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6 February, 2013 by

The Stewardship of Exceptional Talent

Stewardship of Exceptional TalentThis post is part of a series in which I am exploring publicly the work CEB did across 2012 to embody our company’s core values: Force of Ideas, Spirit of Generosity, Member Impact and Stewardship of Exceptional Talent. Today’s post explores the third of our four core values, which  is “Stewardship of Exceptional Talent.”  We work hard to be precise in our articulation of this value for two (somewhat obvious) reasons:

  • First, we are in the business of giving others the insight, tools and advice to manage their own talent, and we hold ourselves accountable for managing with the same rigor we recommend.
  • Second, we’re well aware that most companies – even those with wildly different strategies and across divergent industries – state a “talent value” of some sort.  We push for a clear link between our stated corporate strategy and its manifestation in our approach to talent.

The big, simple idea at the center of our businesses is leverage.  We look for those decisions, interactions, and career moments that really matter and concentrate resources on them.  Rather than have dozens of project teams working on the same problem at dozens of clients, we have one team creating resources that can be used by dozens of clients.  Rather than filling conference rooms with work teams for months on end, we look for key meetings of internal teams where we can accelerate their efforts.  Relative to other professional services companies, we make money through the quality of our interactions, rather than billable quantity of activity.

This business model put real emphasis on the caliber of our talent.  From a very early stage in their careers with us, CEBers are toe-to-toe with very senior executives – conducting research, selling and supporting our products, and giving advice, usually without the comfort of a giant team of colleagues around them.  To enable this, we have to find great people, invest in them, and challenge them to perform.  Since labor markets are competitive, we also have to maintain a vibrant and compelling employment value proposition that allows us to recruit and keep the best people.  (The core of our proposition, by the way, is that you’ll get the chance to work on fascinating issues for the world’s best companies.)

So how did we stack up in 2012?

To the good:  We may have had our most successful recruiting year ever – hiring more than 800 CEBers globally, about half of whom were hired as a result of realized and planned growth.  More impressive than the number is the quality of our new hires. CEB’s recruiting team continues its innovative push to brand CEB in our target labor markets from university campuses through key professional communities, persuading great people to consider CEB.   We also take pride in our strong (>90%) offer-to-acceptance rate, which provides powerful evidence that our current employees continue to vouch for careers here.

We also continue to invest (heavily) in the development of our people.  Our goal is to construct development experiences and support that enable them to grow quickly and have more impact on our business. As we are prone to do, we measure both the tangible elements of development – courses available (up 60%), participants engaged (up 30%), global reach (up nearly 100%) – and the less tangible (days to productivity in a new role, year-one impact, etc.), both of which continue strong positive trends.   Realizing that traditional training represents at best a fraction of how people learn, we also measure our effectiveness at manager coaching and communication, and have seen steady progress.  Taken together, these tangible and intangible investments allow us to continue a compelling trend of promotion from within.  In fact, nearly 500 CEBers were elevated in the 2012 calendar year.

Most importantly, we track regretted attrition, and continue to see very good outcomes, particularly in targeted roles and at career junctures.  We’ll likely never be perfect here since we have a number of roles designed to be great post-university opportunities, which is a stage in life when people do move on, but I’m very pleased with our results.

Work to be done: We’re pleased with our progress, but there are a few places that stand out as opportunities for improvement.   While our “spirit” of collaboration is strong, our “flesh” is sometimes weak; we are far from perfect at managing knowledge and activity across geographies and disciplines – our investments in the right infrastructure aren’t yet being fully utilized.  Adding a thousand new colleagues from CEB Valtera and SHL requires us to accelerate our pace of development here and demands that we manage a now truly global company.   Our measurements also indicate that we could collectively improve in the frequency (and candor) of informal feedback.  At the outer boundary, this would include a willingness to move a little faster in situations when a manager wrestles with underperformance or flat trajectory from a teammate.

We also see an opportunity to ensure that we relentlessly raise (and consistently apply, across functions and geographies) our expectations of leaders.   As the business scales, there is very real risk that our promise that leaders will grow new skills and face new challenges could be confused with overly precise engineering of career momentum and titles.

See more posts from Tom Monahan here.

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