People matter: Know your talent
Talent Management Consultant, NobleVision Human Capital, Inc.
Project management is a complex set of processes that can launch companies into a high-performer category when implemented correctly. However, processes do not drive themselves; people do. Without talented, motivated individuals, project management processes mean nothing. A key question facing the project management industry in the future is how to ensure that companies are staffed with the talent required to drive successful projects. Much attention has been directed toward finding and hiring strong project managers, but this viewpoint should be expanded to include a look at a more holistic approach— that of talent management. This paper will explore the role of talent management in facilitating the people side of project management. Traditionally, the focus on talent has been directed at the technical, and more recently, at the soft skills of project managers, but the question posed in this paper goes even deeper to see how different personality styles can impact project outcomes.
Talent Management Is More Than HR
Talent management is a term that has surfaced over the past decade and a half, and although initially many questioned whether or not this concept was a fad or buzzword, today it is recognized as having adequate substance to warrant corporate attention for those who want to succeed in the competitive marketplace. Talent management has its roots in the functional area of human resources (HR) but looks nothing like the HR department of the past.
Overview of Talent Management
Presently HR may be leading the charge in the talent management arena, but the responsibility for success lies with everyone in the organization. As reported by Loew (2013), a study conducted by Korn-Ferry earlier that year revealed that, although 45% of global executives cited talent management as the single most important corporate strategy, 35% do not have a strategy in place. It is precisely these executives, business unit heads, and managers who must not only be supportive but be actively engaged in the talent management strategies and systems necessary to compete in the marketplace. This is an organizational issue which permeates the field of project management in corporations.
However, there is nothing simple about this business challenge. Delving deeper, the three-pronged approach to talent management (attract, develop, retain) involves a variety of strategic functions, including, but not limited to, branding, workforce planning, sourcing and recruiting, onboarding, engagement, learning and professional development, performance and compensation management, rewards systems, critical skills gap analysis, and succession planning. Over time these individual functions have created disparate point solutions to meet specific needs, but companies have begun to recognize the value of integrated core systems that can manage the entire talent management cycle.
Organizations that develop a comprehensive integrated talent management strategy which is embraced at all levels (not just HR) are going to position themselves for success. These changes are necessary to meet the growing pressures from retiring baby boomer project managers and an unskilled workforce.
In its simplest form, the term talent management can be defined as the sum of strategies, processes, and systems designed to attract, develop, and retain employees in general and more specifically, project managers. In other words, how does a company acquire the right people for the right jobs/projects, continue to develop and mold those individuals into valuable contributors, and then keep them. The overall goal of talent management is to create a high-performing, sustainable organization that meets its strategic and operational goals and objectives. According to Mark Langley, President and CEO of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the number one challenge facing project management today is improving how organizations attract, train and retain project management talent (OSP International LLC, 2012).
The concept of talent management has evolved since the 1970s, when the primary function of HR was to handle the basic tasks related to the mere fact of having employees, such as hiring, payroll, and benefits. It was solely an administrative function and generally existed in a stand-alone unit better known as the personnel department. In the 1980s and 1990s the HR function became recognized as more strategic in nature, serving as a business partner supporting the various lines of business. This broadened role of HR encompassed recruiting the right individuals, training them, designing job roles and organizational structures, and developing total compensation plans to include not only benefits but also stock options and bonuses. Along with these new activities came the development and implementation of the necessary systems required to support them. In the late ‘90s, the era of talent management emerged in response to the continually changing landscape where more challenging strategic issues developed, requiring more complex processes and systems to support the human capital aspect of business.
Why It Is Critical
Success is dependent on leaders understanding that better talent management does not come from having better HR processes or a better HR department. It comes mostly from having leaders and managers at all levels who embrace a talent mindset. Why is it critical to have a consistent, integrated, supported talent management function? The answer is clear: Those companies that can excel in attracting/acquiring, developing, and retaining talent will create a distinct competitive advantage through lower costs, higher productivity, better quality, more satisfied customers, and better overall financial performance. In the specific case of project management, this translates to higher performing project teams resulting in projects that meet the stated objectives and are completed on time, in scope, and within budget. This is supported by the PMI's Pulse of the Profession™ (2013) research, which indicates that one of the ways best performing organizations approach project, program, and portfolio management differently from their peers is by focusing on talent management and improving its role in project management.
