Optimizing Talent: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 10th, 2012 by bobmorris

Optimizing Talent: What Every Leader and Manager Needs to Know to Sustain the Ultimate Workforce
Linda D. Sharkey and Paul H. Eccher
Information Age Publishing (2011)

“Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so.” —  Doris Lessing

Opinions may vary as to the single greatest challenge that business leaders face but there is probably unanimous agreement that optimizing the talent an organization already has is among those of greatest importance.  No organization (at least none of which I am aware) has or has ever had “too much talent.” The best business books tend to be research-driven and that is certainly true of this one as Linda Sharkey and Paul Eccher share what they learned from a wealth of real-world experience with countless organizations. The book summarizes research conducted with more than 500 companies on which Sharkey and Eccher based their Talent Optimization Framework and Survey™. As Marshall Goldsmith correctly notes in the Foreword, this framework “is an interrelated set of building blocks that will help your organization become a talent-rich enterprise that is prepared for today’s challenges as well as tomorrow’s.”

The Talent Optimization Framework™ (TOF) is based on six separate but interdependent principles:

o  Strategic Alignment
o  Talent Assessment
o  Performance Management
o  Learning & Development
o  HR Capability
o  Talent Data Analytics

Of course, these are basic components of a business system as are ignition, engine, transmission, acceleration, braking, etc. basic components of a vehicle. The challenge is to optimize the efficiency of each in coordination with the other components.

Sharkey and Eccher correctly view leadership (at all levels and in all areas of operations) and culture as primary factors (“enablers”) when an organization attempts to achieve and then sustain “the ultimate workforce.” Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original expectations. More often than not, the resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom. Hence the importance of effective leadership, not only in the C-suite but throughout the given enterprise. Sharkey and Eccher have few (if any) illusions about the extreme difficulty of achieving organizational transformation and then sustaining it. That is why they devote so much attention to explaining the “how” of talent optimization.

I also commend them on their skillful use of reader-friendly devices such as checklists of root causes, key points and initiative sequences throughout their narrative as well as dozens of Figures such as these: “Talent Management Strategic Framework and Diagnostic Survey” (Pages 13-14), “Quantifying Culture – The Circumplex” and “How Culture Works” (Pages 42-43), and “Framework for Assessing Talent” (Page 75). Moreover, there are quite a few assessment exercises that will enable the reader to get a reasonably accurate measurement of the nature and extent of the gap between where her or his organization is now in term s of talent optimization and where it should be.

I urge those who share my high regard for this book to check out two others: Dean Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success as well as Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.

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