Transcript: Advice for talent development? Forget the fads

Jon Wetzel

Remember that the best people aren't always the right people for a particular role, says Christina Pritchard, Founding Director of Meta-Lucid. In this podcast interview with Jon Wetzel from Lean for Everyone, Pritchard also discusses the technique of Top Grading and how it can help ensure that you've got the right people in the right roles.

Below is a transcript of the interview. Listen to the original podcast here.

J Wetzel: Maybe we can start by giving our listeners a quick overview of your background and experience.

C Pritchard: Yes, my first career was in banking and finance and it was there that I stumbled into the whole world of process improvement and people development. I trained as an organizational and methods practitioner and, in those days, most organizations were more concerned about process redesign and process reengineering as a way of saving headcount and cutting costs. What fascinated me more at that time was how the whole disciplines around process improvement and the practices that organizations were looking at, combined with a right mindset and high performance capabilities of individuals, could really make a differentiation in an organization and shift away from cost cutting to business growth and higher operating profits.

So I joined a global training consultancy from where I really started by introducing the techniques to a variety of organisations across various industries and actually was able to see them achieve the results that we were predicting. And I was able to apply some of the same principles and methodologies and really add value in an organisation. I ended up being the managing director of that organization and I was really proud to be able to put this into practice myself and saw the organization move from a loft position to a significant revenue growth, profits being higher year-on-year for a number of years, and so established Meta-Lucid which I’m proud to say it’s in its fourth year now and focuses on the same principles in a very focused way. And I’m very happy to say that we are consistently delivering the profits and the promise that we made to all of our clients.

J Wetzel: So I guess here’s my first question with your experience overall and as well as at Meta-Lucid, what role do you think talent development plays in performance management, risks, overall success of change initiatives?

C Pritchard: I think talent development for me is at the heart of any change initiative. I think success comes from people being able to translate the concepts and methodologies, applying the tools and the skills, not only to make the changes that they need throughout the initiative, but also to sustain and build on and serve. So I think finding the right talent and continuously developing that talent enables the organisations to retain the higher performance that they’re looking for in any process improvement initiative.

J Wetzel: Why do you think the role of people in process improvement often falls by the wayside? Why do you think that happens?

C Pritchard: Yes, good question. I know a lot of research and textbooks say this, but my experience also suggests that far too often organizations look for and focus on the methodologies. They’re looking for the processes, the initiatives, the data, the analysis, sometimes even the latest fads and jumping on the bandwagon of different fads. What they forget to do is think about the restructure and the reorganization of the talent, of the people that are going actually deploy these processes, so they forget to hire, to recognise, to reward and develop the right people who are going to really make it happen. And I think the focus too often is on using the best people that they may have - and the best people might not always be the right people, rather than really stretching themselves and pushing themselves to find the best people that they need to work in the redesigned process.

J Wetzel: Do you think this is because of the way the changing times are right now with the economy shifting where people are trying to do more with what they currently have available?

C Pritchard: I think that’s part of the reason, for sure. I think that organisations, even though there is a surplus of talent out there in the marketplace, they look at hiring new, redeploying people, moving people out of organisations as something that they don't want to consider doing. So they almost, in some cases, use the people that they’ve got who may have actually been very, very successful, but if they’re moving into a change initiative we know the phrase that you’ll always get what you've always got with the people that you've had. So actually making that shift and being bold and moving people into new roles and figuring out the best people for the best roles is something that is always left to either it’s too late or just not addressed at all.

J Wetzel: So what do you think organisations can do to change this cycle of reusing the same talent over and over?

C Pritchard: I think what organisations should do, and I’ve seen this done and this is what I encourage organizations that I work with to do, it’s as well mapping the process it’s actually mapping the people elements of that process or of that change initiative, so being really clear with who they've got, making sure that they've got robust assessments in place, know what their gaps are, figure out what the new redesigned roles and structures should be and then hire against that, identify the right talent. And that might be within the organisation; I’m not saying it’s always outside of the organisation, but helping those people to move into the right roles as quickly as possible, developing them, providing them with additional capabilities and skills that they might need. But really it will be though the people that the transformation and the processes will work.

J Wetzel: So basically what you're saying is instead of doing a gap analysis on your full process, you would actually be doing a gap analysis on the people within your process.

C Pritchard: Absolutely, and I’ve seen organisations leave this till the process has been implemented, and when I say implemented has been started and then they wonder why the same old people can't do the new tasks and make both that mind shift change, behavioural change, as well as that capability change. So, yes, mapping right at the beginning, understanding the talents that you've got, where that talent is, what you need to do with them, as well as bring in fresh thinking and fresh perspectives.

J Wetzel: Now you also use a methodology which I’m actually really interested in hearing about called Top Grading. Can you tell us more about this?

C Pritchard: Yes. Top Grading is actually a very simple methodology. It’s based on having a dialogue, so no technology involved, no huge processes to get people’s heads round; it’s a very simple methodology which really is all about filling every role within an organisation with an A-player, and that’s every position from the CEO right down to the lowest role in an organisation possible. And an A-player, just to define what that is, that’s somebody who can achieve the targets and the objectives of that role at least 90% successfully with year-on-year growth. So Top Grading is built around the whole premise that everyone is an A-player at something and that’s the challenge for organisations; it’s finding out what that something is and then being able to move the person into the role that they will excel in, that they will be at least 90% successful in.

