Want a Strong Team? You Have 2 Choices: HIRE Winners or DEVELOP Winners





“It is critical that you build a pool of recognized, well developed and prepared talent for the organization, and that you identify and build future leadership.”

~ Les Hayman, former Global HR Head of SAP and former CEO/Chairman SAP Asia Pacific, EMEA

One of the key business needs of any organization is a ready-now pool of talent and future leaders.

One option is to hire people who are already competent. However, it is unwise to bring in a constant flux of outsiders. Of course you need fresh perspective, but too much churning keeps your wheels spinning, and the cost of attrition is expensive. 

Promoting from within is a smart business strategy.

Those who already understand the business and how to navigate the politics have important knowledge that can’t be acquired quickly.

Not only does investing in the development of your people increase your internal talent pool, a key driver of  employee engagement is the opportunity for development.

Because development is an important business issue, it needs to be “owned” by management.

Development cannot and should not be delegated to HR. According to Les Hayman, managers should be responsible for their people. “Recruitment, talent and performance management, succession planning are issues for management (not HR).” The role of HR should be to facilitate, advise and support, and to ensure that managers have access to easy-to-use tools.

According to Hayman, 70% of development should be on-the-job.

Hold managers accountable for the development of their people, not just delivering results.

This is not just about identifying high potentials. Too many talented individuals get missed when line managers are not paying attention to their people early on. Line managers need to develop a foundation of talent from the outset, or you will lose some of your best people before you even notice them, according to Bev Kaye and Julie Giulioni authors of Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go.

“Sink or swim” doesn’t work. Young people entering the workforce, no matter how good their education and no matter how bright, need to be supported in learning how to execute their job responsibilities, how to navigate the system and the informal practices embedded in the culture.

Those who are recently promoted or have been transferred to a new position need support in getting up to speed with their new responsibilities as well as how to work with their new team.

Don’t overlook the “sleepers,” people who are quietly doing their job unnoticed. There have been many cases where people who have been overlooked for years, when put in the right positions and with the right support, have provided the leadership that was exactly needed.

Toss out your old-fashioned assumptions of the “bell curve.” Have you really given everyone the opportunity and support they need to develop? When people feel they are valued and are given the opportunity to grow, those who were once disengaged will often become re-committed.

When managers understand that building capabilities is as important as delivering results, you won’t be forced to look outside for winners – you’ll have a ready pool of talent within.


33 comments to Want a Strong Team? You Have 2 Choices: HIRE Winners or DEVELOP Winners

  • Jesse, the importance of development is key for the organization. It is also a key benefit for employees. A high performing employee’s decision to stay or leave may depend on their perception of their opportunity to grow.

    • Agreed, Allen. When a company does not support career aspirations, high performers will look elsewhere, even in this current economy, or they will “quit and stay” – some of whom will be unnoticed talent, whose potential was lost before it was even recognized.

  • Another terrific post, Jesse. I couldn’t agree more. Development is indeed too important to delegate to any department. And while management needs to own the process, employees really need to own their own development. They need to have as much skin in the game as their leaders… and when they do, it produces a powerful partnership that can accelerate growth and business results.

    • Thanks for raising the important point of the employees’ responsibility to own their development, Julie. The opportunity for development is the “new contract” that an organization can offer employees in place of the security of “job-for-life, with good pension and benefits.” The upside is it empowers us to take charge of our own careers instead of depending on being taken care of, and as you said so well, “creates a powerful partnership that can accelerate growth and business results.”

  • Gregg Peters

    I have had managers complain when an individual in their area is promoted to another position within the organization. They felt other managers were stealing their talent, rather than looking at the fact that the promotion was for the benefit of the organization and the individual. I’ve always felt that if I am making the right hire, the individual will naturally progress to their best fit. There are some individuals, “sleepers”, who are content and productive in their roles.

    • These are two excellent points, Gregg.
      1) When managers understand it is their job to develop talent for the organization, not for themselves, and when they truly care about the development of their people, they will feel like you do – that “individuals will and should progress to their best fit.” I worked for many years with a senior executive who needed a competent assistant to execute on her complicated responsibilities. However, every 2 or 3 years, she had to start over with a new administrative assistant because they found higher level positions in the company. Once as she was starting up with a new assistant who had made a big error, I commented on how much I missed her former highly competent assistant. She replied, “It’s my job as a manager to find talented people and help them grow. When they move on, it means I’ve done my job well.” The pleasure she received in their promotions counter-balanced the difficulty of starting again with a new assistant.

      2) Yes, there are some people who are content and productive in their roles. We shouldn’t assume that everyone wants to develop further. However, you don’t know until you have a frank open conversation with them. And I would suggest checking in regularly, because people do change their minds. Just letting them know that you’re interested and care about them goes a long way in creating a trusting, engaged team.

