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The 6 Talent Futures

Authored by: Managing Partners Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

Everyone knows that organizations succeed or fail because of talent, but how can we recognize, accurately categorize and effectively develop key talent?

Talent management and succession planning involve the acquisition of the right talent which, when deployed and developed properly, can become legendary future leaders and senior managers of an enterprise.

People of considerable talent are those that can grow and develop the critical skills needed beyond their present assignments to fit comfortably into senior roles in the medium- and long-term future. They have what is commonly referred to as potential.

A common question posed (by even those in the talent management industry) is “potential for what?” It’s for whatever is needed in the future for the enterprise to flourish.

People working in the enterprise can be evaluated and pooled relative to 6 Talent Futures, each with its own characteristics, as follows:

Future S — Strategists, Visionaries and Dreamers

This is a select group of people who can strategically lead. They tend to be creative and innovative, are reasonable risk-takers with broad perspective and vision of the marketplace’s futures. They are change creators (not change managers). They propose disruptive initiatives. Roles for which you might deploy Future S talent are CEO, strategic planning, business development, marketing, R&D and M&A.

In their career development years, they are a bit hard to manage. They don’t exactly follow the rules. They are more loyal to ideas than companies. They bounce around in their careers, follow diverse interests and are attracted to tough challenges at the strategic level. They are big-picture thinkers.

Future O – Operators, Executors, Doers, Planners

These are the people that get things done. Generally, Future O talent sets the new adventures, the goals and associated targets. This talent puts high value on doing things right– the first time and every time. They use budgets, agendas, procedures, process feedback loops, checklists, Six Sigma, ISO, digital assets to run and track, and they get great things done on time and within budget.

There are two kinds of Future O talent: general managers and functional heads. You can find the general management talent in senior P&L roles such as chief operating officer, division heads, geographical leads and business-sector leaders. Their functions might be in HR, finance (CFO), logistics, sales, manufacturing, IT, R&D and facilities. They lead a domain or a technology or an operational function. They may have spent their entire career growing and developing within the same area.

Future R – Relationship Builders: Shepherds, Caretakers, Guardians, Satisfiers

This pool of talent excels at customer service and management of both others and processes. There are three kinds of Future R talent:

  1. Those that serve in retail, direct customer contact, service and problem solving (live or digitally)
  2. Those in B2B customer care that deal with organizational customers, contract management, servicing and problem solving
  3. A specialized type of talent that services shareholders, institutional investors, government regulators and VIP visitors

These are the three pools of talent an enterprise needs to both perform now and flourish forever.

Nuances across the first 3 talent pools

Future talent facets: Futures S and O generally are not very good at what the Future R’s do well. Being an effective R requires emotional intelligence, or EQ (people or interpersonal skills) and conscientiousness (getting things done and following through). Even senior and successful S and O leaders are not always people-skilled or agile.

Future Rs are not very good strategists or managers, yet they run customer service teams with a soft touch while seeking harmony and consensus.

Future S and O leaders tend to have a lot of conflicts. They want to change everything. They tinker. O’s want to run things tomorrow like we do today, with small, incremental improvements. To S leaders, change is preferred and exciting. To O’s, change is a pain in the checklist.

O’s understand the effort it will take to manage a large change, while S leaders often underestimate the effort that will be required to make things happen.

If the S leaders are successful convincing the O’s of the value of a change, the O’s will be the change masters. They will be good at creating and executing the change plan as long as the S leaders stay out of the way. Future R’s tend to go with the flow.

What about the talent in Futures M, K and P?

Future M – Well-placed workers with mixed futures

This is the “all other” pool. This is the pool in which everyone starts. The future S, O and R talent comes from here. They are doing good work at the moment and, depending upon their aspirations and development, they may become an S, O or R leader. They may also stay in Future M their entire career. They provide good value for a fair wage.

Future K – Keepers who are blocking

These are valuable people we want to stay and retire with the organization, but there’s a catch. They are occupying and essentially blocking a role or job that a high-potential S or O professional needs to experience on the way to a more senior role.

This is a tricky and delicate scenario. The Blockers are probably in their last job from a role or level standpoint. They are doing the job well, but someone else would benefit more by being in that job, as would the organization in the long view. The resolution is to figure out how to keep the blocker and also develop the S and O talent. It’s a hard win-win to manage.

Future P – Lowest value, limited future, placeholder

These are the lowest contributors, relative to all others. All organizations employ talent who should be moved out, and it’s not always the employee’s faultlt. The organization may have hired for the wrong skills, misjudged cultural fit, or determined the P’s don’t fit into any future plans given shifts in products, markets or strategy. These scenarios are common.

Calculating talent value

In general, from an ROI/productivity/value add metric, talent in Futures S and O is 250% more valuable to the organization than P’s, and Future R’s are 100% more valuable. If we follow the data and ask, “Can I replace a Pool P person with better talent?” the answer is almost always “yes.”

How much potential is required? First off, potential must be verified, and using a statistically valid and legally defensible tool is your best bet. We’ve published such a tool for our clients application. Objective data on potential matters, and subjective evaluation has to be all but eliminated — it’s an all-too-common trap rife with unconscious and other biases.

To be placed in Future S, your talent needs a minimum of 1.5 standard deviation above the average talent rating. They have the most to learn over their careers. Future O’s require a minimum of one standard deviation above the average because they need to stay current with the technology of their role. R’s need to be at average or better.

What does development look like? For S leaders, it’s variety, diversity and broad exposures. For O’s, it’s depth and focus. For R’s, its digital CRM skills, problem solving and conflict management skills.

The S, O and R leaders, although different from one another, need to learn to seamlessly work together. They need to understand the value of their differences and adapt to the talent, capabilities, roles and behavioral practices in each of the other two Futures.

The winning formula for most organizations is comprised of talent predominantly from these three pools, supported steadily by the talent in Future M.

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