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22 Dec


Senior Associate Consultant

In an ideal world, managers have the opportunity to rebuild a team from scratch during a restructuring phase. With abundant resources and ample time, a leader gets to construct their “Best 11” to take the team to the next level. With choice pickings and sufficient time to integrate everyone into the team, everyone works in unison and their capabilities serve to complement one another.

Unfortunately when reality hits, managers are left scrambling for talents in a competitive labor market and limited budgets to work with. The challenge escalates further when managers inherit an existing group of staff members, making it harder to bring new changes with current resources. So how can you identify and integrate the right talent for your organisation amidst these obstacles?

What makes a right talent? Is it the staff expertise and experience which matters most or the right culture fit? Before these questions can be answered, I would like to borrow one of the 7 effective habits, “Begin with the end in mind”. As a manager, it is important to know what kind of team you want to build and what do you expect them to achieve?

We can draw examples from the football world when a new manager takes over an existing football team. If the objective is to avoid relegation to a lower league, a manager would probably look for talents who have experience playing in a smaller tiered team where the need for survival motivates them. However, if the manager is aiming to build a team to compete in the Champions’ League (European Team Football Competition), the manager needs to look at his existing talents before deciding his talent management strategy. If his existing talents have a passive mindset towards achievement having failed too many times, it may be worthwhile to bring in talents who are more aggressive and proactive about winning. On the other hand, if the team is made up of star players who believe they are indispensable, the manager could bring in talents who are more team oriented and have the ability to inspire and gel everyone towards team achievements.


Here are 3 key areas to take note of when finding and retaining the right talents for your organisation:

1. Outcome

As a leader, you have to decide on the outcome of your team before anything else. Designing your “ideal” team is heavily influenced by the results you want them to achieve in the short, mid and long term.

Do you want to maintain status quo or bring your team towards a new direction? This will determine the kind of talents you will retain and recruit for your “cause”. Maintaining status quo will mean bringing in talents of a similar skills and experiences as existing staff members. If the intention is to do something different, divergent talents might be the focal point for your recruitment.

In recent years, effective leaders have taken the proactive approach towards creating diversity in their team. This allows cross training of complementary skills within the team and increased agility to cope with changing trends.


2. Methods of identification

Are current interview methods effective in identifying the right talent? Typical methods include multiple rounds of interviews with different levels of management, written assessments, psychometric tools, references and the list goes on and on. Whether or not these methods work depends on the rationale behind it.

Multiple interview rounds is used as a tool to ensure consistency in the candidate’s content and provide a more holistic view about team culture fit. Unfortunately this method can be quite time consuming and pointless if authoritarian leadership is applied for decision making.

Written assessments are typically a measure of IQ. The effectiveness of this method depends very much on the importance of IQ over EQ. if the role requires a people oriented talent, written assessments does little to demonstrate the social element.

To identify the right talent for your organisation, I would suggest using CIA:

C stands for culture fit. During the interview, it is important for the interviewer to observe the behaviours and language used by the candidate to deduce the type of work culture this person might belong to. The manager can then decide if the new hire is to fit the existing culture or become a catalyst to kick start a new culture. The key to finding the right culture fit is not to look for similar BUT complementary personalities to build team diversity.

“I” stands for interest. Understanding why a candidate is interested in the role helps the manager make a better informed decision if this person is the right talent for the firm. Besides remuneration and benefits, the candidate should express interest in growing with the role and evolving as part of the firm’s future. One recruiter once suggested looking out for non-verbal cues like the “twinkle of the eye” or “face lighting up” when they talk about the potential role as it may indicate intrinsic interest in the role.

“A” stands for Aptitude. Leaders have to specify the skills they are looking for in the candidate and prioritize which ones are crucial to the role and those that are a bonus. Working with HR, the manager/leader will then construct the most suitable interview approach to fully assess the candidates on the core skills required. For example, if I were to hire a business development role, I would role play with the candidate with a script on hand to assess how he/she is likely to respond when meeting clients. For a sales role, I would have the candidate sell me something he/she was familiar with based on their relevant experience.


3. Competencies versus capabilities

In recent times, there has been a huge debate in the HR circle as to whether we should hire for competencies or capabilities. Not just a play on words but it gives a very different perspective on talent acquisition. Traditionally, talent management focuses on competencies where is refers to skill gaps of its employees for present needs. It takes time to train a person to fill up the gap and by the time the employee has mastered the skills, a new gap appears with market changes.

Hiring for capabilities seems to be more relevant for the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) world today. While competencies focus very much on past performance as a measure of skills, capabilities uses a person’s potential to grow as the basis for talent development.

In summary, whether competencies or capabilities should be the basis for the right talent depends very much on whether the candidate is brought in to solve present needs or prepare for future challenges. Competencies are very short term focused and talents will perpetually feel like they have to constantly catch up just to match norms. Past experience will be used as the template to determine the skills gap of the candidate. Capabilities are more mid to long term and they prepare talents to become market trendsetters rather than industry followers. Using present state of the candidate, the manager constructs projections of the talent’s potential in alignment with organisation’s growth.



For managers to hire the right talents for their team today, they have to unlearn everything they know about hiring from past experience and reconstruct from scratch the objectives, approach and measurements to hire the right people for the team. Words like past experience and competencies can no longer be the main determinants to identify the right talents of the future.



Gary L


*Originally appeared on Linkedin.

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