How do you align your talent and motives?

Tuesday March 5, 2013

How do you align your talent and motives?

Talking HR with Elisa Dass

“THERE was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could.” Nick Fury, superspy and recruiter of the Avengers.

With that in mind, Fury formed a strong team of superheroes with Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye. Although they were remarkable, Fury had different challenges with each of them. Like the Avengers, we often find that an organisation’s identified high potentials come with their own challenges. For today’s article, we will focus on the alignment of talent (T) and motives (M) of an individual and how we can approach it. Let’s define T and M before we unleash the superheroes.

Werner Barkhuizen, the managing director of Saville Consulting South Africa, defines M as what you want need or enjoy doing; and T as the behaviours you are effective in.

We often say we’d do well in what we enjoy. Is it always true? In our workplace, do we always find pleasure in what we do well in? Is there an alignment between our M and T? With these questions in mind, how does it impact an organisation’s development and succession planning of its talent pool?Taking a cue from our favourite Marvel characters, every organisation has its own talent pool of Avengers. They have gifts, gadgets and skills that are unique to them.

Not unlike our identified talents, some superheroes fully (and happily) leverage on what they have, some desire more and there are others still who battle within them the dilemma whether to use their superpowers or not.

In our talent management and succession planning efforts, we sometimes forget an important synergy that should exist in an individual – the T-M alignment.

In most assessment centres, we often observe only what we can see – talent – the competencies, skills and knowledge displayed by an individual. An individual may show some level of competency in leading others, developing strategies or presentations.

However, in most conventional assessments, the motives of the individual are not apparent. Hence, we do not know if the top performer with good presentation skills actually enjoys doing it or wants to continue leveraging on it as a key skill in his career. Motives or a person’s aspiration (or the lack of it) can only be discovered with a little more friendly interrogation.

When planning for development and succession, many companies fail to consider the alignment of what a candidate is good at, or what he or she enjoys doing. This can be translated into fully understanding their aspirations, while at the same time, spotting derailment and development opportunities.

Having understood all these aspects of a person will also help us gauge the individual’s fit into the company culture. The job and culture fit would give us an indication of the retention probability of the person.

At Leaderonomics, we create a few platforms in our assessment centre that allows us to discover, validate and, if necessary, shape the motives of a high-performing individual. With these platforms in place, we are able to advise our clients on the suitability of an individual for a future role and the development required. This also helps us zoom into areas pertinent to the individual during their coaching sessions.

Let’s look at the three common scenarios that we find among high-potential candidates and the recommended development plans.

The Incredible Hulk High T, Low M

The Hulk is indestructible. That makes him more powerful than Captain America and Thor. However, he retreats to Calculta as an isolated Dr Bruce Banner and does not leverage on his strengths. Ignoring the fact of how low the mental horsepower of the Hulk is, at times, we have Hulks among our high potentials. They may be very competent in an area of work but have little interest in putting those skills to use. It could be someone who shows much talent in public speaking but turns down opportunities that require such skills. One may say “I am good in analysing data” (T) but “I am not interested to do so” (M). Here, we see that their motive to perform is not as high as their talent to do the same.

There can be a few reasons for this:

> They feel that in their current role, they need to focus on other skills and not this particular one that they are good at.

> They may have leveraged on these skills previously but saw no benefits to them.

> They may feel that they are not being appreciated for their strengths, and hence, have taken a step back from wanting to do what they are good at.

Looking at the Hulk, his reasons were clear. He was afraid of the unknown if he were to transform into the Hulk. At some point, he was also fearful of those who would want to use him and misuse his strengths.

Plan of action: When this happens, it is important for the coach/mentor to allow the individual to share more about why he has lost interest in his area of strength. When someone has no will to perform, it could start with the simple reason of discouragement or lack of support. But more importantly, look out for a hint of derailment or burnout should there be more than one area where the T is higher than the M. If the individual is not interested to do what he is good at, then a counsellor should assess the possibility of depression.

After identifying and removing the obstacles, the employer should also find out if this individual is in the right job to allow him to maximise his strengths.

Iron Man High M, Low T

Iron Man may not have super strength but he is very intelligent and displays high learning agility. He is constantly wanting more and seeking opportunities to improve himself using his power suit. Similarly, we have high performers who show a lot of potential but who are not quite there yet. The good thing is that they have an eagerness to learn and be better (M), yet acknowledge that their current skills set (T) is not at par.

Plan of action: For the Iron Men in your organisation, develop the key areas that they have shown interest in. This is the best time to develop them through experiential learning such as workshops, projects and mentoring as they are eager to learn. For this group of high potentials where their M is higher than their T, they probably enjoy the challenge of a deep-end and steep learning curve with a little help.

In some instances, you may find that there are high potentials in your team who may have inherited the egoistic side of Iron Man. Although they are very eager to learn, their attitude may get in the way. Try to put aside your frustrations when dealing with someone of such a big ego but highlight the bigger picture of his role in the organisation instead.

Thor M-T Alignment

Unlike the Hulk and Iron Man, Thor is very much at peace with his powers and is not hesitant to leverage on his strength and is ready to fight when needed. Thor is a balanced individual and seems to have self-awareness of his strengths and limitations. His skills match his interests what Peter Saville, the founder of Saville Consulting, calls a T-M alignment.

Plan of action: When our high potentials know where their interest lies and have developed their skills to a desired level, they tend to be more confident in executing their tasks. The challenge for HR is to then ensure that this level of talent and motivation is sustained. When leveraging on the Thors in your team, remember to reward them accordingly in career and growth opportunities, challenges and remuneration. This will help the company retain such talents without making them feel like the Hulk having to downplay his powers to avoid others from taking advantage of him. So, although Thor is at his peak now and will likely contribute more than others, he too needs to be taken care of.

With this different level of motive and talent alignment, the effectiveness and success of your talent management plans depends on how you are addressing and managing the gaps between the M and T of your Iron Man and Hulk.

The Avengers is a combination of different characters, but once they are united for a cause, they utilise all their strengths, and their limitations are covered by each other. Similarly, help your pool of high potentials to see a common goal that is beneficial to them and the company.

When you make your next talent management or succession plan, take the cue from Nick Fury! Be the Recruiter of your company’s own team ofAvengers. Be transparent in your talent identification process to really assess strengths, limitations and aspirations of your “superheroes”.

At the same time, put in place measures that can help you assess the T and M alignment before you plan for their development. This will help you identify and effectively harness the capabilities of the Hulks, Iron Men and Thors. This comprehensive talent programme will help you build stronger teams.

  Elisa Dass Avin heads the Leaderonomics talent assessment division and crafts development centres that utilise various platforms and tools to ascertain the motive-talent alignment of individuals in hope to help them be at their best and help organisations best develop and retain their talent.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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