The best workers do the best and the most work. But many companies do an awful job of finding and keeping them.
In the book Leading Organizations,1McKinsey senior partners Scott Keller and Mary Meaney address the ten most basic issues facing leaders: attracting and retaining talent, developing the talent you have, managing performance, creating leadership teams, making decisions, reorganizing to capture value quickly, reducing overhead costs for the long term, making culture a competitive advantage, leading transformational change, and transitioning to new leadership roles. This article, drawn from the book’s opening chapter, speaks to the first of these topics. Future articles will deal with reorganizing to capture maximum value quickly and with successfully transitioning to new leadership roles.
Why is talent important?
Superior talent is up to eight times more productive
It’s remarkable how much of a productivity kicker an organization gets from top talent. A recent study of more than 600,000 researchers, entertainers, politicians, and athletes found that high performers are 400 percent more productive than average ones.2Studies of businesses not only show similar results but also reveal that the gap rises with a job’s complexity. In highly complex occupations—the information- and interaction-intensive work of managers, software developers, and the like—high performers are an astounding 800 percent more productive (Exhibit 1).
Suppose your business strategy involves cross-functional initiatives that would take three years to complete. If you took 20 percent of the average talent working on the project and replaced it with great talent, how soon would you achieve the desired impact? If these people were 400 percent more productive, it would take less than two years; if they were 800 percent more productive, it would take less than one. If a competitor used 20 percent more great talent in similar efforts, it would beat you to market even if it started a year or two later.
You get even more remarkable results comparing the productivity of the top and bottom 1 percent. For unskilled and semiskilled jobs, the top 1 percent are three times more productive; for jobs of middling complexity (say, technicians and supervisors), 12 times more. One person in the top 1 percent is worth 12 in the bottom 1 percent. For high-complexity jobs, the differential is so big it can’t be quantified.3
The late Steve Jobs of Apple summed up talent’s importance with this advice: “Go after the cream of the cream. A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”4 Management guru Jim Collins concurred: “… the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people.”5
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(Source: Mckinsey & Company)