The Talent Management Sandwich
In its simplest form, talent management is concerned with the acquisition, development, and retention of people. One could describe it either as a constant cycle of activity or in terms of a beginning, middle, and an end. However, we can also view this process more like a sandwich in which the processes of attracting and retaining are severely hindered, and possibly even meaningless, without the middle portion (or the meat) of the equation.
Attracting and acquiring the “right” (project management) talent is not an exact science but is facilitated by such things as having a solid corporate brand, having a culture that is known to value its employees, and having processes that are aligned with the overall business vision of the organization—all of which serve to draw talent to the company. Putting the right people in the right jobs and on the right projects hinges on the issue of “fit,” and more specifically, the mutual fit. When filling workforce requirements, hiring managers should be just as concerned about the employee's goals, career objectives, and interests as about his or her technical and soft skills. The most talented individual misplaced in the wrong position will not produce optimal results for either party. In order to win in the talent arena, companies must also establish and follow efficient and effective processes during the search, identification, screening, interviewing, and selection phases of its project managers.
Upon acquisition of talent, what follows is a key variable to the talent equation. In fact, one could argue that development can be viewed as the link that drives the entire talent management process from the inside out, promoting both retention and attraction/acquisition. Talent development has never been as critical as it is today; as reported by Waxer (2012), it ranked as one of the most important indicators for project success in PMI's 2012 Pulse of the Profession® survey of more than 1,000 project professionals. A company that make development commitments often stands out in the market as an employer of choice to employees who are hungry for growth and professional development opportunities in their knowledge and skills. In fact, lack of development opportunities is one of the largest causes of declining engagement and loss of top talent, again demonstrating that development impacts retention levels. According to Human Capital Trends (Deloitte, 2013), studies consistently identify personal development as one of the top needs across all generations. Moreover, researchers writing in the Harvard Business Review (Deloitte, 2013, p. 13) found that employers who invest more in training and development outperform the market by up to 35%. Even during the downturn in 2001, the authors recorded a 4.6% increase in stock value among companies with strong talent development budgets.
Acquiring the right talent up front and developing them into valuable contributors makes retention critical given the investment lost (both in dollars and knowledge) if they leave. Retaining top talent is even more crucial in light of today's sizable talent gap. As highlighted by Lillian Cunningham (, 2013), 83% of organizations report they have had difficulty finding qualified project management candidates to fill open positions in the past year. Therefore, once a company finds talented project managers, it is essential to keep them. This is where knowledge of your talent and development play a significant role in retention. Bright employees often share a dedication to self-improvement, thereby making training and seminars effective motivational tools. Providing development in the area of building more effective working relationships is also a way to contribute to retention as it builds stronger ties to the organization.
Why Development Is the Meat
Development is a key driver to a successful talent management strategy for a project management organization. As stated previously, it is the link between attraction and retention that can have positive ramifications on both ends of the spectrum. In other words, development of talent will create a culture that demonstrates an organization values its people. In turn, this “culture branding” will create an environment that project managers will want to join and a workplace they will be less likely to leave, contributing to a higher-performing organization. People have a natural desire to feel valued. How organizations allocate their resources in terms of time, energy, and dollars invested in the professional development of their talent is the true metric of how serious a company is about its employees.
In the current environment, where organizations are facing a lack of project management talent due to retiring practitioners and lack of incoming project managers with the necessary critical skills, it is even more paramount to focus on development. Talented individuals want to broaden their skill set. They want training, coaching, and mentoring; in other words, they want someone to take a genuine, personal interest in their professional and personal success.
Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers
People matter. While much study has been focused on the importance of “knowing your customers,” there will be no customers without the talent who drives the business and the projects that support the overall goals of the organization. Projects do not run themselves. People do. Much study and time has been placed on the importance of a business knowing its customers, but it can be argued that knowing your employees should take priority over knowing your customers because without high quality, engaged employees, the acquisition and retention of customers will suffer. Assessing project management talent has typically been focused on two areas: hard (or technical) skills and soft skills.
Hard SkillsThe perspective, the knowledge base, the skillset, and the methods traditionally employed by the project manager must accommodate the demands of the project and its stakeholders. Dr. Stephen Burgan, PMP (personal communication, July 7, 2014), contends that project management's roots in the construction industry may account for its traditionally heavy emphasis on the hard skills, such as creating work breakdown structures, mastering critical path analysis, developing budgets, and measuring the project's progress with mathematical precision; but the focus among the new generation of project managers is on the soft, interpersonal skills. That means that understanding employee motivation, organizational dynamics, and team behavior patterns has become as important to project managers. Highly skilled project managers are transforming to the point that softer skills are as important as the hard skills.
