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Image: Mark EffronMarc Effron helps companies build better talent, faster.

Marc is President of the Talent Strategy Group (www.talentstrategygroup.com) – a full service talent management consulting firm. Marc has worked for, and consulted to, some of the world's largest and most successful companies including American Express, Bank of America, Fidelity, Philips Electronics, Reliance Industries (India) and Alcoa. He applies a simplicity-based approach to building leaders which emphasizes transparency and managerial accountability.

Marc's prior experience includes starting and leading the Global Leadership Consulting Practice at Hewitt Associates, where he created the Top Companies for Leaders study. Marc was also Senior Vice President, Leadership Development for Bank of America, Director of Organization Effectiveness and Learning for Oxford Health Plans, and a compensation consultant for a global consulting firm. He previously served as a political consultant and a congressional staff assistant.

Image: Miriam OrtMiriam Ort has held leadership positions in talent management and human resources in the HR organizations of Fortune 500 companies.

She is a frequent contributor to publications on leadership and talent management, and has spoken on the topic at industry events such as International Consortium for Executive Development Resources (ICEDR) and Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology (SIOP).

Miriam is currently a senior human resources manager at PepsiCo. She co-developed the One Page Talent Management approach while at Avon Products, where she most recently led the Talent Management area for Avon Products North America. In that role, her responsibilities included performance management, leadership development, and talent planning for over 6000 Associates. She also co-designed many of the talent management practices being used globally at Avon. Her previous experience includes workforce analytics, compensation and HR generalist roles.


AC: Can you tell us about the background to your new book?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

One Page Talent Management attempts to solve the puzzle of, and offer a solution for, why organizations aren’t more effectively growing their talent despite the availability of well-proven techniques and practices.  Years of experience in corporate environments and years of research and consulting with the world’s leading organizations provided some insight.  We concluded that organizations have made these processes incredibly complex, held no one accountable for their success and kept most managers in the dark about their workings.

We believed a better way existed and had the opportunity to prove that first in the turnaround of a $10B consumer products company and later through consulting with a number of the world’s premier companies.  Our approach – one based on eliminating complexity from, and adding value to, core talent management practices – resulted in their radical simplification.  We found most became so simple that their core form or process could be expressed on a single sheet of paper – hence One Page Talent Management.

AC: What do you mean by your expression “one page talent management?”

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

“One Page Talent Management” means radically simplifying the tools and processes organizations use to manage their talent, so that they can build better talent faster.  Our premise is that wonderfully thorough science exists in the Human Resource field that tells us exactly how to grow talent.  When trying to translate that science into practice however, academics, HR consultants and practitioners have added “well-intentioned complexity” that managers experience as complexity and bureaucracy.  The result is that these powerful practices are never effectively implemented.

At its most practical level, OPTM is a new approach for creating more effective talent management (TM) practices. We do not expect that the key form or process for every talent practice can be reduced to one page, but we believe that aspiration forces an entirely new way of thinking about growing talent. Most importantly, we consider the OPTM approach to be a superior way to grow better leaders faster.

AC: Your research for the book encompasses insights from organizations such as American Express and PepsiCo. What would you say were some of the biggest surprises about talent management uncovered from your research?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

We were surprised that most HR practitioners we spoke with acknowledged that most talent management practices weren’t working and could be significantly simplified.  In fact, it often felt as if we were giving them permission to stop trying to impress their peers and professors with their work and to focus instead on simply getting the job done.

It was also interesting that a company’s size didn’t predict the effectiveness of their talent management practices.  One might assume that the resources of a large company would ensure they had great talent practices.  We found many large global companies were still struggling to make core talent processes work.

AC: Can you explain some of the problems organizations face in creating bottom-line talent depth?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

The most challenging problem is the lack of CEO support for building talent.  One of the authors (Marc Effron) conducted a massive leadership study in the early 2000’s that showed that a CEO’s involvement in talent building was one of three critical factors to build bottom-line talent depth.  Many more CEOs now understand the differentiating value that great talent creates, but bridging from that belief to real action is still a challenge.

