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The Talent Engagement Venn

There are lots of books and there's plenty of research into this topic but a 'Talent Engagement Venn' is primarily based on personal experience and opinion. It's not an all-encompassing solution or a cure for all ills. However, it is worth trying and can produce interesting and useful results.

If people are the most important asset to a business, then how do you ensure that both the business and the individual are getting the most out of the relationship? A simple Venn diagram can help to identify how to align an individual's work to an employer's overarching goals and objectives. It can also help to identify development areas and acts as a useful exercise to help managers, and their staff, to understand each other better. Ultimately, it will help them to have a shared vision and development roadmap.

Engagement is a key goal for HR and people managers. For the very highest performers, work is rarely a purely financial transaction. If someone's sole motivation for turning up to work is to receive a pay cheque at the end of the month, then their engagement is going to be limited. The value-add, initiative, energy and ideas that emanate from highly engaged and motivated employees rarely arrive from those who are only in it in for the money. So how can a business raise engagement levels in ways that add value to both the business and the individual?

There are lots of books and there's plenty of research into this topic but a 'Talent Engagement Venn' is primarily based on personal experience and opinion. It's not an all-encompassing solution or a cure for all ills. However, it is worth trying and can produce interesting and useful results.

Take three equally sized circles. Fill the first with the activities and skills that provide you with the highest personal satisfaction. These are the skills that you enjoy using, areas of the business or your role that you're passionate about and that align to your personal values. The sorts of things you're always keen to get involved in and which don't feel like work to you i.e. you'd happily read a book on these topics outside work because you're curious to learn more and to delve deeper. You don't have to be expert or even good at these, but you'd like to be in the future. If you're doing this for someone else, the question "what is your proudest achievement?" will often elicit the type of information and examples needed to populate this circle, with some probing.

The second circle is for capabilities. These are both hard and soft skills that are core strengths for you and which you know you're better than average at. This can be through academic experience, as well as professional experience. It helps to list the skills in order of strength, so those at the top are your very strongest and would be the answer to "If you were to sit a test on a work related skill and got to pick the subject or skill being tested, what would you chose to ensure you got the highest possible score?". When working with an employee you may need to tease out the skills. This can be done by asking them to think about the work they've done to date, then which aspects they found themselves to be better at than their peers.

The third, and toughest to quantify, circle is commercial value. This circle is two-fold and requires a good understanding of both your business and the wider market. It's often the circle where a manager will need to provide the most guidance as more junior staff don't have exposure to the commercial impact of their work, or the market value of their skills. The good news is that the process of explaining this to the individual can be a watershed moment in itself. What is it that the employee does that adds to the bottom line of the business? If they're in sales it's easy to measure the impact. However, if it's document management, for example, it will take more effort to translate their endeavour into EBITDA.

An experienced manager should be able to translate any, if not all, activity within their sphere into bottom line impact. If they can't, why are they doing that work at all? The other side of the coin is the commercial value to the individual in the context of the wider market. To allocate work and training that matches someone's interests and skills is only truly valuable to both parties if it moves their career and earning potential forward at the same time as benefiting the bottom line of the business. For example, I might enjoy and be interested in Photoshop and be able to argue how it would benefit my team if I became a Photoshop expert through company sponsored training. However, Photoshop expertise can be bought at less than £50ph and my role as a programme manager commands £100ph. In this scenario there's obviously little value in my employer paying for me to become a Photoshop expert. There are exceptions to this rule of thumb. For example where an employee is rightly supported in a career change by their employer, but that's a whole different subject. For now, we're only looking at a simple framework for individuals in their current discipline.

So, we should now have three circles populated with capabilities, interests/passion and commercial impact/value. Allowing for the fact that optimal performance occurs when an individual's objectives are clearly aligned to overall company goals, we can now start to identify the overlaps. If the same discipline, skill or activity occurs in all three circles then this is clearly an area to maximise and exploit. How can you make sure you spend more of your time operating in the overlap of these three circles and less working on issues that don't appear in any of them?

This can be a very useful exercise at the start of re-organisational projects. As a manager, how can you design the team, function or business in a way that enables the maximum number of people to operate in their 'sweet spot' for the majority of their day or year? As an individual, does your manager fully understand your capabilities, interests and commercial value? You should be able to identify the capabilities and interests and it's a good discussion with your manager to work out the commercial impact if it's not immediately obvious to you.

If it achieves nothing else, providing your manager with a simple visual representation of how you see yourself - what you like, love and loathe - avoids mistaken assumptions and is a valuable exercise in itself. So much of performance management and employee engagement comes down to communication that anything which can add clarity and consensus can only ever help to move you forward.

Nirvana is a team or business where everyone is consistently operating in the overlap of these three circles. Personal satisfaction, development and income are the outcomes for the individual. High engagement, performance, longevity and 'above and beyond' added value is the pay-off for the employer.

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