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Can We Manage Portfolio Talent?

by Janaki Rajagopalan

And the argument continues….

The “60-30-10” or, in some cases, the “70-20-10” distribution performance system, with its evolving merits and de-merits, continues to be a favorite topic of discussion among theoreticians and practitioners alike. Beyond the argument for or against a forced distribution and its primary effects, there is a critical secondary implication that has already made its effect felt in the evolution of the Human Resources function.

HR, especially in in the last 5 to 10 years, has made galloping strides in its strategic and operational achievements. Yet, one must admit that this function still struggles to categorically and credibly demonstrate the impact of such accomplishments, in spite of its laudable progress. And here is where perhaps a consequence of the forced performance banding may be seen.

As a trusted business partner, talent policies and decisions constitute a fundamental cornerstone of HR’s ‘raison d’etre’.  In a system where managers must identify 10 percent as bottom performers in each role or job and perhaps remove or improve the bottom 10 percent, here is a crucial question to ask – “Is removing or improving the bottom 10 percent valuable in all cases?“

 And if we extended this line of thinking to the very beginning of the performance cycle, the goal-setting stage, the same question can be asked differently and more powerfully – “Should we not differentiate between job aspects to set aggressive standards for high critical goals and accept meeting adequate standards for the less critical ones?”

Purists may chafe at this, but it is a practical thought to ruminate on – do we need excellence in everything? If managers and leaders can provide assurance to their members on where excellence makes a pivotal difference, and where good performance is good enough, they may be enthused and motivated to put their best where it actually does matter.Maybe it would be a result-oriented exercise for HR to treat talent management like an investment banker would treat portfolio investment and diversification for high and optimized returns.

Maybe then…well informed choices on the work elements that require greater attention can be made, and tough goals may be set on only their key performance indicators.

Maybe then…having top performers in every role need not be an expectation, and may be targeted to where performance really matters most.

Maybe then…employees will have crystal clarity on where improving work performance would make the greatest difference to business and their success.

And, most importantly, maybe then…organizations can reliably direct talent and resources (more so when they are limited) to where they would me more effective and impactful

Today’s business and HR leaders are smart, well-meaning, and willing participants in good talent management decisions. The exciting opportunity for both lies in keeping this intent alive and converting it to successful results by developing systems and tools that give the best signals to make more accountable human capital decisions.