For all the logic he offered — and there was a lot — on best ways to become a master of talent, it was the emotion referenced quite often by Bill Conaty that resonated most in his closing keynote at the Human Resource Executive Forum® on Wednesday.
Conaty, the recently retired senior vice president of human resources for General Electric Co., who spent 40 years at the company and was instrumental in creating its reputation as a talent-building giant, used words like “obsession,” “intimacy,” “passion” and “compassion” as he laid out his blueprint for “Becoming a Talent Master: Why Smart Leaders Make People Their Top Priority.”
In fact, item No. 1 on his tips to talent mastery — the subject of his new book co-authored with fellow talent guru Ram Charan, entitled The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers — was to “make talent development your obsession.”
There were myriad other sage pointers from Conaty’s proven track record, such as making leaders accountable for talent development, giving frequent and honest feedback, integrating business plans and people reviews, and — as he put it — “drilling down on talent like you drill down on financials.”
But the punch lines of all his lists for success all had to do with authenticity and “balancing passion with compassion” and “having that personal touch and intimacy with your top talent,” as he put it.
Whether working in tandem with former GE CEO Jack Welch or current CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Conaty said, “we would always spend time with our high-potentials on site visits to find out who they really were and how they thought, so there would be no surprises.”
His formula for championing talent to the office of the CEO was equally straightforward and heartfelt. “Courage of conviction, candor and trust” were mentioned in that equation. So were “solving problems instead of just identifying them.”
“The real point,” he said, “is you should use your persuasion and intelligence to convince your CEO” of the value of the HR function. “No talent, no numbers.”
“Change that environment,” he said. “Convince that CEO that you’re really going to give him a business advantage. HR’s got the opportunity here to really make a difference, but it really needs to step up.”