The Power of Four

The answers to four crucial talent questions can determine whether a company will succeed in a rapidly changing business world.

Crucial talent questions

Charles “Chuck” Gaskin, who recently switched roles from senior vice president and talent consulting manager at The BB&T Leadership Institute to chief associate engagement officer at BB&T, explains what these questions are and why they matter.

When you’re a business leader, there are four crucial talent questions that can keep you awake at night:

When you’re a business leader, there are four crucial talent questions that can keep you awake at night:

  1. Do I have the right people in the right roles?
  2. Do my employees have clarity about our strategies and their role in helping us achieve them?
  3. Are my employees’ heads and hearts in the game?
  4. Do I have a viable business continuity plan if any of my key leaders and performers unexpectedly leave their roles within the company?


Let's explore each.

1. Do I have the right people in the right roles?

At The BB&T Leadership Institute, this is the most common area of concern we hear from leaders about their employees. When we consider that all companies live in a constant state of change, this concern clearly has merit. Today’s talent may have helped us get where we are, but we have concerns that, without a strategic view of evolving job demands, our talent may not get us where we need to go tomorrow.

Consider a challenge confronting one of The Leadership Institute’s clients in the building supply industry. The company is very profitable and has a solid growth trajectory, assuming its employees can embrace changes in technology and become less reliant on hands-on leadership and more confident in making decisions using independent thinking skills. The company’s world is changing because of globalization, logistics, robotics and artificial intelligence. Sounds familiar?

Their strategy, with The Leadership Institute’s support, is first to better understand the knowledge, skills and abilities this new world demands of their employees. The next step is to gain an understanding of their employees’ strengths and determine where they may need help to perform at the top of their game in this evolving new world. Using behavioral analytics, The Leadership Institute has provided the company with targeted insights to help them address recommendations made for each of their leaders, line managers and key performers. These recommendations concern leadership, interpersonal skills, problem-solving and decision-making abilities, personal organization and time management.

The building supply company has been pleased to see the majority of its current employees are more than capable of learning new skills, leveraging their strengths in new ways and consciously adapting their work behaviors to meet the demands of their roles. Its leaders are embracing The Leadership Institute’s assessment as part of change management and understand it takes time, effort and a sustained focus to adapt to new ways of doing business. The employees are embracing change. And they are gaining a renewed belief in the company’s heritage and potential. Finally, the positive outcomes are taking shape.

2. Do my employees have clarity about our strategies and their roles in helping us achieve them?

As employees face change (which we believe is increasingly the norm), they find themselves in one or more emotional states, including denial, resistance, exploration and commitment. Through that change journey, employees desire clarity on why the change is necessary, what the change will mean to them in their careers, how the change might help them grow and develop, and, ultimately, how their contributions can provide a brighter future for them and, by extension, their loved ones.

Obviously, companies that effectively lead their employees through the continuous process of change can expect higher performance and less variation in performance among their teams—clearly desirable outcomes.

Here’s one example: A client in the commercial construction industry has addressed this question in a manner that integrates The Leadership Institute’s support with their company’s evolving performance expectations. Over 3 fiscal years, The Leadership Institute has helped the company clarify changing performance expectations for its mid- and senior-level employees while mapping targeted, individualized development plans for each employee. Working closely with the company’s executive leaders and their talent manager, The Leadership Institute has supported this company as they have provided greater strategic and tactical clarity to an increasingly competent and committed team each year.

Among the core reasons for stronger performance among many of its leaders, the company discovered—thanks to The Leadership Institute’s behavioral-analytic insights—its employees had natural competencies to perform complex. However, they needed support in relationship building and communication skills. With the on-site support of The Leadership Institute’s Talent Consulting team, as well as specific self-awareness training, many of these leaders are learning skills that have made them markedly more effective at listening, understanding and delegating—all of which have made their work more rewarding and effective.

3. Are my employees’ heads and hearts in the game?

The Leadership Institute is an active thought leader in employee engagement. In fact, we closely support BB&T, as one would expect, with our full slate of offerings, including the annual BB&T Associate Survey. As a result, BB&T leaders and associates provide The Leadership Institute with an ongoing, longitudinal landscape to test proof-of-concept solutions in a space where we are held acutely accountable for results.

Now in its eighth year, this employee engagement survey has given The Leadership Institute deep insights into what works—and what doesn’t—in building a highly committed, engaged and enthusiastic workforce. We have learned the importance of providing employees with clarity, competence and control to gain strong commitment. Further, we have learned how critical it is that employees feel they are important, connected to their work and their team, and that they are being treated fairly. Interestingly, though, these drivers of engagement can vary among teams and leaders. Cookie-cutter approaches to employee engagement just don’t work, as we have learned in the trenches and through trial and error.

Getting employees to have their heads and hearts in the game is tied closely to awareness and leadership. We believe (and have tested this among various companies) employee engagement, energy, optimism and happiness all impact the degree to which employees willingly give you their best. We have found employees will give you their best only when they believe you deserve it. That’s right, when you deserve it. Otherwise, they'll simply do what is expected and nothing more. The difference between a complying employee and a keenly enthusiastic employee translates to markedly higher sustained performance, higher growth potential and higher retention.

We believe it's important to survey a workforce at least once every 2 years (BB&T engagement surveys are conducted every fall) to understand the current state and employee engagement trends. Furthermore, The Leadership Institute believes targeted pulse surveys provide even deeper insights that can test whether strategies are yielding their intended outcomes. Finally, we strongly believe leaders play an integral role in creating a work environment where employees willingly give their very best because they believe their leaders and companies deserve their very best.

4. Do I have a business continuity plan if any of my key leaders and performers unexpectedly leave their roles in the company?

This question presents a uniquely personal challenge among family-owned business clients. It's not uncommon for a family-held business owner to want to groom a family member to eventually lead the company. This could be a second-, third- or fourth generation family member who may (or may not) sincerely embrace the company’s legacy and strongly desire to lead the company.

We also work with companies that have a range of bench strength in their ranks but want to bring an additional level of objectivity to bear. In those cases, the executives have a good handle on the performance track records of these individuals but wonder if they might be missing some inherent strengths or potential weaknesses that haven't yet surfaced.

The Leadership Institute provides these companies a time-tested process of assessing talent based on their performance in current and previous roles (easier to assess) and their potential in the possible new role (more difficult to assess). Through a combination of assessments and facilitated discussions among leaders within the company, The Leadership Institute provides a more focused and objective means of forecasting how well each individual under consideration might perform in a new role. Further, The Leadership Institute can help identify how the company might best onboard the selected individual in a new role, given that person’s knowledge, skills, abilities, and documented and predicted behaviors.

Plan for success

Business leaders should take these four questions to heart. Addressing them deliberately can help executives gain a solid understanding of whether they have the right people in the right roles. They can also better understand how much clarity their employees have regarding expectations and their roles in the direction of the company, get a good read on the degree to which their employees’ heads and hearts are in the game, and develop an objective plan to move the right people into the company’s evolving leadership roles.

Key takeaways

To prepare your company for future success, you need to consider:

  1. Talent optimization: Provide your employees with the needed knowledge and tools so they can keep developing their skillset.
  2. Clarity: Give your employees ongoing clarity about organizational changes and your long-term strategy.
  3. Engagement: Conduct regular engagement surveys to understand if your workers’ hearts and minds are in the game.
  4. Business continuity: Develop a business continuity plan for your key performers and leaders.


Listen to Leadership Amplitude Episode 1 to learn more about how to keep your employees actively engaged.

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