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Talent Development Leaders: Are You Asking the Right Questions?


Thu May 12 2016

Talent Development Leaders: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Recently I was having a conversation with a client and his managers. The discussion focused on how the talent development function was supporting the business. As is so often the case, the conversation centered on talent development pipelines and processes such as performance management alignment.

I listened quietly and then asked if we could shift the conversation a little. I wanted to ask a different question before we moved on: “What do you believe makes your organization unique and gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace?”


As I expected, each person had a different answer! This is an easy question to ask, but it’s difficult for many managers to answer.

The most senior executive on the talent development team said, “Our ability to take risks,” to which I responded, “What does that mean? And what makes you different from your largest competitors—are they not risk takers?”

Another executive jumped in and said, “I think there's a different answer to that question. I think capability in research and development sets us apart from the competition.” The conversation then led to how to define and leverage their company’s competitive advantage.

In fairness to the talent development function, this problem is common across all functions and businesses. GlobalEdg research found that 44 percent of people can describe what makes their organization different from the competition; only 20 percent strongly agree that their organization’s strategies give them an advantage over the competition.

Why is that? People are not asking the right questions and don’t have an approach that will help them unanimously identify and leverage what makes them unique.


If you are not building organizational capability with your competitive advantage in mind, it’s time to start! Not being able to define and act on that advantage is a serious risk to your business. At best, it is costing you money; at worst, it may cost you your business!

Once you clearly describe your competitive advantage, you can tailor functions such as recruitment and capability development to find and develop employees to drive the business forward. If everyone knows the company’s competitive edge, everyone can take advantage of the opportunities that edge provides.

Try jump-starting the conversation by asking leaders in your organization the following questions:

  • What do we know, do, or produce that no one else does? The key to answering this difficult question is finding the evidence to support that your company alone can fill this role.

  • What do we want to be the best in the world at? How you define your “world” is an important context for this question. Is your world truly global? Is it the field in which you currently operate—or perhaps the field you would like to move into?

  • What is the best reason for our success? Is it a single thing, such as a patent on a new product, or a unique approach to something that cannot be easily replicated?

  • Is our advantage anything that other competitors could say about their organizations? This is the true “smell” test. Be honest: If this is not the case, you have a competitive advantage; if not, you need to think of something else.

Only when your organization is clear on these important questions can you reshape your talent management strategy to take full advantage of the opportunities your competitive advantage provides.

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