When hearing the words “talent development,” thoughts may first drift to the job of the Human Resources department. But in reality, talent development is the responsibility of the entire management team and the board of directors—and an area in which general counsel can add significant value.
Companies need to enhance their focus on talent development due to the possible risks that come with hiring and retaining employees. Talent risk is the gap that exists between a company's hiring philosophy and its actual hiring activity. At a National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) event earlier this year, featured speaker Simon Cooper (former COO and president of Ritz Carlton Hotels) identified three areas that comprise talent risk: Failing to develop in-house talent; losing great talent (particularly to competition); and making the wrong hire. These areas of concern vex the board and challenge management to implement appropriate tools to ensure talent development is happening and the risk of attrition is mitigated. And since one of the general counsel's main focuses is mitigating risk for the company, the GC is often charged with helping to manage and develop talent—an area that should not be overlooked, particularly in the legal department.
While human resources does play a large part in talent development, the most successful organizations have senior leaders in all departments and divisions focusing on hiring talent at a functional level. These expectations from the board provide management, including the GC, with a strategic opportunity to not only invest more of themselves into the overall talent strategy of their teams and the organization as a whole but to also impress the board with their abilities to think strategically and beyond the day-to-day. When a GC has a successful track record of helping to advance the careers of those who have worked for him or her, it clearly demonstrates a keen awareness of the importance of talent development.
Savvy general counsel vying for a board seat can stand out by demonstrating a concern for talent issues, being proactive about addressing the risk and reporting to his or her senior team and board about progress. The following questions should be considered at all times:
General counsel who are able to answer these questions thoughtfully—and brief senior leaders and the board about the talent risk within their department—will stand out as an asset and strategic partner. As an added benefit, the CEO will ultimately look better in the eyes of the board because it shows that talent risk is being addressed in all departments within the company, thus further cementing the bond between the general counsel and the CEO. The GC also has an opportunity to enhance his or her relationship with the chief human resources officer and work in tandem with him or her to enhance the talent profile of the legal team.
General counsel who can successfully apply judgment and exercise strategic thought for the benefit of the company will shine not only in their role overseeing the legal department, but as an overall strategic asset to the company. GCs working toward a board director seat should take the time to understand the talent profiles of their team and thoughtfully construct a talent development plan that will not only result in a topnotch department but help position them for the boardroom down the road.
This article was originally featured on Corporate Counsel, October 30, 2017.