“Discovering” Talent for Your Organization

Most of PriSim’s clients identify themselves as “talent organizations”, where success hinges on the decisions and actions of their people. In these environments, sustainable competitive advantage stems from the ability to identify and retain top talent.

Despite being a small business, PriSim has made a few hires over our 25+ years, and we’ve encountered our share of missteps. Even with our limited hiring experiences, we know that recruiting the right talent can significantly impact performance and energy levels. I can only imagine the challenges faced by organizations tasked with hiring hundreds or even thousands of new employees annually. Traditional interviewing techniques sometimes fall short in revealing true talent and fit, leaving employers uncertain about their decisions until months after onboarding.

A few years ago, we worked with a large US insurance company on an innovative approach to the talent challenge. The insurance carrier had the idea to run a PriSim exercise as a “Talent Observation Laboratory”. This Laboratory had two objectives: to enhance business and financial acumen, and to uncover hidden managerial talent within their existing workforce. The firm’s Chief Learning Officer (CLO) was having difficulty finding new managerial talent to bring in from the outside, and she had a theory that there must be talent available inside the organization that had been previously overlooked.

The Laboratory was not your typical training exercise; it was a strategic blend of PriSim business simulation competitions and targeted observations. Each participant had an observer assigned to them, tasked with evaluating specific individuals on various criteria. These observers, who were employees of the company, would periodically provide real-time feedback on team dynamics, individual contributions, and overall performance to their assigned individual(s). As Plato famously remarked, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation,” and this rang true in our simulation exercises.

Engaging in a competitive business simulation lays bare both commendable and concerning behaviors and attributes. Participants operate in a manner likely akin to their real-world decision-making processes. While I’m no expert in behavior observation, I’ve routinely observed participants displaying either highly constructive or detrimental tendencies during our courses. At our US insurance client’s Talent Observation Lab, the CLO meticulously selected and trained observers to discern crucial traits. Furthermore, participants were informed upfront about this feedback loop, and the overwhelming majority embraced the opportunity for mentorship and growth.

Years later, and many Observation Labs later, I had a conversation with the CLO and inquired about the effectiveness of the Lab. Her response was immediate and enthusiastic: “Jeff, you wouldn’t believe the wealth of hidden talent we’ve unearthed through this process.” While her revelation wasn’t surprising, it prompted me to reflect on the prevalent “war” for talent that many organizations wage. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this battle doesn’t necessarily need to be fought on external fronts against competitors; sometimes, the most valuable gems lie within, waiting to be discovered.