• A Lesson in Talent Strategy

    By Joe Abel, CPCC, ACC, PhD

    When John Strangfeld was appointed chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial in 2008, he reportedly informed the company’s board of directors that his leadership legacy would be summed up in one word: Talent. And he wasn’t speaking about himself.

    Whether the story is true or corporate CEO lore, John Strangfeld is on the record as stating, “Our talent defines us.” Talent—not shareholder value, market share, innovative products and services, world-class technology and service, pithy slogans, or good corporate citizenship—is the priority throughout the company.

    Leadership Doesn't Come From a Title

    What it means on a practical level is tapping into the skills and talents of every employee and recognizing that leadership can’t come from a title or role; it comes from talent and the commitment to doing the right thing for customers and each other. Prudential even coined a term for this talent-based focus: the “elevate” culture. The elevate culture works through the embrace of teamwork, collaboration, and the ability to learn. 

    This year, prudential ranked No. 1 in FORTUNE magazine's listing of the "World's Most Admired Companies” in the Insurance: Life and Health category. It is noteworthy that the company has held one of the top three spots in this annual ranking since 2010.

    What is the lesson Mr. Strangfeld offers? On the surface, it appears to be the idea that any business strategy is only as strong as the talent strategy associated with it. There is a certain level of truth to this dictum and likely a general acceptance of the idea. But there is a more penetrating perspective: Does a company possess and use talent intelligence?

    Applying Talent Intelligence

    Talent intelligence involves working to understand what each employee’s skills, abilities, interests, passions, and work preferences are. It is uncovering and defining the capabilities that exist within the organization and giving serious thought to how to leverage—dare I say elevate—these capabilities. Building and using talent intelligence can lead to a tighter alignment between business strategy and what each employee does every day.

    Here’s a simple way to determine if your organization is using talent intelligence: Ask a group of employees how what they do every day connects to the business's strategies. Would they be able to do so? Could you draw a clear, bright line up from their roles back through individual performance goals, to business tactics, to business goals, to the business's strategic priorities? Or do they, and you, experience a fuzzy disconnect? The problem may be that when thinking about business strategy, any notion of a talent strategy focuses on operations, functions, and roles, and not on talent.

    Talent can define you and your company, too. Imagine your results!

    Joe Abel, CPCC, ACC, PhD, is HFMA’s director of career strategies. He is certified as a professional career coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Coaches Training Institute (CTI).


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