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Building Loyalty through Success: Talent Vs. Skill

I was given some very precious advice from a billionaire the final time we spoke. “Building a business is incredibly simple with the right people. Building a business with the wrong people is the hardest thing in the world.” In “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t”, Jim Collins explains that the companies he studied spent very little time motivating their people once they had the right people on the bus. So how do we determine the right people? How do you keep them once you’ve got them? Can you develop someone into the right person?

Peter & I are firmly committed to the idea that you create long term satisfaction by providing people the opportunity to win. You provide them challenge and all the support they need for a series of consistent successes. The key here is setting your team up for success.

First, Break all The Rules: Knowledge, Skill & Talent

Gallup wrote a book called “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently“, which studies the question of what great managers do to build their teams and how to select the right people for each position. At the heart of the book was a concept that separated ability into: knowledge, skills & talents, which are distinct elements of a person’s performance. The difference? Skills and knowledge can easily be taught, talents cannot.

Knowledge includes “what you are aware of.” More specifically, you have both factual knowledge (facts you learned) and experiential knowledge (understandings you have gained). Factual knowledge for an accountant would be knowing the rules of double-entry bookkeeping. Experiential knowledge might be an understanding of what motivates clients to do better record keeping.

Skills are the how-to’s of a role. A skill is taught by breaking down the task into distinct steps, which the person then reassembles. The best way to learn a skill is practice.

Talents are an innate ability. A passion for structure is not a skill. Nor is it knowledge. It is a talent.

Three Kinds of Talent – striving talents, thinking talents and relating talents:

Striving talents explain the why of a person. They explain why he gets out of bed every day, why he is motivated to push and push just that little bit harder. Is he intensely competitive or intensely altruistic or both? Does he define himself by his technical competence, or does he just want to be liked?

Thinking talents explain the how of a person. They explain how he thinks, how he weighs up alternatives, how he comes to his decisions.

Relating talents explain the who of a person. They explain whom he trusts, whom he builds relationships with, whom he confronts, and whom he ignores.

Applying this to Your Business

First off, we are all capable of learning and growing. Personal growth is one of my greatest passions and I rarely sit still. I read self-development books in my free time. With that understanding though, I will never, ever, ever have the attention to detail that Peter had at 5 years old. He has an innate appreciation for the finite and all minutia. On the exact opposite side of the spectrum I have an obsession with high level patterns and finding commonalities among abstract ideas. With that knowledge, it would be completely unfair, both to me and to the organization, to put me in a position where my success depends on getting each detail handled perfectly.

How do you know if a person has a talent? It quickly becomes apparent as you watch them learn. People with a talent in a particular arena can directly map learning from other similar experience. They do not start from the beginning each time the scenario changes. I was recently training a new content manager for our team. I noticed that I explained a task and rarely had to explain each step more than once. She would intuitively feel her way across the application and had a sense of where to go next. It was an absolutely refreshing experience. She had never worked with a content management system before, nor did she have much experience with HTML. She has a talent that applies directly.

As Peter & I begin to understand the positions we need to fill in our business, we keep asking ourselves what are those talents that are required for success at the tasks the position covers. For example: A content manager and quality assurance person needs to have a talent for detail and precision. An art director or project manager needs to have a talent for defining abstract needs into concrete requirements. What talents are we measuring? Attention to detail, ability to keep to a larger vision, team oriented, push the extra mile, awareness of timelines, awareness of budget, multi-task, self-guided and more.

We have had to transfer a few people within the organization because their talents were not a good fit for the position in which we had placed them. In some cases we have been blessed and found a good fit. Other times we have matched them with someone who provided a great balance. Our most valuable designer (hi Brandon) in the group is amazingly quick, has a good eye for color and works as hard as Peter & I, which is pretty intense. He & I are very similar in our weakness with detail. So we have created a pattern for all his projects. Peter will come in and manage the final 1/3 of each of his projects and make sure all the details get covered appropriately. It has been a perfect solution and handled what could be a great liability.

In some cases, we decided they would be happier and more successful working with a different company entirely. We are extremely demanding and expect a high level of quality in everything that goes out the door. If someone can’t provide that level of quality in the time frame and budget alloted, then it is cruel to leave them in a place where they can’t win. It just guarantees unhappiness for everyone involved.

The conclusion – build a great team and loyalty by giving people the opportunity to contribute successfully to something great. How? By making sure you choose the right people with the right talents for each key position.