Identifying Pivotal Roles
One of the biggest impacts that talent can have on the performance of any organization is to assure that pivotal or mission-critical roles are filled with the top-performing talent that has the most potential for growth. This was described in the hallmark 2005 HBR article by Huselid, et al as having your "A" players in "A" roles.
I've previously written about the importance of and how to identify "A" Players. But how do you determine which roles in your organization are the pivotal, "A" roles?
Pivotal roles have a direct, line of sight impact on the organization's ability to deliver value or compete in the markets they select to serve. These roles are not directly related to hierarchy (i.e., not all executive jobs are pivotal) and usually do not comprise a large % of overall positions in an organization.
For example, a colleague of mine completed market research for a heavy equipment distributor. That research showed that the single biggest impact on perceived customer value (and therefore a driver of growth and market share) was dealer service. Service had almost 3 times more impact on perceived value than machine reliability or delivery performance. For this company, improving the capability and performance of the talent in dealer service is the best talent investment they can make to achieve their growth strategy. Obviously, they can't completely ignore reliability and delivery. Those roles are important and must be sustained. They are just not pivotal to their strategy. See the difference?
The other factor that typically defines pivotal roles is that they are not easy to do. Performance in these jobs varies a lot. That means that top performers can really stand out and improving the performance of even average workers makes a big difference. The Senior VP of Knowledge at Google, Robert Eustace, stated in a 2005 Wall Street Journal article that one top-notch engineer is worth "300 times or more than the average". Development Engineering is a pivotal role for Google. They will benefit from spending more time and money finding, retaining and developing people for that role than they will for other positions.
The discussion about pivotal roles tends to be one of the harder talent management discussions that leaders need to have. No one wants to suggest that roles in their own function are not pivotal. Many times the leaders really don't know which roles create a strategic advantage. And HR is not used to facilitating this type of strategic assessment. However, the discussion is very important part of executing any strategy and creating a meaningful return on the resources invested in talent. Those resources are never unlimited so they need to be invested wisely.