Lack of accountability would be the second key problem.  Even managers who believe in building talent are already quite busy and may prioritize immediate demands over talent building activities.  Without clear accountability to measurably improve the quality of their talent, many managers will spend less time on the topic and avoid the tough talent decisions they should be making.

The third problem is that HR groups have made the processes to create bottom-line talent depth so complex and bureaucratic that they simply don’t work.  Even with a supportive CEO and clear accountability, it’s impossible for a rusty, poorly designed talent factory to produce any talent.

AC: You state the companies often add layers of complexity to their talent-building models. Why do you think this is so?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

Complexity is typically added for three reasons.  First, there is “well-intentioned complexity.” These are the layers, bells, whistles and other elements added with a genuine belief that the process will be better because of them.  The challenge is that no one evaluates whether the complexity that each new element adds to a manager’s job is balanced by an equal amount of value being added.  Managers can tolerate complexity that adds value but they’re simply not going to use a process where that balance doesn’t exist.

"We believe transparency is a critical element in successfully growing talent.  It’s also one that scares the hell out of many managers."

Second, complexity is added when people ignore the established science and use personal preferences, “best practices” or other fact-free bases to design these processes.  OPTM says that if you create the most direct path from the core science to the actual practice, there’s much less chance for unwanted complexity to creep in.  The science in areas like goal setting, motivation, and engagement is actually quite clear about what is proven to work and what isn’t.

The third, and most insidious, cause is “defensive” complexity.  This is created by hyper-sensitive legal departments trying to eliminate any risk of litigation by adding elements that create apparent precision in measurement where none is actually possible. 

AC: How important is managerial transparency in the talent management process?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

We believe transparency is a critical element in successfully growing talent.  It’s also one that scares the hell out of many managers.  For example, on the oft-discussed question of “should you tell a high potential that they are a high potential,” we’re quite direct.  Yes, you should.  Why?  If this individual really is someone who can markedly add to the value of the company, why wouldn’t you want them to understand that you recognize and appreciate that fact?  Of course, that conversation should explain both the benefits and the increased risks associated with that status, and emphasize that the status is regularly re-evaluated. 

Companies’ fears about transparency in area like the “high potential” conversation are quite overblown.  Will other employees be upset that certain people are considered high potential and they’re not? Not if you’ve accurately selected the high potentials, although a few employees with unrealistic self-perceptions may be.  It’s better that those employees find out now so they’re empowered to make decisions about their future. Isn’t it demotivating to be told you have no potential?  It’s not a binary rating and shouldn’t be communicated that way.  It’s likely that most employees have some potential to expand in their current role or move laterally to a new one.  That should be the content conversation, and the development investment they receive should be commensurate with their potential.

AC: You note early on that you do not believe there is “one best version” of any talent process. Can you elaborate?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

It’s a seductive thought that The Answer to our talent challenges exists somewhere and that, once found, we can copy and paste it into our organizations.  After all, “it worked well at GE so why wouldn’t it work here?”  Talent processes are effective partially because they’re well designed. However, their sustained effectiveness relives on their fit with the unique culture, management systems and processes of the organization in which they’re used. 

Since talent management processes achieve results only if they are implemented, the OPTM approach is that the best version of a process is the one that results in successful implementation. For the reasons stated above, if that design fits well with your organization it likely won’t fit as well with another.  This eliminates the possibility of their being one best version of any talent process.

AC: What are your thoughts on participative goal setting?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

This is an area where our research turned up science that contradicts common practice in most organizations.  It’s easy to assume that if an employee sets or participates in setting their own goals, their performance will increase.  The assumption is that since commitment to a goal increases performance, we’ll be more committed to goals we set ourselves.  The research contradicts that logic.  It says that as long as we’re committed to a goal, whether it’s set by us or for us, our performance is the same.

