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How to get the most out of your talent pool

Untapped Talent: Unleashing the Power of the Hidden Workforce by Dani Monroe.

Palgrave Macmillan

Excerpted from Untapped Talent: Unleashing the Power of the Hidden Workforce by Dani Monroe. Published by Palgrave Macmillan. Copyright © Dani Monroe, 2013. Reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

You identify and then grow untapped talent by first getting to know people and assessing their talents – starting with their strengths, challenges, aspirations, and family environments. The first two deal with their abilities to perform; the last two impact motivation and provide the insights you need when you are managing and leading talent.

Brooks [Lisa Brooks Greaux, head of learning and development at Pfizer Animal Health] believes a leader should spend no less than 40 per cent of his or her time in relationship-building activities. I agree. That includes coaching people, formally and informally, as well as observing them as they interact with other people. But mainly it's just about talking to people and getting to know them. It's about stopping for a few minutes at someone's desk and visiting, asking the second and third questions, and then remembering what you learned so you can follow up the next time you pass by.

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"If I'm sourcing for talent 40 per cent of the time," managers often ask me when I bring up this standard, "when do I have time for my real job?"

Your "real job" involves sourcing people, I respond. It's not "in addition to" your projects, making your numbers, worldwide travel, or team meetings. Developing teams, coaching and mentoring younger executives who demonstrate potential – it's all part of the way you should be working.

You don't build relationships and source talent at the expense of other tasks; you do it as a part of almost all your tasks.

Some days, or even weeks, you may not have many opportunities to directly source and develop talent. You might be limited to a few side conversations before or after meetings. Other weeks you'll find time on the calendar for more formal, intentional relationship building. But you get to that 40 per cent number by making relationships – and, thus, talent sourcing – a skill that's practiced naturally. Once you develop the skills, they become ingrained in your management and leadership style. Then you begin to see the benefits of knowing the talent that's in the environment.

You remember that Michele Lee in research produced a comprehensive report for you on a very short deadline. You think, "I wouldn't mind having her on my team." And when the right situation comes up, Michele comes to mind. You slowly build mental files for the people you know and work with – adding names, learning about the skill levels attached to those names, and considering when you might use them or mention their abilities to others. You develop a reputation as a talent spotter, for your own teams and for the organization. And the more you build that reputation, the more others come to you with that expectation. People want to work with you. They want to show you what they can do. They want to share the very information you need to know about them.

All of that from investing your time into the lives of the people around you. From talking to them. From listening to them. From getting to know the untapped talent around you.

"That's really how you get to know people and understand the experiences they've had and how they think about the business," Brooks said.

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"Yes, it's up to people to get themselves out there and have some skin in the game (commitment/ownership), but it's incumbent on the leader to be sourcing talent all the time. That's part of what a leader should be doing."

At one regional company in the Midwest, for example, new general managers are trained through an in-the-field program that takes four to six months. District managers are expected to keep up with these trainees and check on them whenever they visit the locations where the trainees are working.

So district managers sometimes get an e-mail from their boss, a vice president, that simply says, "Tell me how the trainees in your district are doing?" If they respond quickly, the VP knows they've been investing time in the lives of the trainees. If it takes several days, the VP knows they probably had to do some research just to remember the trainees' names.

Leaders who develop a culture of talent stewardship know the names of the talent within their organization. And they know much, much more.

They take the time to learn the hidden gems of information – like a person's hobbies, background, interests, and non-work experiences – that often prove invaluable when it's time to help people into the more formal talent pipelines.

This starts with informal conversations, but it evolves into more intentional coaching and one-on-one discussion where team members discuss how they fit into the department's goal, discuss their aspirations, and talk through their long-term goals.

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All of these discussions, formal and informal, will give you a fuller sense of the talent – their technical skills, as well as their soft skills. It helps you discover the all-important "why" behind behaviours you see (or don't see) in people. It helps you understand how to motivate different people.

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