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Accenture Outlook: A Team You Can Count On

Accenture Outlook: A Team You Can Count On

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Published by Accenture
The best companies surpass competitors in part by attracting serious talent—people at the top of their professions. And they keep them on board by ensuring they are part of an enterprise staffed with extraordinary individuals all striving toward the same ambitious goals.
The best companies surpass competitors in part by attracting serious talent—people at the top of their professions. And they keep them on board by ensuring they are part of an enterprise staffed with extraordinary individuals all striving toward the same ambitious goals.

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Published by: Accenture on Jul 14, 2011
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High-Performance Business II
A team you can count on
By Paul F. Nunes, Tim Breene and David Smith
The best companies surpass competitors in part by attractingserious talent—people at the top of their professions. And theykeep them on board by ensuring they are part of an enterprisestaffed with extraordinary individuals all striving toward thesame ambitious goals.
This article originally appearedin the 2011, No. 1, issue of 
The journal of high-performance business
 
2
Outlook 2011
Number 1
Remember Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory?If you don’t, you’re not alone. Truthbe told, the lab is much more famousfor what it could have been than for what it was. That’s because, back inthe mid-1950s, Mountain View, Cali-fornia–based SSL could boast someof the best minds in the electronicsindustry. The lab was hardly the idealworkplace, however, and in 1957, agroup of SSL’s top scientists (later dubbed the “Traitorous Eight”) wouldleave to form Fairchild Semiconductor.But Fairchild itself would suffer its own share of defections, losingsupremely talented individuals whosenames read like a Silicon Valley hallof fame roster: Bob Noyce and GordonMoore, cofounders of Intel; JerrySanders, cofounder and former CEOof Advanced Micro Devices; CharlieSporck, former head of NationalSemiconductor Corp.; and EugeneKleiner, cofounder of the venturecapital rm that would later becomeKleiner Perkins Caueld & Byers. What happened to SSL and Fairchild? Why do some companies loseworld-class talent? And perhapsmore important, why are high-per-formance businesses able to retainsuch individuals?Through seven years of ongoingresearch into what separates high-performance businesses from therest, we have come to understandthat the most successful companiessurpass competitors in part by de- veloping a superior culture of talent.They attract what we call serioustalent—and then keep top performerson board by making it clear thatthey are part of a serious enterprise,one that is stocked with commit-ted, talented individuals all strivingtoward the same ambitious goals.In other words, high-performancebusinesses make themselves worthyof such serious talent.*By
serious
, we are not talkingabout stars with big egos. We aretalking about people who are atthe top of their professions (thebest researchers in the pharmaceu-ticals industry, for example) aswell as those who are very good atwhat they do (such as salespeoplewho consistently land big new ac-counts). We are also referring tothe individuals for whom work isnot just a job but rather a sourceof personal pride.Put another way, employees whoare considered serious talent haveboth superior capability
and
theright attitude.  We have found that if organizationsare to turn themselves into magnetsfor serious talent, they must establisha kind of perpetual chain reaction inwhich top-notch workers attract other highly capable people. Those workersmust place expectations of merit onthemselves that are every bit as highas those they place on recruits. Thisturns the focus of the “war for talent”on its head; it shifts the emphasisfrom enticing “star” performers tocreating a company any employeeserious about his or her work wouldwant to be a part of.High performers establish anenvironment in which three fun-damental and equally importantqualities desired by serious talentourish. The rst is capability.Serious talent want to know thatthe team they join has what ittakes to succeed in difcult situ-
*This article is based on material drawn from the authors’ recently published book,
Jumping the S-Curve: How to Beat the Growth Cycle, Get on Top and Stay There 
 (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), which presents the latest ndings inAccenture’s ongoing program of High Performance Business research.
 
3
Outlook 2011
Number 1
ations. Employees observe thisthrough the
 pervasive competence
 of those around them. The secondquality is predictability. To measureits own likelihood of success, serioustalent demand to know what theycan expect from others. Highperformers generate this through awidespread commitment to
mutualaccountability 
.The third is reliability. Serious talentbelieve they must be able to count ontheir colleagues to do the right thing.This trust arises in high performerswhen an implicit
culture o honor 
ispresent. In addition, serious talentneed to be working with others whoshare a mindset that won’t settle for harmful compromises and who strivefor continual improvement.
Capability through pervasive competence
Incompetence corrodes an organiza-tion’s ability to be worthy of serioustalent. Ineffectual employees whoare allowed to keep their jobs are likebroken windows in rundown urbanneighborhoods, which, according totheory, signal an absence of concernand control that encourages further decline. The presence of inept employ-ees sends a signal to coworkers, cus-tomers, partners and others that noone cares how they perform and that,in any event, no one has the power tochange things. High performers knowthat tolerating work that doesn’t meethigh standards destroys the trust andcondence of the best employees.That’s one reason companies needpervasive competence—employeeswith the right knowledge, skills,abilities and other characteristics atevery level. Another reason: When anorganization is pushing itself to thelimit of what can be done, seeminglyminor lapses can have large reper-cussions. That is, in top-performingbusinesses, the fault tolerance beforefailure occurs is usually much small-er. To achieve pervasive competence,companies need to know what kindsof skills and capabilities are requiredat each level of the organization, andthey need to enforce those standardsacross the board.
Dening competence
High-performance businesses havetheir own denition of whatcompetence is and rigorously adhereto that standard. They dene notonly what constitutes generalcompetence but also the specicelements that are known to drivebusiness success. Requirements for roles are clear and consistent, andpeople throughout the organizationare aware of what they need to doto perform their jobs well. At UPS,for example, truck drivers need toknow the “340 methods,” which setout everything from the most ef-cient way to carry keys (to avoidfumbling for them) to the number of steps per second that would be con-sidered walking at a “brisk pace.” When corporate goals change, de-nitions of competence must changetoo. In the early 2000s, Procter &Gamble set out to encourage moreinnovation. It began by conductinga survey of 2,000 former and currentemployees to identify the leadershipbehaviors that would best foster innovation. Using the results, itimplemented a new performanceevaluation system that emphasizedkey attributes, including the abilityto generate innovations by buildingcollaborative relationships. Thosecriteria were then used to assessmanagers regularly, and those whofailed to show a consistent recordof business-building innovationweren’t allowed to become line-grouppresidents, even if they had dem-onstrated outstanding qualities inother areas.

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