Written with Dave Ulrich
Introduction:Talent and selecting the right individuals is crucial to success in sports, music, politics, business, and so many other areas of our lives. Last month we shared a Summary of the 10 Secrets to Success from the Best Performing Organizations in Asia, which was the first in a series of three articles.
This series details the ten lessons, or success secrets, uncovered by the world’s largest research study on Talent in Asia, sponsored by the Singapore Ministry of Manpower. The study evaluated how talent impacts 570 of the best performing businesses in China, India, and Singapore, in both the public and private sectors. Currently, many countries in Asia are shifting from exporting low-cost manufactured goods to exporting high-value financial and technical services. It has been difficult for many organizations to drive, cultivate, and foster talent, during this period of tremendous economic growth and dramatic transition. Our objective in conducting this study and highlighting the results is to offer valuable insights and tools that will help accelerate talent development and deliver business results.
The first part of this series reviewed the study in detail and briefly described these ten talent secrets to success. In this article, we carefully examine the first five talent secrets, which focus on two Talent Domains: Leadership and Promotion.
Secret #1: The best companies have worked explicitly to create a leadership brand.Stakeholders highly value an organization’s reputation for developing and attracting great leadership. Leadership Brand is the identity of leaders throughout an organization that bridges customer expectations and organizational behavior. A single, exceptional leader may deliver outstanding results over a period of time; however, developing Leadership Brand enables an organization to sustain results, align with changing strategies, and build confidence among employees, customers, and investors.
Secret #2: Start by creating a business case for investment in leadership.Leadership and talent development initiatives must be measureable and tied directly to financial results. Successful companies maintain a clear strategy and identify the top 15% of positions that create the vast majority of value for the organization. For example, in budget airlines, while pilots, ticketing agents, and flight attendants are all important positions to ensure successful operations, these positions are not considered “critical” to value creation. The most ‘valuable’ positions in an airline are logistics managers, who ensure that “time in air” and “passenger capacity” is maximized. Critical positions inherently create the most value due to the business strategy. As such, leadership development must be focused on building world-class leaders to occupy these critical positions. In this way, the best companies develop a strong 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.This secret ensures leaders continue to exceed stakeholder expectations by fully utilizing his or her strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. Leaders must have a very clear understanding of who the most important stakeholders are and their expectations for the organization. Next, each leader must work to develop an individual development plan by listing specific activities that will reinforce individual strengths and improve weak areas. The best organizations in Asia actively hold leaders accountable to ensure they develop and then execute these plans and actively measure improvement over time.
Secret #4: Actively manage key positions and key stretch roles.Secret #4 builds upon Secret #2. Once a business case is developed and critical positions are identified, the very best organizations actively manage those positions. In doing so, they ensure that top talent fills these strategic roles and avoid maintain any long-time role incumbents who only perform at a mid-level. Given the immense impact strategic roles have on the overall success of a business or government organization, these roles must be carefully curated and promotions into these roles must be carried out in a very strategic manner.
One high-performing leader stated, “No matter what my role is, I am always either training my replacement or figuring out how to eliminate my job.” This statement captures the spirit of top organizations’ perspective regarding succession planning. The best organizations carefully track the strengths and weaknesses of all employees. They constantly monitor the talent pool to identify potential promotions that will further boost individual and organizational development and performance. The best organizations hold “Talent Reviews” or “Talent Councils” where they discuss high potential individuals and identify ways to help them develop.
Secret #5: Succession must always be top of mind. Keep track of everybody through a talent management process that is tied to the strategy.
ConclusionValue creation through people starts and ends with leadership. Leaders from both public and the private sectors who implement actions recommended in these five secrets will create significant value. Now is the time for leaders everywhere to step up and leverage talent to exceed expectations. We look forward to providing more details for the final five secrets in our article to be published next week.
 We appreciate the support of the Singapore Ministry of Manpower and our colleagues at PwC Singapore for sponsoring and collaborating on this research.