UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Industry insider interview: How to build talent faster than the competition


Listen to UNC Executive Development’s podcast interview of Corey Seitz or read the interview below. Seitz is President of Seitz Talent Consulting, LLC, is a recognized leader in global talent management. A trusted advisor and coach to executives, he specializes in aligning the growth of individuals and organizations. Corey brings extensive experience at Fortune 500 corporations having served as the Global Head of Talent Management for Switzerland-based Novartis International, Johnson and Johnson and EMC.

Patrick Cahill: How can companies build talent faster and better than the competition?

Corey Seitz: Well Patrick, thanks for spending some time with me today. I am excited about the opportunity to share a little bit of my knowledge with you and others on talent management. So, I think the question you asked is an excellent one. I believe it’s the 64,000 dollar question that companies ask. I think that there are two short answers to that, and then I want to be able to expound a little bit because I think there is some more detail that will be helpful in terms of answering that question.

Patrick Cahill: Okay.

Corey Seitz: Let me spend a few seconds just focusing on how to build talent faster. The simple answer to that is that you don’t want to waste moves in an organization. You want to be able to consistently provide the right job assignments to individuals. Because the research is very clear, that leaders most vibrantly develop from the job assignments that they have. So in order to build talent faster, you have to make sure that you do not waste any moves (i.e. the positions you give people are going to really help them grow, and also going to help grow the business). So, speed is very much determined by ensuring that people are growing as fast as possible; and giving them the right assignment and focusing in on that is absolutely the best way to increase the speed of the overall talent management process, and the speed at which the business is able to develop talent.

I want to talk a little bit more about that later but now let’s move to better. I think better is very much dependent on what is important to your business. It focuses on your businesses’ most critical roles because the research will show you that there are some roles within an organization that disproportionately affect the success of that organization. So in many organizations, you know whether it’s a pharmaceutical organization or a consumer product organization, the people that are typically called general managers – or that run countries, or regions, or maybe a slice of the business or a particular product line – those general managers typically have a disproportionate impact on the success of the business. So, better has got to be better for your organization.

So those are the two quick answers. But to drop to the next level, I think what it really takes in talent is to have what I call a simple aligned focused approach.

Let me talk a little bit about all three of those because I think they come together to really drive the faster and better approach. From a simple standpoint, there are a couple key components to making sure your talent strategy is simple. Number one, it is starting with the science. There is some science that has been done in the area of talent management and leadership development, and I think you’ve got to start with that science and do what has been shown to create affect, and shown to actually improve the development of people. One of those things would be, like I said, the critical job assignments that people get. Research has shown that that has the largest impact in terms of people development.

The second area that I always look at in terms of a simple approach is to always consider what I would call the complexity value trade-off. In other words, if you are going to implement a particular initiative – whether it is a learning program, a way of moving people across the organization, or a team building initiative – I always look at it and say, ‘simple is always better’, and the judgment has to be, is additional complexity – doing additional things, doing additional steps – justified in terms of the enhanced effectiveness it has? So, in a sense there is always the cost of adding in complexity and doing multiple steps in a process, whether it is a succession planning process or a performance management process, or a leadership development process. The simpler, the better – that may sound strange, but I can tell you in the field, it seems like things sometimes are unnecessarily complex.

The third rule around simple is, in my personal vernacular, I have always said, ‘I don’t want any psychobabble.’ I think you should be able to explain what you are doing in simple English that my mom would understand, and quite frankly, the people outside of the field of industrial psychologists – I am an industrial psychologist – would as well. What matters is how do you apply stuff that people can find practical? So using simple language I think is very, very important.
For me that’s the simple part of the talent strategy. I think the second area is equally important and that is what I would call aligned, the alignment of the strategy, and that really starts with the business. Because the business strategy, the overall business strategy should be closely linked to those strategically critical positions. Like I mentioned earlier, things like general manager roles that are very, very important. What are the key skills that have to be developed for those strategically critical positions? Whether they are general managers, or R & D leaders, or whatever positions are most critical for your particular organization. That’s got to be aligned and integrated with your talent strategy, and really driving your talent strategy.

I think the other piece of alignment is to ensure that the talent processes that you have in an organization all fit together into what I call a Master Plan. What are the typical talent processes? In most big organizations, they are recruitment, organization design, performance management, succession planning and talent reviews, leadership development initiatives, team development, learning, engagement and compensation.

I think the key there is that those things actually are aligned and integrated, and someone has thought through, ‘how do all those fit together?’ I’ll give you a for instance – if we have an organization that is very, very focused on building effective teams and having high performance teams in the organization, then that should probably be reflected somewhere in our performance management process, and it should also be reflected in how we compensate people. If we want to drive higher team performance, then just incenting an individual on goals and individual objectives is probably not the right way to actually integrate all those processes. There are many other integration points but that is one that I think is pretty vibrant.

