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Talent Strategy: Why Apple’s Approach is Increasingly Common

Tim Cook's most recent hire shows he believes in the power of putting the right person in the right role. But this isn't limited to Apple

Tim Cook in January 2009, after Macworld Expo keynote.
Photograph: Valery Marchive (LeMagIT – Licensed under Creative Commons)

Large company CEOs often make the headlines, but normally as only one of two types: the superhuman who seems to fit 25 hours into every day or (sometimes unfairly) the greedy, overpaid tycoon.

However beyond the scrutiny and skewed profiles of those in the top job, managers realize that putting the right person in the right position has become one of most important determinants of corporate success.

And, while it is certainly true that this is important for the top jobs at a large company, executives also realize that it pays handsomely to invest sufficient resources in recruiting, retaining, and developing employees at all levels.

The Power of the Right Person in the Right Role

Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook’s recent coup at securing Angela Ahrendts, CEO of high-fashion brand Burberry, to run Apple’s online and offline retailing is just one example. Cook managed to convince Ahrendts to leave one of the top-paid CEO jobs in the UK that positively dripped with cachet for a non-CEO position running retail stores and websites. Indeed, as one commentator said, “There’s nothing fashionable about the technical, financial and interface aspects of operating a web-based store.

As Cook made clear in a letter to employees about his new hire, he was willing to wait to find the exact right person for the role and, then, he was willing to wait the 18 months it took between meeting her for the first time and her first day at Apple.

Equally interesting is that her predecessor – John Browett – was asked to leave because, as he said at a conference, “I just didn’t fit with the way they ran the business. It was one of those shocking things where you’re rejected from an organization for fit rather than competency.” Finally, if only to reinforce this trend, Ahrendts’ successor at Burberry is the firm’s chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, a fashion designer with no formal experience of general business leadership and certainly no MBA.

Burberry is keen to make clear, however, that Bailey’s appointment was the result of careful succession planning and not last minute decision-making.

While it’s important to cultivate talent at the top, this realization about talent’s importance now permeates large companies. For example, more and more firms offer executives roles on a part-time basis to ensure they retain the right person in the right position.

Recent data show that there are over 650,000 part-time positions in the UK alone that pay the full-time equivalent of £40,000 a year or more (a good proxy measure for a professional position). And, as this Management Today piece shows, these positions include Diageo’s global innovation director and Ernst & Young’s deputy chief operating officer.

The Importance of Talent and the Data to Understand It

Our data certainly back up this corporate focus on talent and that executives are right to invest so much time in it. In particular, as businesses become ever more familiar with ‘big data’ and its beguiling promises, senior executives and board members are seeking to understand and influence a firm’s talent strategy.

As this infographic shows, CEOs the world over want more talent data and 95% of heads of HR we spoke to tell us they plan to increase investments in HR data and analytics in the next two years.

Not only that, CEB research shows that firms which use talent data effectively in their organization see a 12% boost to employee performance, a 9% boost to employee engagement, and a 6% improvement in gross profit margin, which translates into an $18.9 million saving for every $1 billion in revenue.

Still Some Way to Go

Despite the increasing focus on talent and the use of data and good talent analytics to manage the process, managers – and HR professionals in particular – feel they lack the requisite skills and experience. Only 44% of HR professionals use objective data to make talent decisions, while just 24% feel they understand the potential of their workforce, and only 41% use assessments to identify high-potential employees; an area in obvious need of improvement given companies’ remit to generate maximum productivity from their workforce.

Encouragingly, though, there is a widespread recognition of the need to improve. Some 74% of organizations say they want to improve their talent management capabilities. This is all well and good but there is a danger that managers will simply feel the need to increase the amount of analysis they do on their data or, worse, spend more on technology. Both these elements are important but not nearly as important as working on ways to use that data to understand a firm’s employees and how their collective skills and experience can be used to implement corporate strategy.

The nature of work has fundamentally changed in the past two decades or so; something CEB calls the “new work environment”. Employees need new skills and competencies for businesses to thrive. These include the ability to interpret vast new volumes of data (a flow that doubles every 30 months), and the ability to collaborate across units, functions and geographies. This puts the recruitment and management of talent at the forefront of every company activity.

Tim Cook realizes this, as do ever increasing numbers of his colleagues, peers, and competitors worldwide.

2 Responses

  • French Model says:

    “More and more managers see good talent strategy as the key to good corporate strategy.” MBA nitwits, lol! I mean all managers should see good talent strategy as key.

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