Strategy vs. Talent: The Chicken or the Egg?
There is always an ongoing debate between what comes first in order to create success in any organization. is it the strategy or the talent that creates and executes said strategy?
The question is do you create great strategies then find a talent that you need in order to apply those strategies or do you find the right people and have them create the right strategies to lead the organization. I remember times where I’ve had vigorous discussions with my business professors and my colleagues on that subject, sometimes resulting in simply agreeing to disagree.
As far as talent practitioners and researchers are concerned, the argument comes down to the chicken or the egg question – do you need a chicken to lay an egg first or does the chicken come from the egg and then lay the egg?
Strategy practitioners don’t see this dilemma at all or the entire talent function for that matter. They see strategy as something independent, a higher order concept that simply takes shape regardless of the talent that is involved with its creation. It almost seems like strategy practitioners think that strategy itself is omnipotent – like a God or a higher order being that is independent of creation itself. Of course, many of them don’t realize that that is the basic assumption with which most of their work is dependent upon. They make the argument that one has to create and apply an excellent strategy for organizational growth, and then one must find the right talent to execute that strategy. But they miss the point that in order to find that great omnipotent strategy to begin with, you need the right talent to create it for you.
It is a frustrating argument to be involved with, and even more frustrating trying to explain that first people come, then everything else comes, to executives who believe that all people are completely replaceable.
The truth is not all people are completely replaceable or at least the majority of professionals don’t think so, otherwise CEO pay would not be increasing exponentially when compared to non-executive pay. What’s happening in America today is the growing belief that talent is not replaceable at the higher level of top corporations, signified by extreme competition for talent through pay increase, and this has created an ongoing true war for talent at the top level of some of the world’s most successful and influential organizations. You could perhaps argue that this is evidence that first you need talent and then comes the strategy that talent creates.
Those quirky strategy folks come back with, No, you create a strategy and then the CEO comes along to execute it. Of course, that ignores the reality of how hiring and strategy development occurs in the real world today. No coveted CEO will be willing to accept a new position at a company without asking questions (of board members etc.) what are your expectations, and what are your respective visions for growth in the company – this is by definition part of strategy development. In many cases, CEOs will not accept positions where they disagree with the strategy vision of the board, or where they have no input into short, mid-, and long-term strategy creation and execution.
So, the next time those strategy folks that work for your company argue that talent practices are subservient to strategy implementation, make sure to mention the chicken or the egg dilemma.