My third focus on alignment is one that I think is quite frankly often forgotten in big organizations, and that’s to align and include individuals in shaping their future. I think that the best organizations are transparent on not only performance – how they look at your performance or your performance over the past year – but also, more importantly, what potential they see you having in the organization. Most organizations now do things called potential ratings and I think those types of ratings systems absolutely have to be shared with individuals. I mean we are talking about a group of intelligent adults, and they should have the transparency extended to them that they know how they are being looked at and how their performance is being rated and how their potential is being rated.

And I always find it a bit odd that one of the key values of almost any organization is integrity and trust. And I think the basics of integrity and trust are honesty and dialogue, and if you don’t have dialogue around people’s careers, a very important thing, I think that’s a major missing point. I think also that including individuals in shaping their future includes the strongest organization to have what I call purpose-driven leaders, (i.e. there is something broader that is driving their behavior beyond just pure profit motive). They know what they are playing for, and it is broader than just what happens day to day in a business that includes both the person’s role inside the organization, very critical, but also their role in broader society, and their family role as well. I think all of these are critical components to be included into that.

In terms of including individuals in shaping their future, something that I have found to be very important is starting early in the pipeline. So early in the pipeline, you have people thinking about: What do they want their career to look like? What do they want their purpose as a leader to look like? How might they also interact in broader society? I think this really creates a very, very strong talent development process in the organization.

I have talked a little bit about simple. I have talked about how you keep things aligned. The last piece that I think is equally critical in your talent strategy is to have a very focused talent strategy. So by that I have got really three different areas I focus on. The first is, to focus development and growth on closing the gap between people’s current skills and what I would call a target position. So target position would literally be what both the individual and the organization believe in the next 3 to 5 years is the realistic position that someone could go to that they could ascend to in the organization.

I think focusing in on and helping people understand what is the gap between where you are at right now and the target role that both yourself and the organization has set for you, is very, very important. I think it’s often not done and it’s often not really clear what that role is or what the gap is, and so I think that’s a bit of a waste. It certainly slows down the overall process.

The second area in terms of focus for me is what I call managing experience tirelessly. The best organizations really spend a lot of time looking at job assignments and those job assignments that will develop people and drive the business. So it’s that focus in giving the right people to the right job, I mentioned that earlier in terms of not wasting moves. I think it’s very, very critical and an absolutely critical focus for great companies.

And then at the end of all of it, in terms of focus and your overall talent strategy and approach, you’ve got to measure your success. To me, there is only one real measure, and that is the depth of the talent pipeline. So how deep is your pipeline? Do you have the bench strength that you need to be able to fill the roles of your organization, and particularly those strategically critical positions? Because if you can’t fill those, you are going to hold the business back from growing, you are going to lose speed, and you are also not going to be better than your competition.

Faster, great moves, better, focused on the strategically critical roles but then I think you have to dial it back a little bit more and for me, that’s part of having a talent strategy that is simple, aligned and focused. So, Patrick I think this is about as efficient as I can get in terms of both speed and better. So, I’ll start there and see if you have any questions.

Patrick Cahill: That was a great overview. Thanks, Corey. The first thing that came to mind when you started talking was the science and you mentioned that, how critical job assignments are on driving talent or developing talent. That seems like the number one, if you are going to do anything, attack that. Could you give me an example of what the tier 2 example of some science in this field? Meaning, if people are going to attack 2 things based on science, what the second one would be?

Corey Seitz: I think the other area of science that’s really, really important is fit – fit between individual and organization. There’s pretty good science that shows that if the fit is better, people are going to perform at a higher level, and they are also going to be more engaged in the organization.

o, the key there as a practitioner is, clearly understanding what the culture is that you want to have in your company and then being able to select people coming in to the company with those kinds of attributes. I think in a sense, culture trumps everything. When people look for a good organization to go to that, I think, is very dependent upon, what’s the profile of an organization that people are looking for? What are their personal values? And I don’t mean solid values versus shaky values, or someone who is ethical versus unethical – quite to the contrary. I mean, there are different types of organizations that are a better fit for certain people.

There are some organizations that are very social – you know most business is conducted verbally and in meetings – and there are other organizations that are much more data-oriented. And that is not industry specific either. You can find vast differences within pharmaceuticals or within consumer products or so. So that’ll be another area. There are many others, Patrick, but that’s one that I also think to be very interesting in terms of both from a personal career standpoint but also from an organizational standpoint in terms of what you are looking to do.

Patrick Cahill: Thanks, jumping into another item that you brought up, Corey. You talked about really evaluating complexity’s value versus the complexity you are adding for the process. I was just curious if you have an example of how you’ve evaluated whether there was real value in adding a piece of complexity to your process, and what that actual complexity might have been, just to give people some real tangible evidence of that process.

