‘The Talent Masters’ Reviewed

How Successful Companies Cultivate Talented Employees, Grow and Nurture Managers

By David M. Kinchen

If businesses managed their money as carelessly as they manage their people, most would be bankrupt. — Opening sentence of “The Talent Masters”

My experience with personnel departments down through the decades is probably much like that of most people. Personnel departments or human resources department or whatever they’re called don’t do squat. In the newspaper business that I experienced beginning in the 1960s through the 1990s, the hiring was done by an editor who likes your work, or sees potential in you if you’re a beginner or apprentice reporter or photographer or whatever. Personnel departments existed for the technical details and to issue identification cards to let you past the security guards.

Of course, personnel departments also screened and hired lower level employees, but the idea of a personnel department seeking out and nurturing executive level or talent hires would be viewed as ludicrous.

This definitely isn’t the case at the very successful companies worldwide, firms like General Electric, Hindustan Unilever, and the reborn Goodyear, which used the principles “crystalized” by Bill Conaty and Ram Charan and outlined in detail in their new book “The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers” (Crown Business, 338 pages, $27.50).

If talent is the leading indicator of whether a business is up or down, a success or a failure (and it is) . . . do you know how to accurately judge raw human talent? Understand a person’s unique combination of traits? Develop that talent? Convert what supposedly are “soft” subjective judgments about people into objective criteria that are as specific, verifiable, and concrete as the contents of a financial statement?

The talent masters do, say Conaty and Charan. They put people before numbers for the simple reason that it is talent that delivers the numbers. Success comes from those who are able to extract meaning from events and the forces affecting a business, and are able to look at the world and assess the risks to take and the risks to avoid.

“The Talent Masters” The Book stems from a unique combination of talent: During a forty-year career at General Electric Bill Conaty worked closely with CEOs Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt to build that company’s world renowned talent machine. Ram Charan is the legendary adviser to companies around the world. Together they use their unparalleled experience and insight to write the definitive book on talent — a breakthrough in how to take a business to the next level:

• Secrets of the masters. The specifics on how companies regarded as world-class—GE, P&G, Hindustan Unilever (and others) — base their stellar performance decade after decade on their systems for finding and nurturing leadership talent.

• Intimate and systemic. Why deep knowledge and intimacy with your talent and a systemic rhythm of reviews are the foundation for creating a steady, self-renewing stream of leaders for all levels of an organization — from first-line supervisors to the CEO.

• The competency that lasts. Financial results, market share, brand, and legacy products all have a half-life that seems to grow shorter by the year. Talent is the only competency that endures.

• What to do Monday morning. The Talent Masters tool kit provides the specific guidelines for assessing and improving your company’s talent mastery capabilities.

In “The Talent Masters” Conaty and Charan examine:

* General Electric, which has long been the gold standard in developing world-class leaders. For the first time, Conaty, the former senior vice president for human resources at GE. and Charan, one of India’s top human resources experts and adviser to many firms worldwide, reveal how GE carries out an instantaneous, same-day-succession when a key leader leaves — an event that all too often causes chaos elsewhere as recently seen at Hewlett Packard an the Tribune Company. Or how its leaders react when a recognizably talented person stumbles — a situation typically resolved elsewhere with a “You’re Fired!” Conaty and Charan also detail how GE integrates an outsider into its hard-nosed, driven and close-knit culture.

* How Proctor & Gamble, for decades, has been the forerunner for developing glabal leaders by expanding both their capability and capacity to embrace emerging market and consumer insights.

* Why Hindustand Unilever CEOs and other top managers travel more than five times per month to remote villages to spend hours coaching recent recruits.

* How, in a world ever more sophisticated, Agilent turns talented technologists into general managers versed in both the technical complexity of their specialties as well as a deep understanding of how the business makes money.

* How Goodyear, a tired rust-belt company, LGE Electronics, an inwardly focused Korean firm, UniCredit, the Italian bank transforming itself into a pan-European institution, and private equity firms like Clayton Dubilier & Rice and Texas Pacific Group, two companies once viewed as “Barbarians at the Gate,” rapidly reinvented themselves using the seven talent master principles of Conaty and Charan.

You’ll never view human resources departments — at least the ones of successful companies — the way you did before if you read “The Talent Masters” and absorb the ideas of Conaty and Charan.


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