Grow Business by Developing Talent

March 19, 2012
Managers are talking growth for 2012 and beyond. The question is do they have the talent to make it happen?

Many companies speak the language of growth. You can hear it in the voice of the CEO—the strategic intent. The truth about profitable growth is that predictability of earnings and performance requires planning. Unfortunately, most companies struggle to establish and maintain an effective planning organization. They don’t always have the resident skills and capabilities to address growing portfolio complexity and an increasingly dynamic, global market. To make matters worse, companies have acknowledged a growing talent gap and are finding it more and more difficult to attract and retain effective planning talent.

The renewed focus (or recognized emphasis) on growth is encouraging, but it’s not enough. Driving predictable performance requires leadership. Leadership needs to establish the operational mindset of planning for growth. Leadership needs to break the viscous cycle of constant fire-fighting with an emphasis on the here and now. To drive the necessary change in an organization’s capability and behavior and to inspire a high-performance organization, leadership is required.

New Dynamics, New Expectations

Many companies have had to reset expectations as they work to establish an effective planning organization and planning capabilities. Past attempts to transfer resources from one company to another are not paying off as expected. After all, every company is a bit different—different cultures, different situations, different planning capabilities.

Attempts to transfer resources that have performed transactional roles have not always transitioned to a planning mindset.

Hiring direct from universities, even candidates with significant internship experience, does not provide an instantaneous result.

Today’s leaders recognize the importance of talent development and are formalizing talent development programs to address the planning talent gap. With this strategy in mind, many companies have shifted the recruiting focus and have placed more emphasis on hiring a new generation of talent, direct from universities. But there’s something different about this new generation of talent that leaders should recognize.

What to Expect from Universities

The new generation expects to be mentored—an approach to talent development that was not as important to the generation of leaders and managers who are expected to provide the mentoring. This approach is even more critical today as companies face increased dynamics, complexity and uncertainty on a global scale.

One expectation has not changed. Planners are expected to develop and maintain a perspective of the business outlook with measured and continuously improving performance—with predictability. Today, planners need mentoring and more sophisticated playbooks to ensure they are “calling the right plays” for the variety of situations the business encounters. Mentoring is also important as leaders develop the planning teams’ capability to manage cross-functional inputs and explain the assumptions and logic behind the plans to a complex, cross-functional team of stakeholders.

In my work with academia, it has become increasingly clear that universities are focused on helping the new generation of talent frame the big picture and organize the conceptual building blocks that serve a focused discipline (e.g., supply chain, sales, marketing, finance, etc.). At the same time students are challenged to be more critical in their thought process—evaluating opportunities for improvement. Some programs are more effective than others, offering opportunities to explore a more cross-functional perspective beyond the requisite introductory core business classes. Others offer an introductory perspective of systems, but by no means are the perspectives deep enough to eliminate the system learning curve and provide Day 1 performance.

Teach the Mindset First

The reality is that most students learn how to apply this base of knowledge through internship programs or real-world work experience. It is at this intersection of academia and the corporate world where things can go very right or very wrong in the development of planning talent. Ideally, students would engage in an internship program that offers a balanced perspective of planning and execution responsibilities. More often, students are provided execution responsibilities and are injected with a perspective that emphasizes the here and now.

As students reenter academia in their final year, universities have a responsibility to round out the perspective and reintroduce the balance. For a variety of reasons, this rebalancing does not always occur and companies need to be prepared to address this balance through talent development.

If everyone is violently executing (fighting fires), who is planning the business?

Companies need to teach the mindset first. Lead a perspective that provides balance between planning and execution responsibilities. Begin by establishing a renewed focus on planning for growth to align the organization with the strategic intent.

Planning is a coordinating role at the crossroads of the business that is directly aligned with a company’s growth strategy and expectations. The planning role is a compelling position that develops analytical skills, strategic thinking, cross-functional perspective and leadership. As leaders, we should inspire new talent and drive an appreciation of the critical role that planning plays.

Planning is a discipline. As a leader, be disciplined and demonstrate a planning behavior that balances cross-functional social and analytics skills with attention to the full planning horizon. Provide mentoring and create talent development programs that help planners learn and grow in a structured way. An operational mindset aligned with strategic intent, teamed with active leadership in the development of talent, will produce desired results for this year and beyond.

As CEO of Digital Tempus (, Paul Strzelec leads a team of portfolio and planning experts to provide process expertise, strategic insight and talent development to help global companies improve strategic and operational planning capabilities.

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