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Better Than “Successful” Talent Development with DATA

Successful businesses have always emphasized developing the talent of their employees. Huge amounts of money are spent each year on training programs and consulting engagements, with all having the objective of enhancing job performance in some way. The training programs may have been designed by brilliant subject matter experts and learning specialists. The consultants may have been experienced and competent in their field. Almost everyone would report that the programs were successful. An interesting and important question however, is “successful” compared to what.

Technology can change the measure of “successful” overnight. The GPS in a smart phone changed the nature of getting directions. The most “successful” tube-based television is difficult to watch in world of HD flat screens. The most “successful” X-ray cannot deliver what an MRI does. Surveying dozens of “successful” trainers and consultants about their evaluation of the effectiveness of their programs, the answers were both surprising and surprisingly consistent. They reported that the job performance of about one third of the participants in their programs improved dramatically. Another third improved although not to the extent of the first group. The surprise was that these talented professionals reported that about one third of the participants in their programs had little or no improvement in the their performance. This was despite efforts of the trainers to adapt to different learning styles and a myriad of variations in the materials. The programs included well known presentations on leadership, sales skills, management, quality management, customer service, time management, communication and many others.

What caused one third of the people in the programs to get so little from the same programs that benefited other people in the same jobs, working at the same company? There may have been a few individual participants with a negative attitude, but with such a wide sample and with experienced professionals delivering the programs, it clearly was not attitude or motivation that caused such a wide spread shortfall in results. The problem is that such results are so commonplace that the level of improvement in the first two groups is now considered “successful.”

Now, technology has brought its own disruptive innovation into the world of talent development. The traditional model for training potential depended upon two things: attitude and openness toward training plus the training methodology, its content and the delivery. (See Illustration A.)

Illustration A

This illustration is based on the traditional model for understanding job performance. Skills, experience, and education form one set of factors. Attitude, values, and motivation form the second one.

In the ’90s, everything changed. For the first time, serious psychometric instruments were developed specifically to correlate hard-wired personality traits and cognitive abilities with job performance. After several years of research with hundreds of companies, spanning all types of businesses and industries, it became clear that job performance depended upon these hard-wired traits and abilities. If the critical traits or cognitive abilities needed to successfully perform a particular job were missing, no amount of training, coaching, or motivation could make up the difference. There might be some short-term improvements, but over time, job performance could not be sustained. The statistics were overwhelming. Across hundreds of jobs, simply matching an individual’s hard-wired strengths needed for each job, results in an average increase in productivity of 25%. Jobs that demanded a higher percentage of knowledge work had even higher increases. This information demanded a radical rethinking of hiring and talent development. At a fundamental level, it separated the acquisition of knowledge and skills (What They Know) from the actual delivery of the job behaviors associated with that knowledge and those skills (What They Can Do.) (See Illustration B.)

Illustration B

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