Corey Seitz: Sure – actually I hope this is not too grounded in the minutia of the field – one of the things that almost all organizations do is, they do something called potential ratings. Potential ratings are a way to assess an individual’s ability to take higher level roles in the company. I actually worked on those types of systems my entire career. Later in my career, I started to have a realization that actually for most line leaders that are not spending their whole career looking at talent and how to develop talent, what really resonates with line leaders is to ask them a question like: so right now, Sally is the general manager of Spain, and we know that for our business, the French business is much larger – and more complex – than the Spanish business, and therefore what’s the gap between where Sally is right now, and actually being able to do the role in France?
I found that was always a very productive question to ask people to get them centered on those two things: 1) it helps them think through what’s the person’s potential; 2) most importantly, it helps them think through, “How can we develop the person and get them ready for that position?”

I had an epiphany so to speak that, why was I building a talent process that made people do that extra step? (i.e. I found that what you really want to be able to nail down is, where can people be moved to?) What would be developmental for them? But to drive the business, who is our next head of the French business?

What I actually moved to was instead of even talking about doing potential ratings on people, I dropped that. I didn’t ask people to do that extra step. I said let’s just talk about the target job or jobs that a person has in the next five years, and let’s talk about what it is they have to do to close that gap.

So I actually eliminated a fairly complicated step for the whole talent process for the organization that I was working for at the time, and I have now adopted that approach totally in the work that I do. I find that if you look at the curve of value and complexity, it’s a huge improvement because I have removed a whole step from a pretty complicated process. The value of it actually increased because you’ve taken away a lot of the, for the sake of a better term, haziness of how to actually do this?

So you as a practitioner have made it simpler and better all at the same time. You can’t always get that. It doesn’t always work out that efficiently. But it’s just the idea of, as few steps as possible to reach the objective. Using the science is really important, Patrick, but it’s only important if it can be practically applied. If it can’t be then you have to look to other alternatives which hopefully, that’s not the situation you are in, but a lot of times you have to really make that trade-off as a practitioner and say, ‘that’s got to be a good equation.’
You’ll actually hear that from my two colleagues as well. I think we very much grew up with that mindset.

Patrick Cahill: I appreciate that real example. I don’t think that was getting too far into the trenches there. One thing that resonated with me is the topic of transparency and the importance of that and developing a pool or bench of potential people that are going to fill your critical roles. Are there any difficulties as an organization trying to improve their transparency in making that a two-way street? Are there any issues of making it clear that it’s in your talent’s best interest to be transparent on what they are thinking and where they want to go?

Corey Seitz:I think for sure there are those in the field who would not agree with my approach. There are people who – in the field, in big organizations – don’t want to share with people their potential ratings or their target jobs because they believe if someone knew that, they might make the decision to go somewhere else. I think that’s misdirected on two levels having spent my entire career in the field.

One, I think that people do have a pretty good feel for how they are actually perceived in the organization so I don’t think you are really fooling them by not telling them. My bigger concern is, I just don’t think it’s ethical – neither ethical nor effective – to not let people know where they stand, how they are looked at. And of course, this is a projection into the future, right? So your future performance may certainly improve and you would have a better chance of going to that role, or something may happen and your performance is not as good as it once was, and you may not go into those positions.

I think that’s the reluctance people have but I believe that risk is worth sharing with people where they sit. In all honesty, it is very difficult to grow and develop and close the gap, if you don’t know where the perceived gap or where you are at right now to get into another position. So I think transparency is really, really critical. I’ve seen it, and have actually seen it done both ways, and my experience has been that being transparent is much better than not being transparent.

Patrick Cahill: That makes sense. I would imagine that just the topic of transparency probably bumps into something you brought up earlier which is, the culture. And I would imagine that some companies’ established cultures can absorb this concept of transparency, and their teams can absorb it maybe more than others? Is that an accurate statement or am I going off in the wrong direction there?

Corey Seitz: Well, I think there is some truth in that. But I think that the idea of transparency around both performance ratings and potential ratings are so critical that I think organizations need to get there. To be honest with you, I’m sometimes surprised that even gets discussed in the field anymore, it’s quite obvious in which direction you should go.

Patrick: Great! Corey, I really appreciate all your time and your insight. I think before we wrap it up, because we’ve taken up a bunch of your time, are there any thoughts or closing thoughts around the goal of building talent faster and better than the competition?

Corey Seitz: I think it’s exciting stuff, and I also think that the field continues to progress. We learn things all the time. I think that the one area that I frankly have been spending a lot of time focusing on lately – because I think it’s very critical and has not been as well researched or well applied – is the whole idea of how to make teams perform at a higher level.
I think a lot of time is spent on the individual level, but we can all name examples of teams – whether they are teams in an organization or sports teams, and team in a political team – where the individual players were very good, but somehow they didn’t coalesce as a team. They didn’t perform as a high performance team. That area of work is, frankly, where I have been doing a lot of work in, and really, I think it has a big, big impact on individuals at the end of the day, and also on the company and how much growth and development and joy people get out of their work. It’s not just about the individual; it’s about how the teams operate together too.

Patrick Cahill: I think that’s an exciting part of talent management being an emerging field. And it almost sounds like another topic for another interview, Corey.

Corey Seitz: Absolutely. I would like to talk about that.

Patrick Cahill: Thank you so much, Corey.

Corey Seitz: My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity, Patrick.