Competing Through People  | March 2015 Edition
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MAC 2011

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.  


Killing Off Performance Evaluations - Finally   
  • 95% of managers are dissatisfied with Performance Management systems
  • 90% of HR Heads believe Performance Reviews do not yield accurate information
Those are the results of a recent survey conducted by the Corporate Executive Board.  So why the heck do we continue using a miserably failing process?  I have long advocated killing off the annual review process and replacing it with something much more meaningful.  What is more meaningful?

"Companies that more closely aligned goals across their organization enjoyed much higher levels of financial success"

Workforce Intelligence Institute, 2006


The single purpose of any "Performance Management" system should be to cascade key business goals down through the organization so that every employee is aligned behind and linked to the strategy.  Eliminate ratings (which are always biased, skewed and unreliable).  Focus on regularly reviewing and updating progress on goals and having managers doing coaching and planning. This is a much more engaging process and adds the capability of allowing organizations to more quickly change where their talent is focused, if need be.


But we need to have performance ratings for compensation and other talent decisions.  Right? . . . Nope!  A much more reliable, valid and efficient tool is the Talent Review.  A regular, well prepared and objectively facilitated talent assessment can be used to identify the optimal way to deliver rewards, who to promote and who to terminate.  We discovered on a recent benchmarking trip to Google and Facebook in California that both of these high-performing organizations have eliminated performance reviews and use talent reviews to assess their talent.  Google referred to the assessment tools as "calibration" processes.


Performance Reviews are Dead!  Long Live <you fill in the blank>!

What Are You Up To?

Competing Through People:  Building a Strategy Capable Organization
Strategic Capability Network
Toronto, Ontario CA
February 2015
View an excerpt from the SCN presentation dealing with Differentiating Talent Management

Living Your Corporate Mission, Vision and Values:  HR's Role in Successful Strategy Deployment

HR Management Association of Northwest PA 

April 23
Erie, PA

Who Is Taking Over: Developing Your Next Generation of Leaders
HR Association of Central PA
June 23
Harrisburg, PA
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