Identifying top performers Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

A recent work force survey suggests that more than half of all U.S. workers entertain thoughts of leaving their current employer. Meanwhile, companies are bracing for the loss of more than half of their senior managers in the next five to 10 years as baby boomers shift into retirement.

“In most of the successful and employee-focused organizations, a lot of attention is being paid to developing and mining talent across all lines of business,” said Brian Lamb, VPO and CFO at Fifth Third Bank and director at Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. “In this environment, you have to think more and more about a business model that includes succession planning, employee engagement and employee development.”

Smart Business asked Lamb how implementing a talent management initiative can improve top-quartile retention and lead to more sustainable performance and improved customer service.

What are the key benefits to cultivating high-potential talent?

You will find a significant improvement around your top-quartile performers. There is an element of turnover that is good sometimes but a lot of turnover can be detrimental. Obviously, cultivating young talent will allow you to retain the top talent in your business. Cultivating this talent pool spurs two major benefits. First, you improve your ability to perform and generate sales, thus sustaining the performance of your company. Second, you start to see a higher level of performance over time because you not only have people who are there and tenured, you have the best people there and tenured. So the development of talent starts to compound in terms of the benefit.

From a customer service standpoint, there is a direct correlation. Your customers like to see that you are retaining your talent. And they like to be able to work with the same individuals and see that your employees truly enjoy where they work.

What attributes are hallmarks of high-potential talent?

Skilled in a particular area; highly motivated; a self-starter; shows initiative — all of these traits are key behavioral characteristics used to describe high-potential, talented individuals. While they’re not really specialists, they truly understand the business and industry they are in, and have become highly educated and knowledgeable about their particular product, service or business line. This allows them to perform at an elevated level.

Top talent also makes the people around them perform at a higher level. You might not hear a lot of people talk about this, but when you have a talented individual — not good, not great, but talented — they tend to make the rest of the team and the rest of the company inherently better. And there’s really no science to it. They simply have an innate ability to make individuals around them perform at a higher level.

Do some organizations lack the environment for high-potential talent to thrive?

Absolutely. While talent management hasn’t been top of mind across every organization over the last five to 10 years, it now is taking on a significantly larger focus. Making the shift to cultivate talent sounds good, but it truly is a culture change for some organizations. It’s forcing them to not only make operation changes and recruiting changes, it also is forcing them to change their culture in terms of how their employees are managed, trained and developed. It’s a culture change that starts at the top and runs all the way down through the management and through the employees who work there. So, the difficulty really lies in the culture shift, not necessarily the process of executing the change.

How are companies approaching this culture shift?

There is a global approach that is indicative of what a lot of companies are taking on. Employee engagement, employee development and succession planning, or talent management, are part of the tool kit that most companies have embraced. These are the three prongs to the fork that are being used to drive retention, improve customer service levels, improve employee and individual performance and provide better shareholder value. All of this has to tie into the mission and vision of your company and it must be mutually beneficial for both the employee and the employer. If someone in the partnership is not getting his or her fair share of the benefit, you’ll lose buy-in from one of the sides. The employer may stop dedicating resources to it, and the employees may feel like the employer is not committed to their development and to their success. Create a comprehensive plan around talent management so it is tangible and measurable, and both sides are held accountable.

BRIAN LAMB is VPO and CFO, Fifth Third Bank, and director, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach him at (813) 306-2491 or