Managing Talent For a Quick Win

22 September 2007 Dr Grant Crow

Interim CEOs looking to make their mark can achieve rapid results through talent management. Dr Grant Crow of StepStone ExecuTrack explains how to balance transactional and transformational leaders and achieve your strategic objectives.

Ever since McKinsey coined the phrase 'talent wars', competition for recruiting and retaining the best employees has continued to intensify, and talent management is now tipped to become the business strategy issue of the decade.

Talent management goes much further than organising training sessions. It is about identifying the key skills needed to achieve strategic goals at all levels within an organisation and ensuring that these skills are attained through recruitment and employee development and successfully exploited for business advantage.

Within this, talent management of business leaders is fundamental to an effective organisation-wide talent strategy. Good leadership talent management increases staff retention rates at all levels, reducing recruitment overheads and minimizing operational disruption and cultural strain on a business.

However, achieving this requires a detailed understanding of what types of leadership the organisation needs in specific roles, which of the management team possess the required attributes and where additional development may be necessary.


In any organisation there is typically a split between so-called transactional and transformational leaders . Both are vital, but getting the ratios right is a challenge. This is where an integrated talent management system is essential.

This is especially the case for an incoming interim CEO. Any business that needs to appoint an interim CEO is likely to be guilty of poor succession planning, indicating a poor track record of strategic talent management. This presents an opportunity as well as a challenge to the incoming CEO. The hiring organisation will have great expectations for new ideas and visible quick wins, and implementing a talent management programme – driven by an integrated talent warehouse – could be the most significant.

"Good leadership talent management increases staff retention rates at all levels."

Indeed, as a newcomer, the interim CEO will not be familiar with the underlying 'organisational narratives' – the myths, stories, history and knowledge of the people already working there. In such a situation, an interim can actually derive more benefit from a talent management solution than a CEO who has progressed through the ranks.

Interims need to identify employee performance histories, forecasts, retention risk levels and management competence profiles so they can get involved in the debate and ensure that discussions are rigorous rather than parochial.

This is also true for the post-merger scenario. When two companies merge, studies indicate that the relative success is strongly related to the incoming leadership team's ability to identify and retain the best talent and high-performance individuals. This may seem to be an easy task, but when departmental structures need to be reorganised, access to this kind of information is invaluable, not to mention the benefits of being able to print out a clear organisational structure chart.


To help guide leadership discussions, there is a rule of thumb that interim CEOs can follow to achieve the optimum transactional-transformational balance. At more junior levels, a healthy ratio of managers with predominantly transactional vs transformational skills could be as much as 80:20, although the exact proportion will vary according to the business sector.

"Talent management of business leaders is fundamental to an effective organisation-wide talent strategy."

At lower levels, organisations need more operationally focused employees and fewer of the creative, questioning types typically associated with transformational qualities. In fact, too many transformational staff in lower positions and reporting to a transactional manager can result in tensions between manager and subordinate. When staff say the main reason they leave a company is because of their line manager, it is usually because this line manager is predominantly transactional, and not stretching his or her team sufficiently to retain the talent under him.

However, at the senior management level, an appropriate balance is more likely to be around 50:50, and this is where organisations struggle to develop their senior people effectively.

A cursory analysis of the leadership within the FTSE 100 would reveal that many organisations do not have the requisite transformational leadership for ongoing success. At the middle management level ratios are equally problematic.

And the problem is not size related. Any organisation can take a more strategic approach to managing its leadership capital.

So, for an incoming interim, formulating a talent management strategy presents an excellent opportunity to achieve a quick win. However, creating a sustainable talent mindset within an established organisational culture can take time, and an interim CEO will need to ensure that any progress during their tenure is sustainable once they have left.