Project managers accomplish work through the project team and other stakeholders. Both require a set of interpersonal skills that help ensure broad stakeholder buy-in and support of project management-related activities. Dr. Diana Burgan, PMP (personal communication, July 7, 2014), stated that the ability to recognize how personality and communication styles can impact the effectiveness of the team is a critical soft skill. This involves having a high level of interpersonal skills requiring leadership, communication, negotiation, team-building skills, and conflict management. Dealing with the “people side” of managing a project, the project manager will need to be prepared to demonstrate these interpersonal skills to resolve conflict.
Role of Personality
While hard and soft skills are definitely key focus areas for development, a third area opens up new horizons for both knowing the individuals who are responsible for delivering successful projects and establishing a solid foundation for creating and developing cohesive, high-performing project teams. This third area of examination is the role of personality in the workplace. For the purposes of this paper, personality is defined as enduring patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior across different situations.
Tools for Assessing Personality
As with any toolbox, there are a number of personality assessments available for use as development tools for talent. A personality assessment is a questionnaire or other standardized instrument designed to reveal aspects of an individual's character or psychological makeup. The first personality tests were developed in the 1920s with the intent of assisting in personnel selection, particularly in the armed forces. Since that time, a number and variety of assessments have been developed for multiple uses. In fact, one Wikipedia article estimates the industry to be between $2 and $4 billion a year (“Personality test,” n.d.). With an industry this large, it is not feasible to address within the scope of this paper the vast number of assessments available for use. Therefore, three of the more common ones that will be explored are Real Colors®, MBTI®, and DiSC®.
Real Colors®, as evidenced by the name itself, uses the colors gold, green, blue, and orange to identify four personality types common to all people—a concept similar to the DiSC® assessment, in that four types are the foundation. The goal is for individuals to improve and enhance their personal and professional relationships by recognizing, accepting, and valuing the differences in others. As a result of taking the assessment and participating in a basic session, individuals learn about the strengths, joys, needs, and values of people in each of the color groups. No information could be found to determine whether or not this tool is a scientifically validated instrument; however, nearly a million people in North America have utilized it since 1993. Even with this amount of activity, it is probably the least known of the three assessments addressed in this paper.
A second and more popular personality assessment is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. The MBTI® is rooted in the work of Carl Jung, one of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century who was well know for his pioneering work in psychoanalysis. His work extended into the development of the concepts of introversion and extroversion and hypothesized that variation in human behavior is not a result of chance but rather is a result of basic and observable differences in the ways people mentally gather and process information. This body of work served as the basis for Katharine Cook Briggs’ and Isabel Myers’ own theory, which eventually became the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. The MBTI® describes how respondents approach the environment intellectually and attitudinally and what modes of information processing they use most often. In other words, the assessment describes people's preferences for how they take in information and organize and process that information in order to make decisions.
This assessment classifies personality types along four axes: introversion vs. extroversion, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving. The premise is that a person has one dominant preference in each of the four pairs and that everyone fits one of the 16 possible combinations. As an example, an individual might be extroverted, a sensor, a thinker, and a judger or an ESTJ. The test is a multiple-choice questionnaire followed by a discussion about what your personality type says about you. The results help individuals better understand their preference for how they process information and the role it plays in their behavior. Although there are varying opinions on the scientific validity of the tool, the MBTI® is generally believed to possess both reasonable reliability and validity and is one of the two most popular assessments (along with DiSC®) used in the corporate world for helping to improve relationships, productivity, and efficiency in the workplace.
The third assessment addressed in this paper as a tool for measuring personality has its roots in the DISC theory developed in the 1920s by Dr. William Marston. His work sought to expand on the studies of Carl Jung in order to explain how human emotions lead to both behavioral differences among individuals and periodically to changes in a person's behavior. Another goal was to understand the implications of these behaviors on interpersonal relationships.
His theory was that people behave along two axes, with their attention being active or passive depending on whether the person's perception of the environment is favorable or antagonistic. This was the basis for the formulation of the four quadrants he used to describe four different behavioral patterns: dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance.
