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Talent Development Leaders — Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Talent Development Leaders — If you can’t clearly answer this question — then it is time to act.

Recently I was having a conversation around the table with a client and his managers. The discussion focused on how the Talent Development function was supporting the business. As is so often the case, the conversation centered around talent development pipelines and processes such as performance management alignment.

I listened quietly and then asked if we could shift the conversation a little — I wanted to ask a different question before we moved on…

“What do you believe makes your organization unique and gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace?”

I can usually predict what the answer will be – and it happened again here… Each person had a different answer!

This is an easy question to ask – but so difficult for many managers to answer. Try it! How would you answer it for your organization?

Well, during our discussion… the most senior executive on the T&D team’s response was “Our ability to take risks.” My follow-up question was “What does that mean?” My second question was “… And what makes you different from your largest competitor –are they not risk takers?

Another executive jumped in and said, “I think there’s a different answer to that question. I think capability in research and development sets us apart from the competition.”

The conversation then led to how to define and then to leverage their competitive advantage.

Why is this important?  — if you are not building organizational capability with this question in mind, it’s time to start! Not being able to define – and act on your competitive advantage – is a serious risk to your business. At best it is losing you money – at worst it may cost you your business!

In fairness to the Talent Development function – this problem is just as common across all functions and pretty universal across businesses.

In other words, once you clearly describe your competitive advantage you can tailor functions such as capability development and recruitment and selection to finding and developing employees to drive the business forward to take advantage of the opportunities your advantage provides.

Just try searching on Google — what you will find is that there are 50 million hits when searching for Strategic Competitive Advantage –so widely in the consciousness of organizations – YET our research shows …. only 44% strongly agree that they can describe what makes their organization different from the competition, AND 20% strongly agree that their organization’s current strategies give them an advantage over the competition.

Why is that? People are not asking the right questions and don’t have an approach that will get them to universally identify and leverage what makes them unique.

When you are in a position to address this issue… Try jumpstarting the conversation by asking leaders in your organization the following questions:

  • What must we do, know, or produce that no one else can? This is truly hard questions to answer. –the key –be honest – what is the evidence that you alone can do this?  How do you know?
  • What do we want to be best in the “world” at? However, you define your “world” –is an important context for this conversation.  Is your world truly global? Or is it the world in which you currently operate in – or perhaps the world you would like to move into.
  • What is the single best reason for our success? This allows you to focus — is it a single thing like a patent on a new product or a unique approach to something that cannot be easily replicated?
  • Is our advantage anything that a competitor could say about their organization? This is the true “smell” test. Again, be honest with yourself. If this is not the case – you have a competitive advantage –if not, maybe now is the time to secure one.

Only when your organization is clear on these important questions can you reshape your Talent Management Strategy to take full advantage of the opportunities your competitive advantage provides.

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