Talent is priority number 1, 2 and 3 in most corporate human resources functions today. It’s no surprise, forced by a tsunami of tech-enabled business change and global competition and intensified by one of the tightest labor markets in decades. The investment of resources and management time in the talent agenda has been a welcome amplifier of human resources influence in the business, for all the right reasons.

But, there is much more needed beyond good talent to succeeding as a growth company, whether you are a large, mature multi-national corporations, a high-tech titan, or a small challenger business. The key to unlocking the potential of your talent is organization.

Talented people find ways to overcome the value-destroying barriers that convoluted, dated organizational structures and processes throw at them. Here are a few examples playing out in companies we know well:

  • Global product and brand leaders are attempting to deliver a common value proposition across a confederacy of geographic “P&L units” with no common ways of working together or defining customer insights.
  • A so-called chief digital officer (hired by the CEO) is trying to drive an integrated digital strategy across legacy marketing teams, a brick and mortar retail organization, and a fractured supply chain organization, without any change in the metrics and systems that would make it rational for these groups to collaborate.
  • Teams of young, energetic product managers are running fast to bring cutting-edge web-based services to users, but with no point of ownership for the overall consumer experience and no one to untangle the decision hairballs that slow the collective effort.

The pain of weak organization extends beyond the talented people these companies have worked so hard to recruit. Customers often suffer these internal barriers too.

Bringing great talent into broken organizations and cultures, then treating them to rich compensation packages and flexible work arrangements isn’t enough. We see leaders making the bold moves to bring in people with exceptional education from diverse backgrounds, and often from other industries, in hopes of transforming the business. Yet, then they place these high-potentials in organizational arrangements that frustrate and reduce their ability to impact business outcomes.

The relationship between organization design and talent should be viewed as an inseparable marriage, one leveraging the other in true synergy. There are practices for crafting the fit between the organization model and the talent model for a company, and this should become the focus of today’s HR professional and line leaders. Let’s look at one example.

Talent and organization fit starts with understanding the operating model of the company. The operating model helps inform talent needs; and the right talent practices reinforce the operating model. What do we mean?

One dimension of the operating model is the degree of integration that is expected among the company’s operating units, and the nature of their relationship to enterprise functions. Think in simple terms of a continuum from holding company, or very loosely-coupled portfolio of separate, autonomous businesses vs. a fully integrated, single business company, with degrees of divisional hybrid in between.

In the simplest of illustrations, product managers in the fully integrated business will lead from the center, and candidates will demonstrate an “operating” profile with solid executional as well as strategic skills.

In the more loosely-coupled, divisional operating model product managers are more likely to be influencers who create strategies and then support market-based leaders who must adapt and implement those strategies in their markets.

The profile for general managers, supply chain leaders, digital captains and other corporate functional leaders should all be considered in this light: talent profiles linked closely to the nature of the operating model. Talent and organization each reinforce the intent of the other when there is a fit.

Greg Kesler

Managing Partner