Talent Teeter Totter

by Matt Poepsel, PhD

Today we’re going to talk about strategy and something I call the talent teeter totter. Now one of my favorite books on strategy of all time bar none is this book on grand strategy. And the crux of the book basically says that grand strategy is about the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities. So think about aspirations, what is it our hopes and dreams for our business? What do we want to accomplish? And then capabilities is what sort of mechanisms what sort of resources, what sort of all these other types of things do, we have to actually make that a reality?

Now the book goes on, because we’re talking about grand strategy to talk about examples like Xerxes, and Napoleon, where their aspirations outstrip their capabilities didn’t turn out so well, but gave other examples about Lincoln and FDR as well, that turned out much better. So that’s a little bit of a backdrop aspirations and capabilities. Now let’s start with capabilities inside of our organizations. Broadly speaking, we have three different types of things, we have technical or the technologies, these are capabilities, also operations, how we actually do the work, as well as the people side, the way that we manage our people and the way that we deploy our human resources, also a capability. Now what happens in the language of on grand strategy is when capabilities come up short of aspirations, you experienced this zone of disappointment.

So think about executive teams, if they’re frustrated, because there’s something that they want to see manifest in the market for their business for their shareholders, stakeholders, whatever it might be, I call this the zone of disappointment. Now, when I’m working with these groups, then I always say every business problem is a people problem. And the reason for that is this, when you think about inside an organization in terms of capabilities, what typically gets the vast majority of the attention and the weight is clearly the technology, the operations, when you think about how what percentage of the meetings are spent talking about metrics, about processes, about technology, investments, about all these types of the hard aspects, if you will, of the business versus the people side, it’s not that we don’t spend a lot of time on people.

It’s just that their weight, their attention about them, how we deploy people, how we work with our people, how we engage our people, as a capability almost never gets the same level of attention as the technology and operations, we fall in love with what’s possible to make our businesses predictable and scalable, and, and rational and all these things people are anything but so we they tend to get short shrift. So as a result, here’s an example, digital transformation.

According to McKinsey, BCG, KPMG, Bay and all these high overpriced consulting firms. They say that the risk of failure falls somewhere between 70 to 95%. According to this Forbes article, it’s very common. And so is it because when we’re doing digital transformation, we don’t have the technology capabilities know that we don’t invest enough in the right technologies know that we can’t figure out how to redesign our operations and our business process redesign to take advantage of the tech. That’s not it, it runs afoul of the people, when you start to see change management issues, a lack of trust, a lack of safety, a lack of employee, empathy, all these types of things.

This is what causes programs like digital transformation, sales, transformation, any sort of change management, initiative, m&a, all these things, they will come up short, and leading to that zone of disappointment, if we don’t put balance to the people part, and start to put as much emphasis on our people capability as we do our technical capability and our operations capability. So when you think about in this lens talent optimization itself is a capability inside the organization. And if you think of business strategy as the aspirations because they haven’t manifest yet it’s in the future, our capabilities at designing winning teams, hiring top talent, inspiring people to greatness, and diagnosing people problems that are affecting the business. Those capabilities are going to allow us to match our capabilities to our aspirations, and get the outcomes that we want. So I love on grand strategy as a framework and a way to look at talent optimization in a powerful way. And let’s bring balance back to that talent teeter totter, if you will.