Not too long ago, I spoke to a fairly large gathering of people involved in Human Resources, Organizational Development, and Talent Management.  Some worked for privately held businesses, some worked for the publicly held sector, and some worked for the government sector.  Regardless of their affiliation, all had questions about what groups of people get the benefit of development dollars.

When this topic inevitably came up, I shared a story that goes back more than fifteen years.  My client and I were finishing the definition of the scope of the development project under negotiation.  Tom made it clear that he wanted family members involved, and then he added, “I don’t have to do everyone do I?”  To that I replied, “Of course not, Tom.  You just tell me whom you want to leave ineffective and non-productive; and we’ll skip right over them.”  Tom decided to include everyone.  

Tom’s thought process really isn’t all that uncommon, even among people who are generally considered professionals in the fields I mentioned above.  That comes about partly because development and talent management is generally viewed as an expense rather than an investment, so it is usually thought of in terms of “Can we afford it?”

That’s a legitimate question, and your perspective as an owner/CEO will have a huge bearing on the answer.  The “expensed” approach can turn into the proverbial vicious circle:  we can’t find or develop talent, and that blocks our growth, and that creates additional performance pressures, and that creates still another diversion toward short term thinking.  It’s somewhat like a scene in Chariots of Fire where the second place finisher laments that “If I can’t win, I won’t run.”

Of course, if you don’t run then you can’t win.  Having the right people makes it easier all the way around.  The impact of top talent and well-prepared successors on organizational performance is not going to diminish.  But, as the owners of several high salaried sports teams will tell you, it takes more than a single franchise player to win the crown jewel.

In “Let’s hear it for B Players”, an article written by Thomas J. DeLong and Vineeta Vijayyaraghavan and published in the Harvard Business Review in 2003, it’s important to recognize the capable, steady performers who make up the majority of any work force.  Succession Success™ is based in part on business performance – if there is no success, then there is no succession to worry about – so it is imperative to address the need for talent throughout the organization.  

The need to address talent management is particularly true if the designated successor in a family business carries the right name but currently lacks the business talent and acumen to sustain success through subsequent generations.  That’s a heavy burden to lay on someone.  Make it lighter by developing talent wherever and whenever you see it.  You and your successors will be glad you did.

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