J Wetzel: Now, for our listeners, can you give us a little bit of history around Top Grading, like where did it actually come from?

C Pritchard: Well, Top Grading actually was a methodology that was devised probably about 30 years ago by a father and son organisation where they really were fascinated by the whole concept of why some people are higher performing than others, why in a recruitment and hiring stage some organisations make the right hiring decision and others make different and potentially the wrong hiring decision that costs the organisation money. In their studies and their research - and one of the original people to embrace the whole concept was Jack Welsh. He was of the first CEOs to implement this across GE and actually still remains a great advocate of the process and the methodology. In fact, it’s only few weeks ago that he gave a keynote address at the Peopleclick global conference where he talked about how companies will not survive unless they really do increase their A-player quotient.

So it’s a proved methodology, it’s been used by a whole range of organisations in the FTSE top 100 organisations that have had year-on-year success. It’s not a methodology that gives you overnight results; it takes some time to embed and really see an organisation increase in its quotient of A-players. So every organisation is predominantly based on what we call A-players and non A-players, those people who achieve their objectives year-on-year with growth and those people who either miss objectives and the organization accepts that mediocrity. So the shift that the Top Grading brings is really about high performance and sustained high performance.

J Wetzel: What would Top Grading work with non A-players?

C Pritchard: Well, Top Graded organisations actually look at their non A-players and there's only three ways of dealing with non A-players, and the gap analysis or the assessment that's done, a very simple process that's done, it’s really around capabilities that can be developed and therefore will put in a development plan, maybe addressing it through training or coaching to move people that are non into an A-player; that’s one solution. A second solution is - I started off by saying everybody is an A-player at something, so finding out what that something is and then restructuring or reorganising the job so that you've got somebody who absolutely fulfils and achieves their objectives. And then of course the third option is they’re just not suitable for that organisation, for that job and in that organisation, so it becomes a redeployment outside of the organisation.

J Wetzel: It gets us back to the role of people and process improvement.

C Pritchard: Yes, absolutely. I think mapping the processes, mapping what you want people to do and that's the whole premise around Top Grade and surfing that is done is creating the scorecard for the role. The scorecard is a very simple technique; it’s probably one of the best techniques I’ve come across. It takes all the pain out of creating job descriptions and competency frameworks that in most organisations are really not followed, and so it’s a one-page very simple assessment of what is the purpose of the job – that’s the first thing that's been asked – written in a smart objective with measureable outcomes.

What are the three or four objectives or targets or outcomes that this person needs to perform to be at least 90% successful? And then the third area is really how does this person need to work within the context of this manager, this team, this organisation. So it pulls on competencies, it pulls on the culture within the organisation which is so critical. And it’s forward looking so it’s for the job right now but it’s also for the redesigned job in the process improvement or the change initiative.

J Wetzel: I’d say for my Lean listeners out there, they’re really happy to hear that whole section, especially about culture. Chris, why is it so useful for process leaders in business today to use Top Grading?

C Pritchard: It’s useful and it’s actually essential to ensure that any change initiative increases the chance of successful implementation. A-players have the right state of mind, they’re always looking for improvement, they’re always looking to be the best and I am sure that you will all recognize that when you have somebody in the right role, working at 90% success rate continuously, they’re looking to be better, they’re looking for it’s not good enough. They’ve changed their mindset and so some of the differential characteristics of an A-player and a non A-player in the role is this hunger for feedback, constantly looking at ways of improvement, exploring, experimenting, taking on new initiatives, thinking more creatively, more innovatively about the job that they’re doing, even people who don't want to move and be promoted.

And that’s one of the traps that some organizations fall into. I’ve heard organizations saying things like I don't want my organization to be full of A-players, thinking that A-players will always look for promotion. They don't. A lot of people at A-player level just want to do a good job, but that’s the difference – they want to do a good job and they want to an even better job year-on-year. And I think that’s what’s essential when we’re looking at process improvement, process reengineering, quality, initiative, whatever that is; filling the organization with those A-players who have that state of mind is really what’s going to make the difference.

J Wetzel: What’s one piece of advice you would give the leaders that we have in doing process excellence today?

C Pritchard: I think the one piece of advice would certainly be assess who you've got now and assess what you need for the future for the new process, for the redesigned organisation, for the redesigned structure, and then don't shy away. Move people around, hire them and develop them, otherwise the initiative doesn’t really have a chance of success.

J Wetzel: Well, Chris, I want to thank you for taking time out of your day today to talk to all the listeners and introducing us to Top Grading. I, myself, am actually more interested in Top Grading now than I was before learning a little bit more about it and hearing you talk, so I know I’m going to go out and learn a little bit more about it. And we look forward to hearing more at the event in April. I was wondering if you have last words for our listeners.

C Pritchard: Yes, just get out there and Top Grade and fill the organisations with A-players and see those changes, those change initiatives, to really achieve the results that you set out to do.

J Wetzel: Thanks again, Chris, for your time, and if you want to learn more about the work Christina does, you can go to, or if you want to learn about Christina herself you should visit her LinkedIn profile for the most up-to-date information. I also want to thank everyone for listening in today and you can hear more from Christina Pritchard and other experts at the IQPC Process Excellence Week, Europe, which will take place on April 4th – 8th 2011 at The Brewery in London, UK. For additional details about the event, please visit call the IQPC enquiries team at 0800 652 2363. You can also email them directly at Thanks again for listening, everybody and have a great day.

Listen to the podcast here.



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