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Talent Accelerator (part 1)

Justin Allen /

10 Secrets to Success from the Best Performing Organizations in Asia

Written with Dave Ulrich


Talent matters. In every activity ranging from sports, music, politics, and business, it is commonly accepted that ensuring a team is comprised of the right people is paramount to a team’s success. This article is the first in a series of three wherein we share ten secrets to success revealed by the world’s largest research study on talent in Asia, sponsored by the Singapore Ministry of Manpower. The reports from this study evaluated how talent affected performance within 570 of the best performing organizations in China, India, and Singapore, pertaining to both the public and private sectors. Our objective in conducting this study was to provide insights and tools to help accelerate the use of talent and deliver more significant business results.

A shift from low-cost manufacturing to high-value services

During the last 20 years in Asia, the shift from exporting low-cost manufactured goods to exporting high-value financial and technical services has accelerated into a full-blown revolution. China and India are now the target markets for both consumer goods and capital for global investment, while Singapore is Southeast Asia’s financial and commercial hub.

Continued economic growth can only be sustained with concurrent talent acceleration. Singapore is accepted and known for leading the way in economic growth. We suggest that developing nations across Asia, Africa, and South America follow Singapore’s lead by stepping into the forefront of talent-driven value creation, which will in-turn sustain economic growth now and in the future.

Our research findings

The most instructive findings of our research are depicted in Figure 1, below. In this figure, we show the relative business impact (horizontal axis) and effectiveness (vertical axis) of 13 distinct talent domains. The effectiveness score indicates the proficiency level of each individual talent domain. The impact score signifies a talent domain’s effect on overall business performance.

As Figure 1 indicates, Asian leaders evaluated in this study tended to be more effective at the talent domains depicted in the upper-most quadrants of the graph,such as standards, screen, steer, and motivate. Conversely, these leaders demonstrated less proficiency at talent domains that highly impact business performance, depicted in the lower-right quadrant.

As the figure illustrates, there is a significant focus gap. It appears that Asian leaders who have effective talent domains have ostensibly failed to become adept at those domains that have the most impact on their organizations. Clearly, the data depicted in Figure 1 suggests that leaders need to reevaluate their priorities in talent investment.

Figure 1: Summary of talent effectiveness by business impact of HR practice

Data point labels are as follows: talent domain, % impact on performance, effectiveness on a scale from 1 to 5.

We have derived ten secrets to success from these findings. These ten secrets are focused on the talent domains that demonstrate the most substantial impact on business performance. Below is a summary of these ten secrets and their respective talent domain categories. Further details and insights for each secret will be provided in the two forthcoming articles.

Talent Domain “Leadership”: The best organizations know that leadership is the key to driving business performance through talent. A clear business case must be established, and leaders must be developed in-line with customer expectations. Ultimately, companies (both large and small) reap significant benefits (both tangible and intangible) when they have a strong reputation for leadership.

  • Secret #1: The best companies have worked explicitly to create a leadership brand.
  • Secret #2: Start by creating a business case for investment in leadership
  • Secret #3: Measure the extent to which leaders’ behavior is consistent with stakeholder expectations – build unique development plans for each leader

Talent Domain “Promotion”: Managing individual growth and promotions: Building a talent pipeline is one of the most important yet most neglected of the talent domains. The best organizations take special care to clearly identify successors and are able to promote from within.

  • Secret #4: Actively manage key positions and key stretch roles.
  • Secret #5: Succession must always be top of mind. Keep track of everybody through a talent management process that is tied to the strategy.
  • Secret #6: Watch for the 4 “A”s of potential: ambition, ability, agility, achievement.

Talent Domain “Develop”: Successful business leaders know that they must develop their people. The best companies know that fast-track development comes in the form of customized development assignments that are supplemented with short-term training programs and coaching. Too often, many companies fail to customize and fail to develop talent as quickly as they need to because they focus too much on training programs.

  • Secret #7: Create an inventory or menu of experiences leaders need to be successful – rather than relying on training.
  • Secret #8: Avoid generic programs – ensure all development directly ties to business results.

Talent Domain “Source”: Leaders must leverage current employees, alumni, technology, and other sources to identify talent who will fit well in the organization.

  • Secret #9: Alumni are the very best source of talent that delivers business results.

Talent Domain “Remove”: Removing under-performers is perhaps the most difficult of all talent practices. Yet if not removed, poor performers can undermine and dilute other investments in talent, creating a culture of resentment and skepticism among the top performers.

  • Secret #10: Remove poor performers quickly and with humanity. Failure to move them out quickly depletes the entire organization.


These 10 secrets can be leveraged to accelerate beyond the global competition and gain a competitive advantage. Now is the time for leaders everywhere to step up and leverage talent to exceed expectations. We look forward to providing more details about these ten secrets to secrets in our next two articles. 

We appreciate the support of the Singapore Ministry of Manpower and our colleagues at PwC Singapore for sponsoring and collaborating on this research.