Using the Marston theory as a basis for development, a number of companies have extended his work to create specific DISC assessment tools for use in the corporate, educational, and non-profit markets. In fact, DISC joins MBTI® as one of the world's two most popular personality assessments. Since there are multiple variations of DISC assessments available, the DiSC® developed by Inscape Publishing (now John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) will be the selected instrument utilized in this paper for the purpose of analysis relating to the role of personality in talent development. The i is what distinguishes this assessment from the others in the market.
Based on Marston's original model, the DiSC® assessment identifies the four personality types still as D, i, S, and C, but the acronym reflects the categories of dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. Participants who take the DiSC® gain a better understanding of the priorities that shape not only their own personality but also those of the other three types. Consequently, it serves as a basis for improving personal and professional relationships, creating a foundation to improve teamwork, which can have significant upside potential in improving project success for project teams. This is a concept that will be explored further in this paper.
Finally, like the MBTI®, it should be noted that DiSC® is an assessment which is considered to be a scientifically validated instrument.
Quick Personality Self-Assessment
In People Matter: Know Your Talent session, a personality self-assessment is presented to the participants. The purpose of this exercise is to stimulate one's thinking about the four DiSC® personality styles.
Learning About Me
The first part of the activity consists of participants reviewing a variety of descriptive words and selecting those that best describe him or her. Participants then score their self-selected words according to an answer guide to determine which personality type is likely to be their predominant style.
Participants are also separated into groups based on the styles they selected. This next segment of the exercise consists of individuals within each designated personality style engaging in discussion about their style. In other words, as a participant I will learn more about me. Each group spends time answering two or three questions with the assignment of sharing the outcomes with the other three groups as a second component of the activity. When these groups are formed according to self-selection, members should find themselves in a group of people who are very similar to them, sharing priorities and certain personality traits. This particular piece of the activity is designed to assist participants in learning more about themselves. Depending on the individual, it may result in a revelation of new understanding, a deepening self-awareness, or validation of things they already suspected. One of the most powerful elements of this activity is the realization that there are other individuals who are just like us, sharing common tendencies, thoughts, and priorities.
Learning About You
The second half of the learning comes from each group sharing with the other three the outcomes of their discussion as an exercise to enlighten others about what it's like to be a personality with their personality style. As a participant, I have now switched from learning more about me to learning about you. This serves as the basis for understanding what gaps might exist and give people a starting point on how to bridge that gap. Individuals will realize when hearing comments from other groups how their priorities differ and where their priorities overlap. What comes out of this sharing is clarity on why people behave the way they do in certain situations, and it provides a basis of understanding instead of us making stuff up as to why. Different personality types are not good or bad, they are just different; and no one style is more valuable than another.
Impact on Team Performance
A project team is formed by grouping individuals together to accomplish a shared goal. Although each person brings different life and work experiences, maturity levels, and personality styles, we discovered in the self-assessment interactive activity that the different personality types share certain priorities within groups and in some cases with other styles. Knowing your talent and who they are can serve as a powerful foundation to build cohesive, effective project teams.
Me + You = We the PM Team
Some project teams work smoothly and effectively together, and yet others struggle with inefficiencies and internal conflicts resulting in poor performance. One reason for this is the interaction of personalities within the project team. Discovering and learning more about oneself is the first step in creating more effective working relationships. The second step is understanding other personality styles and the priorities that drive them. The more an individual understands both components, the better able he or she is to adjust their behavior to work more effectively with others. In fact, the case could be made that knowing the style of individuals could assist with the optimal selection of team members when forming a specific project team. To the author's knowledge, not much study has been done regarding the use of personality assessments in team member selection. However, one could infer that utilizing some form of personality assessment during the forming stage of a team could result in a well-balanced, cohesive team that works more efficiently and effectively to deliver successful projects.
Team Assessment Tools
How does an organization create or develop a successful project team? Much has been written regarding the key elements required to accomplish this task. As the discussion has evolved, so have a number of tools been created to assist in team development. Specific tools will resonate with different organizations, based on a number of factors, such as, but not limited to, leadership, culture, objectives, size, and budgets.
Where does a team begin to look for assistance? To name a few alternatives, project managers may want to review what is available from MindTools (www.mindtools.com), an online source that provides a host of training tools to include a Team Effectiveness Assessment. In addition, the site offers free tools, a free newsletter, and a paid membership, which focuses heavily on development of the individual skills necessary for success.
Other assessments focusing on teams include: Campbell-Hallam™Team Development Survey® (Pearson Performance Solutions); The Five Dysfunctions of a Team Online Assessment (The Table Group, Inc.); Team Effectiveness Survey (Somerville Partners); Team Performance Assessment (Ken Blanchard); and Team Performance Questionnaire (Jossey-Bass™ A Wiley Brand).
