WSJ @ World Business Forum

Bill Conaty spent 40 years with General Electric, 15 of which as senior vice president for human resources. Now he works with private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and several Fortune 100 companies consulting on human resources leadership.

Conaty is speaking Tuesday morning at the World Business Forum about talent management. Here’s a quick preview of the points he’ll make.

Attracting, developing, assessing and retaining world-class talent are the four critical leadership development building blocks that need to be addressed by any business to ensure a robust pipeline and a solid succession plan for the future.

Most companies spend the lions share of their time making sure they get the “attract” piece right since that is where the game starts, but the best companies spend as much time on the next three building blocks to guarantee longer term success.

Developing opportunities for people to excel, advance their personal skills and achieve their dreams is an essential building block. Continuous assessment of your talent base using a rigorous performance-driven culture is also important to assure that the best performers are being recognized and rewarded for their efforts and your less effective performers are being dealt with appropriately. If we do the first three building blocks well our fourth goal of retention will be much easier to achieve.

We often hear companies making proclamations about performance cultures, but only the best truly demand and engage in one on a daily basis. The key elements of any performance culture start with a CEO commitment. If the CEO isn’t prepared to arbitrate the tough calls or differences of opinions on talent, the culture will get watered down substantially. Rigorous performance goals and measurements are essential, and real candor and trust in evaluating talent against the goals is a must. In a true meritocracy there have to be consequences for achieving or failing, and those consequences can be rewarding or detrimental to one’s career in a legitimate performance-driven culture.

The Human Resource function can add significant intensity to the leadership development process but only if they are viewed as credible, visible, value-added business partners. HR needs to understand the key strategic and financial levers of the business as well as having the personal touch and credibility at all levels of the organization to be seen as an employee advocate and the trustee of the company’s social system.

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