This doesn’t mean that a company shouldn’t allow employees to participate in setting goal if they find that this delivers some other social benefit.  But, they shouldn’t do it because they believe it will create higher performance.

AC: Many companies use 360 degree feedback processes. What are your general thoughts on these?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

We strongly believe that getting insights from those you work with is the most powerful way to improve your individual performance.  While that’s the stated objective of typical 360 assessments, they fail miserably in that attempt for three reasons. 

First, it’s easy to rationalize the results.  A manager’s reaction to the typical 360 is:  I’m fine with the areas where I’m above the average score and I can explain away those areas where I’m below it.  When our mind processes new information, it does so trying to fit it to our existing self-image.  We’re hard-wired to stay the same, not to change, and the typical 360 does nothing to overcome that.

Second, it’s tough to understand what the priorities are for action.  Is the lowest score the one to focus on?  Or the one furthest below the average score? Or the one where my manager’s score and mine are most different?

Third, it’s difficult to understand what to do next.  The 360 will tell a manager that on “setting clear goals” they’re a 3.67 on a 5-point scale.  They then have to sit with an HR leader or website to help them interpret the results.  Should they do that more often? Less often? Exactly what about their behaviour should change?

The OPTM approach is radically different and overcomes the challenges listed above. An OPTM 360 participant receives a two-page summary telling them the three specific areas that need improvement and the exact steps to take to improve them.  They can take these two pages and literally start to work on their behaviours that same hour. 

Three unique elements get us to that result.  One, our rating scale ranges from “Do Much More” to “Do Much Less.” This means that we’re providing you guidance about how your capabilities should change, not rating them.  Two, each evaluator ranks the manager’s top three priorities for change from among all the items.  The three items receiving the most “votes” overall are listed as the manager’s priorities to focus on.  Three, for each of the priorities, the evaluator provides a suggestion for how the person should improve that behaviour.  The manager’s 360 report lists the top three priorities for improvement along with the verbatim suggestions about how to improve them!

AC: What are some of the biggest mistakes organizations make in implementing talent reviews?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

  1. Allowing individual managers to assign ratings with no calibration from others. An effective talent review process includes calibration discussions where multiple managers offer input on each individual being discussed. This ensures a more accurate overall rating and one not coloured by the biases of any one manager.

  2. Not focusing on follow-up.  Many organizations have great talent review discussions but no actions are taken as a consequence.  In talent building organizations, every action agreed to in a talent review (geographic moves, project assignments, etc.) is recorded, tracked and followed-up at the next meeting.

  3. Not holding managers accountable for managing their talent.  Developing talent and making tough talent decisions are not natural behaviours.  Managers need to be held accountable for actively managing and growing their talent.  The talent review process provides an ideal opportunity to evaluate how well each manager invests in, manages and divests talent.

AC: Would you say that your ideas hold stead across different organizations and business sectors?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

Yes.  Simplicity, transparency and accountability are amazingly powerful concepts that apply across industries and in any size organization.

AC: How can organizations ensure that they implement and sustain your ideas in the long term?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

To borrow a phrase, eternal vigilance is the price of simplicity.  Complexity is the natural state to which talent practices will return unless there is a regular process to stop this.  We recommend a yearly audit where you reevaluate each element of each process and ask tough questions like, “If we eliminated this step or element, what percentage of people would care?”

AC: Finally, do you have any closing comments you wish to make?

Marc Effron & Miriam Ort:

Our motivation for building better talent faster is derived from our deep belief in the power of great leadership. We believe that great leaders create successful companies and that their success has positive results for their communities and society as a whole. More successful companies are more innovative and create more jobs, more tax revenue, more economic stability, and a plethora of other societal benefits. When those great companies produce even more great leaders, it becomes a virtuous cycle.

While our practical solutions are designed to help companies today, our goal is that they ultimately produce these more important benefits.


June 2010.