Lost At Sea

Lost At Sea

      “Lost at Sea” is a classic group exercise where you imagine being set adrift in a life raft after your ship sinks.  The task is to select the essential survival resources.  The list of possible resources range from good choices (water, mirror, food rations) to questionable ones (mosquito netting, transistor radio, map of pacific ocean). The point of the exercise is that group consensus wins out over the initial individual rankings, as compared to the expert list from U.S. Coast Guard.

      I often receive calls from talent management leaders which remind me of this “Lost at Sea” exercise.  The callers are new to role and are looking for advice on how to start-up or turnaround a talent management practice.  Like the group exercise, the choices are many and it’s smart to seek out the collective viewpoints of colleagues.

      So while I don’t work for the U.S. Coast Guard, please allow me to offer my list of essentials.  One caution: context counts as well as a standard list of smart moves.  It’s important to understand your surroundings to select the appropriate strategies for your setting   A good choice in one setting may be less than effective in another.  With this warning in mind, the follow list should apply in most settings.


High Five List


My top five to build star quality talent in an organization:


Sponsors who matters
You can’t do it alone no matter how powerful your talent management toolbox.  Identify the ‘pro-talent’ members of the line management staff and cultivating strong relationships. I’ve been fortunate to have many great line partners over the years and they have played varied and important roles in the success of talent management efforts.  Some are strong advocates for the development changes proposed and others have helped keep me close to the realities of the business and provided personal mentoring.  Some serve as guides to navigate the organization culture and others as supportive, yet demanding ‘clients’ to solve talent challenges.

A strategic forum to talk talent
This can be setting up a new meeting, refreshing a stale succession review process or leveraging other avenues where staffing decisions are made.  The aim is to create a strong process which integrated business planning routines, such as strategic business or financial planning, with a respected and impactful practice.  These sessions have three tangible outcomes:

    • Firmly link the business plans with human capital capabilities necessary,
    • Judge the health of the talent pipeline,
    • Accelerate the development of potential star talent. 

The intangible outcome is to introduce and encourage a ‘talent mindset’ in line executives.  Once you have that value embedded, all the doors open to talent development possibilities.

160 proof rum and shark repellent
OK, this is from the “lost at sea” list, but on stressful days, it may help ease the stress and difficulties that come along with improving an organization’s talent system.  In all seriousness, setting a strong talent management agenda is hard work.  Resiliency is a prime characteristic of any successful talent champion.   Enabling personal support while championing a better way is just as important as any clever talent building tool.

Strong external network and partners  
Along the lines of ‘you can’t do it alone’, introducing or renewing real talent management processes takes good ideas and practical tools. Most of the best tools or processes I’ve introduced have originated from a network of great HR mentors and consultants.  Whether it was Joe from Utah,  Pat from California or Bob from Minnesota, I am indebted to an extended network of great friends and resources.  In many cases, they have provided the ‘lifeline’ of  helping me think through a challenge or coming forward with just the right solution.  Beyond specific tools and solutions, I’ve often leveraged the strong and credible voice of outside experts to help influence line managers or existing HR leaders.

Performance management systems that align
All the parts of HR need to fit and it’s of little lasting value to turbo-charge one dimension of HR and not create symmetry and linkage with all other relevant parts.  For example, the introduction of a new leadership competency model for training does limited good unless the staffing, measurement and reward systems are also adjusted to the new thinking.  Teaching a new leadership capability – such as collaboration – and rewarding individuals for just the opposite has sunk quite a few new development programs. That means great partnering with internal HR leaders across the specialties and working as a collective team to serve the business rather than standing out as the lone star of HR excellence. 

So it’s better to know what to grab when you are faced with a new situation.  At sea, that means the right survival gear.  To avoid being adrift in the sea of talent management possibilities, it means having a well-tuned set of ‘can’t fail’ tools and practices.  

© Kevin D. Wilde