  • Beth

    @ Gregg Peters, it’s interesting that you should bring this up. The idea of “stealing” talent to me shows a scarcity mentality that in leadership for the wrong reasons. They are looking to develop their own organization rather than looking for the best opportunity for their people. Although this mentality is not uncommon I would have to say it is completely opposite from a servant leader. When I have seen this in organization I’ve been involved in, I really have to question the type of leadership that I am teaching and demonstrating. Thanks for bringing it up.

  • Blake

    Jesse –

    Timely post, considering today’s job market. One of the biggest complaints from employers looking to fill positions is that they are looking for specific skill sets, and then say they can’t find appropriate applicants – they want decades of experience at entry-level prices. It would seem that these same employers are unwilling to hire potential talent then “develop” them from within. More employers/companies would be wise to adopt this “opportunity to develop and support” mentality to benefit the entire organization.


    • I agree, Blake. Rather than looking at people as replaceable commodities or assuming you need a new person to fill a gap, I have observed that the managers who have created the strongest teams did it by developing the talent from within.

      I want to emphasize that I am not against searching outside for new talent, but when doing so, I would be more concerned with the right “values fit” rather than over-focusing skills sets.

  • Les Hayman

    Jesse, 100% in agreement with you.
    Gregg, I have long believed that managers should be measured on whether they are net creators of talent for the organisation rather than for themselves. One of the indicators of a great manager is that others want to steal his/her people. Keeping your best from moving is just a bad attempt at self cloning.
    I strongly believe that if you don’t develop and grow your people they will go and find someone else to work for who will be prepared to do it.
    Anyway “If you only do what you’ve always done you will only get what you already have.”
    Growing your people just makes the management job easier with time, and as they grow so do you.

  • Hi Jesse

    Great post! In emerging markets, a talent strategy is critical just to keep pace with growth. In developed markets, you need a talent strategy that ensures you have a good enough mix of the old and new!

    Wanted to share a strategy we had devised that managed to merge the best of both worlds i.e. hire but also ensure people are comfortable with the culture/politics and settle in quickly. We called it Boomerang and it consisted of keeping a focused list of our high performers/potential who quit us and staying in regular contact, with an intention of luring them back. Even with a 20% hit-rate it was awesome!

    So even though these guys came in from outside (which was good too, cos they had experience new contexts/perspectives), they had equity, relationships, an understanding of our culture and were able to hit the ground running.

    I loved the name too “Boomerang”


    • Great strategy, Gurprriet! Thanks for sharing this excellent idea. Many people see the value of bringing back people who have left for exactly the reasons you mention, but I haven’t been aware of anyone actually implementing such a clear, targeted program. Your results are impressive. (ps. clever name, Boomerang)

  • Hi Jesse

    In my 30 years in business I have always thought and felt that developing people is the one of a true leader’s most important functions. As you develop people they often outgrow either their position or at times even the organization. When that happens you move them to a new position that allows them to grow or you should let them go and actually help them find a new better position. It is rare to find a person that is capable of more that remains engaged and growing when they are trapped in a position they have outgrown. Unfortunately today there is a huge lack of real leadership or management ability in most organizations, instead we have got a lot of self centered empire builders trying to look after themselves only.

    I like Gurprriet’s company’s idea of keeping in touch with good people that leave. Too often organizations look at someone that left for a better opportunity as a traitor, when in fact the real reason they left was they outgrew the opportunities within the organization. Bringing them back when the right position opens up, not only regains your original investment in their growth, but also the growth they experienced in the other organization.

    Another major issue I see is that too many organizations are looking for excessively specialized people with narrow skill sets that match their existing positions and industry only. This is corporate genetic inbreeding, all you get is what you already have, and show me how many organizations are doing so well they could not use some fresh ideas.

    • You make some excellent points, Robert. I especially appreciate your raising the important issue of the stagnation that can occur when organizations look for “excessively specialized people with narrow skill sets that match their existing positions and industry only.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts and extending the conversation.

  • Jesse, this is such a great post. Thank you for this; I can never be reminded enough. Human resource (leadership) development as a measure of success is a huge need and asset to any organization. Despite the costs and learning curve for those not currently practicing it, this is a more efficient way of life. It shows authentic business buy-in, enables communication of company values (explicit & implicit), and encourages strong interpersonal relationships. Relationships enable smooth transitions and cohesion and even have a great ability to self-correct. More, more, more! Thanks again for the post!

    • Thanks for your strong endorsement, Darryl, and for demonstrating the benefits. One of the things managers need to do to make this work is to have conversations with individuals about not only what they need to be able to do their job better, but also what their career aspirations are – so they can identify the right development opportunities. Then they can work with HR to target specific learning opportunities, which the manager then supports back on the job. It’s an integrated approach and changes the role of HR to be a strategic business partner. Next week I’ll be hosting a guest post by Julie Giulioni, author of the new book Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, who will provide some specific suggestions for how managers can easily hold these kinds of conversations.

