Best Practices in Talent Management: A book review by Bob Morris

Best Practices in Talent Management: How the World’s Leading Corporations Manage, Develop, and Retain Talent
Marshall Goldsmith and Louis Carter, Co-Editors
Pfeiffer/A Wiley Imprint (2009)

Ultimately, the effectiveness of best practices depends on those who execute them

As co-editors Marshall Goldsmith and Louis Carter explain, the material in this book focuses on 14 dynamic enterprises (i.e. Avon Products, Bank of America, Corning, CES, Ecolab, GE, IRS, Kaiser Permanente/Colorado Region, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Murray & Roberts, Porter Novelli, Southern Company, and Whirlpool) that were selected by the Best Practice Institute because they have succeeded in implementing talent enhancement programs – “although, to be fair, to call them ‘programs’ is not entirely accurate, as they are in reality vital strategic components integrated into the companies’ core operating values.” Indeed, had they not been so integrated, neither they nor their companies could become, much less remain, vital and dynamic. There is a separate chapter devoted to each of the 14, written by one or more of the contributors who were invited to participate. It is important to keep in mind that in an age when several companies “built to last” haven’t and others once great are no longer even good, at least a few of the 14 in this book may no long be exemplars of anything, except perhaps of how quickly an organization can become weakened in one way or another.

I appreciate the material provided in the Conclusion introduced by this explanation: “In order t0 present a fuller and more complete picture of the best practices in talent management, in March 2009 the Best Practice Institute [of which Cater is founder and CEO] released results from a groundbreaking survey of some of America’s most dynamic companies.” An overview is provided in the Conclusion. Then in the Epilogue, William J. Rothwell suggests several “key take-away points” from each of the 14 mini-case studies. From Ecolab, for example, “This case is outstanding for illustrating how a talent program can be built on, and leverage, the organization’s culture and values. These values include, according to the case, (1) spirit; (2) pride; (3) determination; (4) commitment; (5) passion; and (6) integrity. The talent program was based on internal interviews of company executives.”  Obviously, brief take-away points merely serve as triggers to recall insights that are developed in much greater depth, in context.

Presumably Goldsmith and Carter are responsible for the reader-friendly format that most of the contributors adopt (with only minor modification) and graphic devices such as Figures that consolidate a wealth of information about an especially important subject such as Avon’s “Talent Investment Matrix” (Page 6), Corning’s “Program Snapshot – Week One” (50), Ecolab’s “Success Indicators for Business Drivers at Each Pipeline Level” (90), “IRS Leadership Core Responsibilities” (119), McDonald’s “Performance Drivers” (162), and Microsoft’s “Key Stakeholder Roles for HiPo Coaching program” (196). Because they are best practices, these and others examined in the book should serve as exempla that suggest possibilities rather than as templates to be adopted without revision or modification. That is to say, doing what is right and doing it right pose entirely different challenges.

Those who share my high regard for the material in this volume are urged to check out George Anders’ recently published book, The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, as well as Dean Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success, and Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution co-authored by Jeanne R. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson.

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