The Three Ls of Talent Readiness

By Tim Donahue

Perfecting the Talent Readiness formula for “Right People, Right Place, Right Time” involves many complexities, from shifting global demographics to the role of rapidly-evolving technology. But the business case boils down to the Three Ls – Leadership, Leverage and Legacy.


The ever-shifting competitive landscape means that with leadership, mastery is a long-term goal. A colleague of mine once said: “As a leader, you will often be called upon to demonstrate leadership when you feel least ready to provide it.” Inevitably, all eyes and ears will turn to you, the leader, for the answer. As President Harry Truman put it, “The buck stops here.”

There is a particularly urgent link between leadership and safeguarding an organization’s future. This can mean everything from helping capable managers transition to leadership roles to shaping succession plans.

Of particular importance is Generation X, the smallest of the three predominant age groups in the U.S. workforce. The bulk of that segment – mid-30s to early 40s – is the traditional feeder pool for the leadership pipeline. Yet that same segment is the only age group that will shrink in the coming decade. The leadership pipeline may very well become a trickle.

 This demographic phenomenon is one key reason why leaders need to model effective leadership as well as extend a helping hand to show this next generation the way.


Leadership means many things. When it comes to talent readiness, it means finding ways to increase the capabilities and impact of those who occupy spots in the org chart. If you doubt the strategic importance of leaders leveraging the abilities of those who work for them, consider the following:

  •  The Adecco Group North America’s latest Workplace Insights Survey released in September 2009 showed that slightly more than three-quarters of employees surveyed were not satisfied with their career growth opportunities at their companies.
  •  Recent research by Bersin Associates revealed that nearly 40% of line managers do not feel they have the training and skills to effectively manage employee performance. Yet when companies have highly effective talent management strategies, their average revenue per employees is 26% higher, Bersin’s research shows.

In short, what leaders need to do is what their people want them to do: Help them grow.

When leaders make talent development a key strategic priority – when they personally invest in developing the talent around them – they build organizational capabilities and leverage the full potential of their human capital.

This raises an important question: Do your leaders have what they need to help others grow?


Leaders who commit to self-development as well as the growth of their people make an investment that yields a long-lasting dividend: a legacy.

Developing tomorrow’s talent is a job that must begin today. There are no quick fixes or silver bullets – no substitutes for the hard work and commitment necessary for passing knowledge and expertise from one generation of leaders to the next.

If this recession does prompt many Baby Boomers to delay their retirements, there may be a silver lining: Additional time to engage younger employees, transfer knowledge and groom successors.

To appreciate what’s at stake, consider the following:

  • In an era rife with downsizing, it is sobering to consider recent research findings that 30% of companies retain knowledge poorly or not at all when workers depart
  •  A June 2009 study by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work showed that since the recession, employee engagement decreased among Generation X and Y employees – yet hardly changed at all for employees in their 50s and 60s
  •  In her 2008 book “Retire Retirement,” Tamara Erickson says the idealism of the Baby Boomer generation will motivate many Boomers to make a positive difference in the later chapters of their careers – which can include leaving a legacy in one’s organization

Perhaps Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen said it best in her farewell column, “Stepping Aside,” published earlier this year. “John F. Kennedy (said) that the torch had been passed to a new generation,” Quindlen wrote. “But torches don’t really get passed very much because people love to hold on to them.”

Are your leaders holding onto their torches, or preparing to pass them? Is your next generation ready to pick up the torches?

Following the three Ls of Talent Readiness will help you do right by your leaders, your employees and ultimately your organization.


4 Responses

  1. Good advice but incredibly idealistic, based on my experience.
    Employers most often want things to get done; with fewer employees in many organizations as a result of the recession, more needs to get done by fewer people, so I expect only a few people will be the beneficiaries of the three Ls, should they be fortunate enough to work in organizations where they are practiced, so to speak.
    I think you look first for people who already possess a key quality, another L, if you will: Listen. And by that I don’t mean just with their ears but people who pay attention, who are open to receiving input of all kinds from everyone they encounter. The best organizations overlook no one in their search for talent and innovation. Their leaders and managers know how to listen, and their behavior convinces their “employees,” full time, part time, contractors, that they are valued, thus those employees participate and contribute their discretionary effort, knowing it matters.

  2. Tim: Thanks for your comment! You’re spot-on about Listening; a key quality of great leadership and great leaders. Yes, the three Ls does indeed sounds idealistic, yet I would argue that it is ultimately pragmatic. Compare JP Morgan and Bank of America. Jamie Dimon, early in his CEO tenure at JP Morgan at the relatively young age of 53, purposefully cultivates executive talent and embraces succession planning. Ken Lewis of Bank of America reportedly would not groom a successor. Now that he’s leaving, the BoA board of directors is scrambling to find a successor. We know which bank’s shareholders were better served.

  3. Love the Three Ls! Succinct and to the point and dead on. Great post and I will be blogging and referencing this…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: