The Assessment of Top Talent – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: March 2, 2019

Most large organizations put a great deal of effort into managing their top talent and much is written about the war on top talent in competitive markets.

Top talent are an essential element to the growth of a business. They provide the energy and initiative to get the work done today combined with the hunger and openness to learn what is essential for the company to succeed in the future. Their names are in the “top box” to become the future senior executive leaders of the company.

There is often a unique relationship between senior executives and the top talent in their organizations that (a) creates the energy and ideas to raise the bar on all aspects of near-term company performance and (b) drives the forward edge of innovation to build and sustain long-term value in the marketplace. This relationship is critical to the value creation of companies.

There are a variety of academic instruments and structured programs that are used to assess talent and categorize them on a consistent grid for company leaders to understand their bench-strength and ensure there are solid plans in place to keep top talent engaged and further developed to fulfill larger roles in the future.

Many of the traditional rubrics uses to assess talent are quite extensive and capture the essential leadership qualities in addition to applying a heavy hand on the objective results delivered to demonstrate someone can effectively deliver positive business results over time.

In having participating in many talent assessment sessions across large and small businesses, I have experienced that there are two skills that are not always well assessed well in these standard rubrics and these skills are critical to becoming a long-term successful senior executive.

  1. A strong intent for teamwork that is driven by humility. As the marketplace continues to grow in complexity and uncertainty, the business issues are difficult…all the easy ones have already been solved or will be solved soon enough with machine learning. Through the lens of humility, successful senior executives realize there is not one person (and it certainly is not them) that can brilliantly solve these complex problems. Diverse thinking, well-functioning teams are essential to business survival. Quite often in our top talent assessments, we look to the individual’s “smarts” or “critical thinking” and don’t adequately assess their desire for teamwork that is driven from their own humility in realizing the complexity of our situation.      
  2. Resilience to overcome failure.  Most business plans don’t work out as brilliantly pitched during some annual operating plan/budget approval process. Business events, some planned for and some unforeseen, will bring our original plans completely off the rails at some point.  Successful senior executives have learned to quickly put the situation on the table, get teams involved sooner rather than later, and bounce back with a plan and a renewed energy to keep moving forward. Quite often in our top talent assessments, we look to discuss the individual’s successes and don’t spend adequate time assessing the times they failed and how they handled those events. Another driver of not digging deeper into a top talent’s failures is the dominant, prevailing challenge for most large organizations which is their inability to appreciate failure as a means to learn and grow stronger. Most large organizations would still prefer to sweep failure quickly under the rug and get back to the less difficult, more positive discussion around some other event in the business that went particularly well.     

I have found that there are two helpful lines of questioning that can bolster the efforts of senior executives to better assess top talent in the two essential areas highlighted above:

  1. Teamwork driven by humility. Assess problem solving: “What were the most difficult problems they (top talent) faced and how did they solve them?”
  2. Resilience to overcome failure. When did they experience failure? How did they (top talent) handle those events and what did they learn from them?

In addition to understanding the specific responses to these questions, there is a hidden gem in the responses (or lack of response) to these questions which is the broader assessment of how hard are these supposed top talent pushing the limits of innovation, seeing around corners for competitive threats, and risk taking that are all critical skills for successful senior executives.

Senior executives and the top talent on their teams face significant challenges in building a long-term healthy business. It is important for all of us to recognize the underlying essential behaviors that deliver over the long haul.

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say?

Here are a few resources to help:

  1. Download FREE resources at
  2. Contact me. Email: (M) 269-370-9275

David Esposito

Shot of a businessman giving a presentation in the boardroom

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