Why Talent Matters Most

A corporate leader offers advice on staying competitive through this economic downturn

Name: Kevin M. Warren

Title: President, Chairman, and CEO, Xerox Canada Ltd.

Location: Toronto, Canada

Age: 46

Power Play: Warren led the transition of Xerox’s $1.5 billion acquisition of Global Imaging Systems, a retailer and servicer of document management systems. He’s also among BE’s 100 Most Powerful Executives.

How has the process of managing talent changed over the last few years?
Talent is the one sustainable competitive advantage that corporations and institutions have. Everything else— from marketing, product development, research and development, supply chain and pricing—can be imitated. Key talent is one thing that can differentiate one company from another. Secondly, because of the change in demographics, we have more women and people of color in the marketplace. If companies want to get the best talent, they have to cast a wider net. They have to be more inclusive and keep in mind the individual’s need for a work–life balance in order to attract talent.

What about from the employee’s standpoint?
Traditionally, talent management used to be a ladder. That was the metaphor; you’d want to climb the ladder. Now it’s about having different experiences—more cross-functional experiences—sometimes taking lateral positions. Ask yourself, ‘What can I add to my portfolio of skills so that I can be that much more marketable and contribute that much more to a corporation?’ Look where your company and industry is going; what skills and talents are going to be paramount in the next three to five years? Then you work on filling the gaps.

You really can’t control if the company decides to wipe out the division you’re in. But what you can control is your marketability and whether another division inside of that company is going to see you as attractive and want to hire you or a rival inside your industry or even another industry if you have skills that are transferable. So you obviously have to do a really good job at your current position but you have to have what I call bifocal vision. You have to be able to see clearly in the short term but also have an eye on the strategic to see what you have to do to insulate yourself for any sort of downturn so you can be re-marketable.

What is the single most important thing a person can do with regard to being marketable?
I have this model that I call the triangle of success.  It’s a three-pronged attack plan to make sure you’re insulated from any sort of downturn as well as furthering your career. The first is results. You absolutely have to deliver outstanding results and you have to do it consistently. If you can’t do that, the conversation ends there. The second part is what I call behaviors. Corporations are social institutions. How do you interact with your boss? How do you interact with your colleagues? Do you make the workplace a better place to work? Do you add to the organization? The third part of the triangle is what I call competencies. That’s really just managing your portfolio of skills, making sure you’re committed to lifelong learning, and adding things to your skill set. Each year you have to add something to your game that’s marketable. The goal right now should be how you can emerge from the downturn with an improved competitive position.

This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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