Facilitator with Bluepoint Leadership Development. Learn more about Valarie Willis

Cleveland Women at ClevelandWomen.com

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