“Enduring principles and powerful practices combine in this must-read human resource manifesto for leaders at every level.” 

— Jack Welch, Former Chairman and CEO of General Electric

Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Number

By Bill Conaty and Ram Charan

THE TALENT MASTERS is the definitive tool for developing and managing that crucial key to a company’s success. The authors address the questions—How do you accurately judge raw 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?—that will help elevate any company to the ranks of the talent masters.

Is managing talent a “soft art” or can it be as rigorous, precise, and verifiable as the analysis of a financial statement?

Only two men have the combined experience and insight to bring the practice of talent development into the cache of modern business practice: former General Electric Senior Vice President for Human Resources Bill Conaty and legendary business advisor Ram Charan. In THE TALENT MASTERS: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers (Crown Business; November 2010), Conaty and Charan combine their unparalleled expertise to break down the specifics of how companies regarded as world-class talent masters analyze, understand, shape, and build talent to achieve stellar performance, decade after decade.

Few companies have so far discovered how to manage their talent really well. But those that do have shattered the myth that the judgment of human potential is a “soft” art. They develop talent with the same discipline and intensity as they manage their finances, and as a result they achieve unprecedented levels of accuracy in judging individuals. They use formal and informal social processes to identify and consciously develop leaders’ talents. These processes are rigorous, iterative and repetitive. Just as disciplined financial analysis brings meaning to numbers, the processes convert subjective judgment about the talent of a person into an objective, and verifiable, set of observations.

Some of these companies have been talent leaders for decades; others are works in progress. Regardless, whether old hands or newcomers, they follow the core principles of talent mastery consistently and intensively—with almost religious fervor.

In The Talent Masters, the authors examine:

– General Electric, which has long been the “gold standard” in developing world-class leaders, yet, prior to The Talent Masters, no one has revealed the real how-tos of the GE system. For example, Conaty and Charan 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); or how its leaders react when a recognizably talented person stumbles, a situation typically resolved elsewhere with a pink slip; and how it integrates an outsider into its hard-nosed, driven, and close-knit culture.

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

– Why Hindustan Unilever CEOs, and other top leaders, travel five plus times per month to remote villages to spend hours coaching recent recruits.

– How, in a world becoming 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 Novartis helps leaders discover the emotional etchings buried within their “inner core” and determine whether they can bear the stress and pressure of the modern business environment.

– 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, once viewed as the barbarians at the gate, rapidly reinvented themselves using the seven talent master principles crystallized by Conaty and Charan.

Talent is the leading indicator of whether a business is up or down, a success or a failure. Conaty and Charan say “nothing is more important to a company’s performance than its ability to develop and deploy talent with ‘the right stuff.’ Almost everything else, from economic downturns and interest rate upticks to surprise moves by competitors, is an excuse.”