One of the newest tools available for use in assessing and building cohesive teams that are more effective and efficient combines an individual personality assessment with a team assessment. This tool was created by combining the DiSC® and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team model from best-selling author Patrick Lencioni (personal communication, April 14, 2014), who contends that the single most untapped competitive advantage is teamwork. The resulting tool is known as The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.
The program is designed for intact work groups and teams and is more than training; it is an assessment-based learning experience aimed at discovering what is required to build a cohesive and effective team. It helps teams understand how they score as a team relative to five key areas (behaviors): building trust, mastering conflict, achieving commitment, embracing accountability, and focusing on results. In addition, the assessment addresses the individual personality style (via the DiSC® model), the styles of the other team members, and how those styles contribute to the team's success. Based on individual and team related questions answered by each member, the resulting comprehensive, personalized report addresses each of the five behaviors and their respective team scores, provides a summary of the team's strengths and challenges, offers tips and suggestions, and helps team members create an action plan based on their results.
As presented in the validation research for this assessment, The Five Behaviors Research Report (2014), team survey items are used to create scores on the Five Behaviors Scales, which serve as the foundation of the team report and the facilitation experience. These scales are as follows:
- Trust measures team members’ willingness to be completely vulnerable with one another. It also measures the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the team.
- Conflict measures the team's productive conflict—in other words, conflict that is focused on concepts and ideas and avoids mean-spirited, personal attacks.
- Commitment measures the team's clarity around decisions, as well as its ability to move forward with complete buy-in from every member of the team, even those who initially disagreed with the decision.
- Accountability measures team members’ willingness to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team.
- Results measure the team's collective goals and are not limited to financial measures but are more broadly related to expectations and outcome-based performance.
As part of the validation process, the research and resulting analyses were based on two separate samples. The average team size for the first sample was ten people, the median was eight people, and the mode was six people. For the second sample, the average team size was eight, median was eight, and the mode was six people. Analyses were conducted to see if differences existed between small and large teams, with the definition of small being eight or fewer people. The trust scale and the conflict scale revealed statistically significant differences, and in all cases where there was a statistically significant difference, the larger teams averaged a lower score than the smaller teams. In other words, small teams (eight or fewer people) statistically trusted each other more and dealt with conflict better than large teams (greater than eight people).
Other items in the research were used to describe what behaviors occur on a team as well as to look at differences between small and large teams. The size of a team may cause a team to respond in a statistically significantly different manner to the item. Responses can be used to help a team address specific issues based on other teams of a similar size. This allows for a deeper analysis of the specific behaviors that individuals engage in based on team size.
While simple in concept, the work associated with developing a cohesive team is challenging but necessary if an organization desires to create productive, high-performing teams. From an application standpoint, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™ is a powerful tool for leadership teams as well as intact project teams.
This paper has examined from a high level the concept of talent management within the project management field and, more specifically, the importance of knowing your talent. People matter. The organizations that embrace, live, and promote such a mantra throughout their culture have an opportunity to set themselves apart from their competitors in the acquisition and retention of talent and establish themselves as high-performers in the market.
It is individuals who comprise the teams that drive projects either to success, mediocrity, or failure. In addition to varying levels of hard and soft skills that are so often the focus of grouping individuals into teams, individual personalities play a critical role in how a team functions and performs. As many project managers can likely attest from experience, the personality factor can significantly affect (positively or negatively) the quality of communication, level of motivation, and degree of conflict that exists within a team. In fact, negative personality influences can actually derail a team from accomplishing project objectives leaving managers to wonder what happened to cause poor results when all the processes seemed to be in place for a successful outcome. Why not consider personality up front as a component in team member selection? As team selection and formation become more sophisticated, the argument could be made to include personality type in the mix of which team members to assign to a particular project. Certain types may be better suited for one project versus another, or a balance of types may be more desirable than a homogenous group.
Using scientifically validated instruments to discover one's own style and priorities and to understand other styles better can serve as a foundation for building more effective working relationships. The use of individual assessments provides clarity on the gaps that exist between various personality styles and guides individuals on ways to adjust their behavior to bridge those gaps. Achieving deeper understanding of oneself and others serves to foster an environment of teamwork resulting in more cohesive, efficient, and effective project teams.
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© 2014, Ellen Decker
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA