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Talent Won’t Win the War But these 5 surprising skills just might By David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom They’re calling it a “war.” Apparently, it’s do or die time for organizations to protect and stockpile talent—to keep and hire the “A Players” of the world, the rock stars and the champions, or be out-maneuvered by those who do. For years now, even during the greatest slump of the recession, the so-called “War on Talent” has been a hot topic. It suggests that, in the end, there will be winners and losers; that there is a limited supply of talented individuals, and that as soon as winning organizations find all the people with super-traits and hire them, there will be a slim chance for organizations with people of average talent to succeed The largest-ever study of award-winning work revealed a slightly more hopeful thought: Talent is not always the greatest predictor of success. The word talent refers to those natural gifts or traits that make people who they are. And, as much as we believe talent can drive innovation and great work, a group of us at the O.C. Tanner Institute were also curious to know: “Which is the bigger driver of great work: the level of talent people possess, or what they actually do?” After evaluating data from 1.7 million instances of award-winning work, conducting in-depth interviews with hundreds of actual difference makers and analyzing all the pieces to see how they fit together, we discovered some findings that may surprise you. The vast majority award-winning work we studied involved a crosssection of the workforce—janitors, front line retailers, administrative personnel, health care workers and service providers in various sectors. Our research clearly revealed that the things people do (skills that can be learned) were far better predictors of success than who people are (their character traits, abilities, and talents). To start, we wanted to measure how standard variables used in management science would predict success. Age, gender, tenure and company size, became the variables in our control group and these variables rarely predicted measurable areas of success at all. They had zero impact on predicting whether a person’s work would have lasting success and very little impact on predicting whether a person’s success would exceed expectations or create extraordinary quality. Next, we tested many traits that are commonly believed to be predictors of success like a person’s sense of meaning, calling and security (stability). We also tested other popular predictors of success, such as proactive personality, intrinsic interest and desire to help others. Recruiters have long sought out these personality traits because they are, in fact, correlated with success. If we could pinpoint all the above traits in a person, we could increase chances of success (where results exceeded expectations) by an average of 16 percent. That’s pretty impressive. But that’s exactly where “The War on Talent” gets interesting Throughout the process of collecting and analyzing data, and our one-on-one interviews with people who had created award-winning work, we noticed five skills (activities people performed in the process of creating great work) that showed up with surprising consistency. We labeled the skills as Ask The Right Question, See for Yourself, Talk to your Outer Circle, Improve the Mix and Deliver The Difference. Naturally, we had a hunch that these skills would improve the probability of success—perhaps at least as much as talents and character traits. However, when put into practice together, the five skills increase the chances of exceeding expectations by nearly 36 percent—20 percentage points more than all of the personality traits we tested combined. What does all this mean? Although natural talents and personality traits significantly increase the odds of success, our research shows that great work is more probable when people use a simple set of learnable (and yes, trainable) skills. Basically, what people do is more important than who they are. So what are the organizational implications of these findings? It means that we need to balance our efforts of finding the people with super traits, with ensuring that our people (who may or may not be the “A Players” and rock stars) practice a simple set of skills for success: 1. Ask the Right Question How often do we pause, before we do our work, to ask if we can do something better? Great work begins when we take the time to ask ourselves the right question: is there some way to make a difference that people would love? Award winners follow their curiosity to find new and better ways to do things. 2. See for Yourself People who produce award-winning work don’t just work from their desks. They get out and look for possibilities with their own two eyes. They observe processes, customer-product interactions, trends and related disciplines to fill their minds with difference-making ideas. 13 Personal Excellence essentials presented by HR.com | 06.2014


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