Career Guide

Differential talent management

Sorting employees by performance and role-fit

When managing talent, most organisations fail to differentiate.

Treating everyone the same produces schools of average ducks.

Instead, sort people by performance and role-fit; then invest, support, cherish, move up, move over or move out as appropriate.

Expect to find most people effective and in the right role. Support them as a top priority.

Then, sort people based on performance (underperforming, effective or outstanding) and whether or not they are in the right roles.

Treat your other people differently, cherishing outstanding performers in the right roles and doing what it takes to help underperformers improve their performance or circumstances.

(Check out Figure 1 to see how this approach is done.)

Effective in the right role – support

Hopefully most of your people are in the right roles and are effective.

Pick your analogy: They are your girders, your backbone and your foundation.

Without them, your organisation won’t function.

You need to invest appropriately to support them in their current roles, helping them to grow, perform and be happy.

If everyone were like them, you would not need a differential approach to talent management and your job would be easy.

Outstanding in the right role – cherish

A small set of your people are going to be outstanding performers in the right roles. Cherish them.

Over-invest to help them grow, perform and be happy in their current roles.

The traps here are treating them the same as the first group (effective in the right role) or thinking you need to promote them. Don’t do the first.

These people are so much more valuable than the effective performers that they are worth dramatically more investment.

Don’t promote them to their level of incompetence.

Not all great performers make great managers. Don’t force them.

Underperforming in the right role – invest

The “underperforming in the right role” group are some of your trickiest cases. The temptation is to write them off.

If you were recruiting for their replacements, you’d hire them.

They have the strengths, motivation and fit to succeed. But something is wrong.

Generally, it comes to poor role definition, poor direction or supervision, poor training or lack of resources. Those are fixable barriers.

Do what it takes to define their roles, give them the training or resources they need and they will perform.

Outstanding in the wrong role – move up

At some point, some outstanding performers outgrow their roles.

You need to promote them before somebody hires them away.

When that happens, you’ll try to save them. Unfortunately, counter-offers are almost always a bad idea.

Timing is everything. These people think they are ready for promotions before you think they’re ready. If you wait too long, someone else will think they’re ready.

Move them up sooner than you’re comfortable but with more support to succeed in their new roles.

Effective in the wrong role – move over

These people are the hardest to identify. On the surface, everything looks fine.

What you can’t see is that they are having to work much harder than their peers to deliver the same results.

It’s a tribute to their motivation that they are willing to do so. But it’s not sustainable.

At some point they’ll burn out or quit.

Find them and move them to the right role before that happens.

Underperforming in the wrong role – move out

The trap with people underperforming in the wrong role is trying to save them. You know they’re underperforming.

You just don’t know if they are in the right role or the wrong role.

If they’re in the right role, you should invest in them.

If they are in the wrong role, do what you should to treat them with respect.

But get them out with a minimum of discretionary investment.

The number one regret experienced leaders have looking back on their careers is not moving fast enough on their people.

With people in the wrong roles, move faster than you think you should to move them up, move them over or move them out.

- George has led the revolution in how people start new jobs. He comes equipped with years of experience in sales, marketing, and general management roles from having worked at huge multinational companies. What did you like about this article? Tell us at

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