Do You Know Who Your “Top Guns” Are?

Not long ago, the TLNT website posted an article titled, “Just What Really Is ‘Top Talent,’ Anyway?” As the author, Crystal Spraggins, noted, the answer to that question is somewhat subjective and depends on an organization’s particular needs, leadership and culture.

“To a larger degree, however, the answer isn’t subjective at all,” Spraggins wrote. “When top talent is in action, most of us have no trouble recognizing it.” She then went on to offer a list of characteristics shared by the top talent she has encountered. Her list includes commitment, creativity, curiosity and emotional maturity, among others.

What’s striking about Spraggins’ topic is how few employers actually bother to define what “top talent” means to them. You think it would be common practice, especially given the fact talent issues are among the most urgent for our nation’s employers. Last year, TLNT itself published research showing that HR professionals’ top three concerns are: 1) engaging and retaining employees, 2) developing leaders and managing skills gaps, and 3) recruiting the best employees.

A big part of solving all of these talent issues is knowing precisely who your top talent is and what sets them apart. Once you have clarity on these matters, you know what to look for when recruiting new talent and developing current employees.

Performance reviews are among the most effective tools we have for identifying our top performers—and for nurturing and reinforcing the qualities that make these individuals so valuable. But, as Spraggins points out in her article, there’s a certain dgree of subjectivity in identifying top performers. For instance, some managers will value particular behaviors and characteristics more highly than their peers. Employers who want to gain greater clarity regarding their top talent—and then hire more individuals like them—will want to strip away some of this subjectivity, perhaps by establishing companywide consensus on a handful of indispensable qualities that are consistent across the organization’s top talent.

Clearly, this isn’t a shoot-from-the-hip initiative. It takes the combined effort and active support of senior leadership, hiring mangers and front-line supervisors. And it requires HR to drive it—gaining buy-in from all of the stakeholders and then leading the process until it becomes engrained in the organization and its talent management practices.

But the work required to instill a process like this is a small price to pay, especially if it helps our organizations evolve from the outdated, shotgun approach of simply attracting job candidates to actually engaging and winning top talent.