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Growing Talent Management Firms: That Special Something

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Thu Oct 09 2014

Growing Talent Management Firms: That Special Something
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A couple months ago, I started to write about the necessary ingredients for an industry success formula. So far, we’ve covered financial health and value creation. The third criterion for the success of talent management firms is the ever elusive “special something” possessed by some businesses.

I am referring to the element that is difficult to emulate—and often harder to describe. It’s the sort of thing you know only when you see it. It’s also that critical barrier to entry that may keep a business from a constant barrage of competitors knocking at its door. That is not to say that a “Copy Cat” can’t enter the industry and even be successful. But it will be more difficult to overcome industry leadership without a “special something” of its own.

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The usual suspects

Clearly, Apple’s IOS operating system, which until recently was a closed system, was one of its distinctive factors. Another example from Apple is its passion for user interface elegance. And for another literal example, consider Coca Cola’s secret formula, which has helped the soft drink giant maintain its leadership for more than 100 years.

Indeed, being sole owner of intellectual property and a distinctive brand or product can serve as that something “special” that is extremely difficult to imitate. But let’s not forget those companies whose “special” something is their purpose-driven culture. 

The obvious example here is the Walt Disney Company and its commitment to “bringing happiness to every family.” This was Disney’s original reason for creating the company, and an unyielding passion to execute this mantra is the bedrock on which the company still operates.

Examples in the talent management industry

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It is just as easy to find examples of talent management firms with that “special something”—a culture that has sustained successful operations despite the ups and downs associated with a number of recession periods in the economy.

The Ken Blanchard Companies and Development Dimensions International (DDI) easily come to mind as two examples of strong purpose-driven cultures that have withstood the test of time. Indeed, they also possess very strong offerings—but so do many of their competitors. Unfortunately, there are also too many examples of companies whose special cultural sauce has been lost through the years via acquisition or merger.

An example of a strong and unique offering is Inscape Publishing, now part of the John Wiley & Sons training business. Inscape seems to have cracked an industry unique distribution model with its more than 2,000 licensed re-sellers throughout the world. And online LMS platforms and algorithms for computing scores for assessment inventories can come under the category of “special sauce,” but only if truly differentiated from competitive offers.

As I’ve noted in a previous post, we often times kid ourselves into thinking that our intellectual property is special, only to realize that others can claim the very same outcomes. Speaking of outcomes, clearly any firm that can offer repeated evidence that its offering can obtain real business results would possess the most unique special sauce in our industry.

As you think about these ideas, what would you consider to be your “special something”—whether you are a large talent management firm or sole proprietor of a small business? What do you have to offer your clients that truly separates you from your competitors?

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