Bosses frequently say that people are their most important assets but do they really know how to be talent-centric leaders?

Mark Fuller wrote a provoking article called Business As War, and in the third section on Why Companies Fail, he examines why the United States lost the Vietnam War.

Most military experts agree on the reason for the defeat: The military had no unified doctrine; they had “no clear definition of victory”.

When a talent-centric leader starts a business venture or project, he is very clear about when, how or if the venture has succeeded.

If you have no idea of victory or success, how will you know how to effectively deploy your people?

In the business world, this exercise is called strategy formulation.

1. Finding and training the people

After a clear strategy and a vision of success are conceived, the talent-centric leader knows the importance of finding the correct people and fitting them into the correct roles.

As any battle is won on many fronts — ground, air and sea — to win in your venture, you cannot rely on any single type of talent alone.

The next question is: How can you tell a good performer from a bad one?

In business, competencies are formulated for all key roles.

These competencies describe the key behaviours needed for the role to succeed.

When trying to recruit staff, how does a leader tell which candidate will excel at the job?

The simple interview process alone is prone to misjudgment and should be complemented whenever possible with other assessment techniques, with the emphasis on observing live behaviour.

Unfortunately, psychometric tests, personality questionnaires, competency-based interviews, group exercises, presentation exercises and analysis case study methods are seldom used during the crucial stage of a rigorous candidate evaluation.

No soldier can be a sniper from the first day he is enlisted; he has to be trained to be one.

Similarly, a good leader is unafraid to hire any talent who is less than perfect the day he joins, as long as his skill gaps are trainable.

2. Rewarding the people

Not only does the talent-centric leader need to ensure that his people are able to perform, he must also make sure that they want to perform.

A true talent-centric leader has a systematic approach of setting inspiring goals, modifying them when needed, assessing performance against these goals and providing feedback on them.

The leader knows that the design of the reward system needs to be carefully aligned to his people’s needs.

A reward is more than giving monetary incentives. Some people crave learning; others want to have a sense of contribution or purpose.

A good leader knows how to inject the right incentives at the appropriate growth stage of his people.

3. Housing the people

Once his people are properly skilled and motivated, the leader must now focus on the structure in which they operate.

The talent-centric leader understands that the structure must be designed to ensure that his people operate at peak performance at all times.

Business units come in all shapes and sizes. Regardless, the true talent-centric leader knows that the structure has the ability to motivate and direct the behaviour of a knowledgeable workforce.

Employees place less emphasis on the hierarchy and control of the structure and more on the motivational characteristics of the work they are asked to do.

The structure should promote self-management, especially when it comes to teams.

Therefore, an appropriate structure tends to be flatter with many team-based involvements. This allows for high flexibility and autonomy.

4. Processes to understand the people

No war can be won without good intelligence. Processes are the nervous system of the operational unit.

Without effective information and processes, there will be chaos. This is the glue that ties the entire business unit together.

While almost all business units have regular financial updates to measure their performance, talent updates are equally, if not more important, to ascertain the chances of the business unit’s success.

What should these updates contain?

While costs, revenue, margins, budgets and so on are important and have to be tracked and measured, the talent-centric leader feels it is more important to know and measure the status of his unit’s core competencies and capabilities.

In a talent-centric business unit, how engaged the people are and how their skills are being utilised are also vital.

What should be measured include how the people are performing, how motivated they are and how skilled they are.

In addition, the leader also needs to conduct future talent scenarios based on his projected growth plans.

5. The winning formula

No leader can succeed alone. To be a successful talent-centric leader, he must have a holistic view of how he should leverage his people to attain success.

From finding and training to rewarding, housing and finally understanding the condition of his people, the leader understands that this is a never-ending cycle — and whatever the stage, people must always be at the top of the equation.

This is his formula to win every battle.