How Talent Optimization Leads to Peak Performance

May 15, 2024
Forward-thinking leaders recognize that talent is not just a resource to be managed but an asset that can propel a company to new heights

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Security Business magazine. Don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter if you share it.

Ask just about any organizational leader if they would like to drive innovation, boost employee performance, and gain a competitive edge in the marketplace and you would get a resounding yes. Ironically, though, when it comes to taking action, it often ends up in short-term fixes like launching new products, increasing wages and bonuses, and cutting costs. Even companies that buy into and effectively promote the value proposition of their expertise at a higher price often overlook the fact that sustainable success lies in optimizing the talent they already have within the organization.

Similarly, when asked what their biggest challenge is, hiring and retaining top talent is always near the top, but most revert to simply throwing more money at people in an attempt to keep them happy rather than taking the necessary steps to keep them highly engaged, which is the key to unlocking peak performance.

Gallup defines employee engagement as the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in both their work and workplace, and their current research shows that only 33% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work, with nearly 1 in 5 employees being actively disengaged.

To be effective, talent optimization requires strategically aligning talent with business objectives through a multi-step approach of hiring the best individuals, developing their skills, and managing them according to their individual needs.

Talent optimization and engagement are not the same thing. Engagement is just one component of a bigger picture that is more than merely about engaging with and inspiring employees to be happier in their work. To be effective, it requires strategically aligning talent with business objectives through a multi-step approach of hiring the best individuals, developing their skills, and managing them according to their individual needs.

Today, when human capital is the primary driver of your value proposition, retaining top talent is critical for your sustained success. By investing in talent optimization initiatives, companies can enhance employee engagement, reduce turnover, and build a reputation as an employer of choice.

The Foundation for Employee Engagement

Before you get to employee engagement, you need to set a good foundation built on three key principles: hiring the right people, employee development, and performance management. Better employee engagement is the essence of talent optimization; in fact, Gallup found organizations that implement those three best practices average engagement rates of nearly 75%.

Let’s take a closer look:

1. Talent Acquisition: The foundation of talent optimization lies in acquiring the right talent for the right roles. This involves not only attracting top candidates but also assessing their fit with the company culture and values.

In a keynote speech several years ago, Oakland A’s EVP of Baseball Operations Billy Beane of Moneyball fame said, “Making a decision without data and information is like running through a room in the dark not knowing where the furniture is.” When Beane started using the Moneyball methodology to pick players, (made famous in the 2011 film starring Brad Pitt) people thought he was crazy. Now data analytics is the standard across professional sports and the business world alike.

Behavioral assessments like the Predictive Index, DiSC, and others provide valuable data analytics into a candidate's behavioral tendencies, cognitive abilities, and workplace preferences. Armed with this information, an organization can make hiring decisions that align with company culture and specific job requirements. By hiring individuals who not only possess the requisite skills but also align with the organization's mission and vision, you can build teams that are motivated and committed to achieving shared goals.

Poor employee onboarding has a tremendous impact on engagement and is repeatedly identified as a shortcoming by most new hires.

2. Employee Development: Whether you are actively adding new talent or simply assessing the current roster, the next crucial step is to nurture and develop the team. Employee development programs – including training, coaching, and mentoring – play a pivotal role in enhancing skills, fostering growth, and unlocking the full potential of individuals.

This is the point where most companies fail to utilize the tools available in a resourceful manner. Poor employee onboarding has a tremendous impact on engagement and is repeatedly identified as a shortcoming by most new hires. It is typically an indicator of a related problem facing most companies: insufficient training and lack of professional development opportunities – two primary killers of employee engagement.

By investing in the continuous learning and development of employees, organizations can ensure that their workforce remains adaptable and equipped to meet evolving challenges. This is where high-performing companies shine. They implement continuous and effective coaching, mentoring, and training strategies.

3. Performance Management: Every problem facing a business is in one way or another a problem with the people in the organization, and the vast majority of problems are a result of poor management. That is not to say that it is all on the managers themselves, but more so, the lack of information they have for how to best manage – or preferably, coach – their teams.

Too many managers, overburdened and multi-tasking, end up focusing on the immediate need taking a one-approach-fits-all management style that aims for quick wins, meeting deadlines, and checking of tasks. Coaching, however, takes time and prioritizes long-term development over short-term gains.

This is a tactic that must be supported at the very top of the organization. The best coaches know that effective performance management is essential for aligning individual efforts with organizational objectives. Clear goal setting, regular feedback, and even those dreaded performance evaluations enable employees to understand expectations, track their progress, and course correct as needed.

Unfortunately, manager-to-employee feedback is often inconsistent and prescriptive, with an emphasis on assessing performance rather than identifying opportunities for growth. It typically arises only when a manager finds the time, or when a situation escalates to the point where they need to jump in and fix a problem, take over the task, save an account, when it is already too late, or they can conveniently fit into a brief window during a quarterly sales meeting.

Effective managers act more like coaches by constantly working alongside their players, constantly observing, suggesting, and modeling. And although they can be tough, and they may push or pull from time to time, they are constantly providing something purposeful through their actions, and their words.

When organizations incorporate these principles and better understand the workforce, they utilize the data from an effective behavioral assessment along with best management practices to engage employees at the highest level.

Employee Engagement Leads to Talent Optimization

High-level employee engagement leads to a productive, innovative, and loyal workforce. It is the reason why talent optimization places a strong emphasis on fostering a positive work environment where employees feel valued, supported, and empowered.

Gallup’s research also found highly engaged employees average 22% higher productivity – the higher the level of engagement the higher the level of discretionary effort and profitability. Additionally, engaged workforces have lower turnover and report 41% less absenteeism.

A recent joint study by The Engagement Institute reported that disengaged employees cost U.S. companies $550 Billion a year. CareerBuilder found that 61% of employees are burned out, with one-third of all respondents reporting extremely high levels of stress. It is no surprise companies are struggling to find and keep the right combination of people.

On the flip side, highly engaged and satisfied employees are less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere, and talent optimization is closely linked to employee satisfaction and retention. Done correctly, talent optimization maximizes the productivity, engagement, and satisfaction of employees by aligning their skills, motivations, and behaviors with their job requirements and the strategic goals of organization.

Talent optimization is not just about maximizing individual performance but also about fostering collaboration and synergy within teams. Forward-thinking leaders recognize that talent is not just a resource to be managed but an asset that can either propel a company forward or hold it back.

Gannon Switzer is VP of Client Engagement at Vector Firm and a Certified Predictive Index Practitioner. [email protected] https://vectorfirm.com

About the Author

Gannon Switzer

Gannon Switzer is VP of Client Engagement at Vector Firm and a Certified Predictive Index Practitioner. [email protected]  https://vectorfirm.com

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