  • Ravi

    Hi Jesse,

    Very interesting topic indeed.

    Infact I have started a topic for discussion on Linkedin’s HBR group
    which is on the same lines and has already invited more than 200 comments.

    My own perception is DEVELOP, NURTURE and RETAIN 80% winners and
    HIRE 20% winners selectively.(80-20 Pareto Rule).

  • Stephen Melancon

    Great post, Jesse. Internal development has to reside with the manager. A good manager has the best opportunity to help each individual develop and reach their full potential. You make a great point about holding managers accountable for people development in addition to discreet results.

    I do support a balance between new talent from the outside and developing from within. I think that the balance (50-50, 70-30, 80-20) will vary based on industry and growth. I also like your point about sleepers. Every company has these diamonds in the rough that can only be found by an engaged manager.

    Thanks for post!

    • Hi Stephen, Thanks for weighing in on this subject. I appreciate your comment “A good manager has the best opportunity to help each individual develop and reach their full potential.” Anyone who has had a strong manager who was a great coach knows how lucky they were. And learning how to be that kind of manager is well worth the effort, because as Les Hayman pointed out in his comment, as your people grow, so do you.

      I agree with you that there is no right formula for how much new talent to bring in. Some of it depends on whether you are in a fast growth mode, have a change in strategy and/or what openings you have through attrition. I know some people like Jack Welch’s “10% Rule” – to weed out the bottom 10% every year in order to create opportunity to bring in fresh talent. However I believe this is a terrible approach. Rather than weeding them out, (as though they are plants, not real people) give them a real opportunity for development and you are likely to be surprised. The “bell curve” is an invented phenomenon, and there’s no reason every person in your organization can’t be a winner.

      • Stephen Melancon

        Thanks for the reply Jesse. I like Welch’s 20-70-10 system as a tool for managers to rank people in terms of performance and value delivered. One of the reasons that I like the tool is that it requires managers to really know their team. I am not a fan of weeding out the bottom 10%. In an organization with a strong culture that encourages open, honest communication, the tool can even be used with employees to let them know where they stand and what opportunities they have to bring more value. While I am not a supporter of the “bell curve”, you will still have variations on value with a team of winners. Managers need to understand what each person brings to the table and what they deliver.

        This is really a huge topic with many “right” directions. If a manager can understand the passion, talents and strengths of team members, they can offer the “real opportunity for development” that you mention above. In business today, it is very easy for people to wind up in a role that does not let them flourish. Great managers help people identify where they belong and support them on their personal journey to success.

        Have a Great Weekend!

  • Jesse,
    Yes, I can agree its all of the executive leaders duties to find the new leader for their company.

    With that being said, i believe in a more outside the box approach in finding new talent as a grand strategy is both sides.

    From past experience employees inside the box usual mindset you know very quickly!

    If their learned behaviors can be re-learned to move from present perspective; in their potential to connect 2 ideas that are already inside their head. =-)

    What i have found is their are many freelancers and opportunity seekers that see the reality and understanding emotional creation have this mindset now! and is impossible to find with the usual rat race method of insanity of employees in daily duties.

    We have to consider employees internal mindset is extrinsic paycheck. The freelancer or life seeker of grand strategy is purpose driven in their mindset which in my eyes = learning behavior change and faster speed of trust. =-)

  • Excellent article – thanks for sharing your insight. This really is a message for my industry Training/HR. Developing takes time, a plan, commitment, and the full engagement of managers. Yet there is such a deficient in training and developing the managers who need to develop their team. Ugh!

    • Thanks for pointing out the larger picture, JoAnn. It goes right up the ladder. In organizations that do this right, managers understand that coaching is part of their job and they are supported by their boss in developing these skills. Conversely, many companies think they are offering great development opportunities by sending people off to excellent programs, but fail because there is no support or reinforcement back on the job. Expecting managers to know how to provide that support isn’t fair if they haven’t had the development opportunities themselves.

  • Hi Jesse,
    Great article – such an important topic. Just wanted to comment on this line “Those who are recently promoted or have been transferred to a new position need support in getting up to speed with their new responsibilities as well as how to work with their new team.”

    Just want to add: it’s all about customization!

    Folks need to get up to speed quickly. They need to understand how to best connect with their new co-workers, their boss, and their direct reports. This will help them acclimate quickly to the new role, get quickly engaged and perform well on the job.

    Great post!


  • Gary Moore

    Hi Jesse,

    Thanks for a great article and the many comments added to the value of this matter.


  • Lacee Thomas

    I really enjoyed this post and the truth that it holds behind it. The title says it all to me, if you want a strong team you have to put in the effort to either hire the right people or develope them. I think these two critical pieces are often what’s missing in struggling organizations and is a huge piece to the puzzle. Managers have to be willing to put the time into this for their team to be a success.

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