New Year’s Resolution Challenge: Articulate Your Organization’s Talent Philosophy

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During a recent workshop that Xiomara Padamsee and I facilitated at the Education Pioneers National Conference, we led an activity with representatives from small nonprofits, medium-sized CMOs, and relatively large public school districts to identify their core beliefs about talent to include in a talent philosophy – a short, bold statement articulating the talent beliefs of an organization. We asked participants to “vote with their feet” by moving to different sides of the room based on whether they believed that their organization should hire for raw potential for impact or demonstrated track record. Unsurprisingly, representatives from newer organizations who were just starting to build up the core of their organizational functions tended to fall on the “demonstrated track record” side of the room, while large, complex organizations with established training capabilities fell on the “raw potential for impact” side of the room.

What Bellwether’s Talent team has seen is that either approach could lead to strong outcomes as long as the approach is clearly articulated in a talent philosophy that consistently guides leadership action, talent investments, and strategies. For example, if you believe in hiring for raw potential, you’ll need to couple that approach with investments in strong staff development opportunities. If you believe in hiring for demonstrated track record, you’ll need to offer competitive compensation packages to attract experienced hires. In our experience, talent philosophies actually should look different at different organizations because they are rooted in the organization’s strategy, cultural beliefs, and mindsets.

A talent philosophy should articulate where you want to go and what you want to be known for when it comes to talent. It articulates an organization’s core beliefs about talent and talent-related priorities, as well as the investments and trade-offs an organization is willing to make to live out these beliefs.

Aligning on an effective talent philosophy that’s well integrated with an organization’s strategy, cultural beliefs, and mindsets takes time, discussion, and dedication from a diverse set of leadership and staff. It’s no secret that there are healthy differences in opinion not only between distinct organizations, but also among leaders within the same organization. It takes time and discussion to reach consensus on core beliefs and what trade-offs should be made related to talent.

Bellwether’s Talent team recently wrapped up a project with a well-established education nonprofit that is in the process of redefining their talent strategy. Arriving at the final talent philosophy language required significant effort, including the analysis of our Talent-Ready Diagnostic data, facilitation of focus groups to understand staff perspectives, multiple full-day leadership sessions, and feedback gathering to make sure important perspectives were considered.

The good news is that the investment of creating a thoughtful talent philosophy pays off in the end. An agreed-upon philosophy serves as the anchor for defining a talent strategy and corresponding talent plan. It allows any leader within the organization to look at a single document and make a talent-related decision that would move the organization one step closer to realizing its strategic plan.

As a new year’s resolution, we challenge you to get started on your talent philosophy. You can start by asking yourself the same question we posed to the group at the Education Pioneers conference – should your organization hire for raw potential for impact or demonstrated track record? You can continue the conversation with your leadership team, layering on other potential trade-offs: Focus on the individual or team? Annual performance or long-term development? Accuracy and outcomes or innovation and risk-taking? Answering these critical questions now will give you a “north star” to look towards when answering questions related to hiring, developing, and retaining talent for years to come.