The Science of Talent: Applying Strength Based Development

rath, kimberly

This week’s show features Kimberly Rath, President and Managing Director of Talent Plus. Kimberly Rath is a native of Nebraska with nearly 25 years of experience in the human resources field. She is a recognized leader in the field of strength-based executive development and human resources.

Kimberly uses her skills as a leadership management consultant to help clients reach their highest growth and potential. She is keenly interested in selection and retention of talented performers and also in organizations building talent-based organizations. That is a Trademark of Talent Plus.

Kimberly provides executive management consulting and training to organizations worldwide, and also opened an office in Asia. Her clients include the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, the only hospitality company to have twice won the US Department of Commerce Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, The Estee Lauder Companies, Mercedes Benz USA, The Cheesecake Factory, The FS Galleria, and Cadbury Schwepp, to name only a few of her blue chip clients. She’s a captivating speaker who presented at a national HR hospitality conference with one of her Talent Plus clients which is always an honor; The West Paced Hotel Group. Her ability to speak to leadership and to groups about strength development through the science of talent, and creating platforms for others to grow is absolutely inspiring. Welcome Kimberly.

Kimberly Rath: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Kimberly, you and Cathy have a long history as we talked about before, but I think for myself and for our listeners, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to work in the field of talent management.

Kimberly Rath: Certainly. As I thought about my work in talent management it began with my parents. One of the things that they always did is that they focused on what was right about me and then pushed me in areas of strength. So, this started very, very early on. They really wanted me to learn how to play the piano. I wasn’t very good at it, in fact I’m not very musically inclined. Yet, I had a lot of talent in the athletic arena. I was a runner, on cheer squad, the volleyball team, and the basketball team. My parents really began to see is that if you focus on areas where a child gravitates to naturally, you have exponential growth. That really started me on a platform where I had phenomenal parenting which inspired me to move toward my strengths.

I went to the University of Nebraska in 1979 and I joined an organization called Nebraska Human Resources Institute. It’s a mentoring organization where they identify leadership students at the University of Nebraska in their freshman year. We were matched with a child in the Lincoln Public School System who also has leadership potential. We are not selected because of our GPA or our ACT, we are selected because we have more potential to invest in others. I became a part of that program which was very focused on strength development of younger leaders. I became a mentor and had a mentee in high school who had been in the program for a number of years and I had her all the way through high school.

That really started to position me that when you focus on what is right about people and you focus on their areas of strength, they exponentially grow and they help other people grow along with them.

I have a degree in education and early childhood development. I worked for Gallup for seven years and in 1989 several of us, Doug Rath and Sandy Maxwell, formed a new company called Talent Plus, with Dr. William E. Hall, who was the founder of the mentoring program that I just mentioned, Nebraska Human Resources Institute. It was his genius that started in a one-room schoolhouse where he began to study that certain children could learn concepts, such as math, faster than other children, irregardless of age or grade in school. He began to focus on what children had more aptitude in certain areas and began to have them start teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Oregon. That is where he really began the breakthrough of strength management is that people do perform more effectively when they are using more of their strengths and they are more in the center of happiness when they are using their strengths. So, it came full circle. I met him in 1979 under Nebraska Human Resources and then I came full circle to form a new company with him; Talent Plus, in 1989.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It’s just as amazing history, but with such huge impact. I know that you just talked about Bill Hall and some of the work that you did. Would you tell us a little bit more about who you think has influence you as a leader? You talked a little bit about your parents as well, so maybe you can expand on that audience.

Kimberly Rath: Right. Parents are a significant influencer. If I said to my parents I’d like to explore something, they said let’s figure out how you can explore that and gave me an opportunity to see if I naturally gravitated to that. Grandparents are also a big, important additional family component if they can support a child around strengths.

Dr. Hall has been a significant influencer in my life. He is very, very focused on relationship management as being the cornerstone of helping people grow and putting people in an area of strength management. He really believed only about 15% of individuals use their potential. Recently came out with a study that 84% of people in American are in jobs that they are unhappy in. You are unhappy in a job when you are not using areas of strength; when you are not able to have a platform to express your talents every single day. That was Dr. Hall’s feeling for decades, that people were not in positions where they could accelerate areas of their talent.

Pete Harmon was also a big influencer in my life. He was Dr. Hall’s first client. He’s the largest KFC franchisee in the United States. They have over 360 franchisees and he really caught the idea of finding people for his business who had more talent in the hospitality arena. Finding them and giving them a platform for growth and allowing them to have ownership in a restaurant. He made a significant difference in my life.

Horst Schulze, who is the founder of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company; he made a significant difference in my life as a key leader in terms of driving gold standards and really understanding the power of selection. He really understood that in order to have a company grow you have to hard-wire it with individuals who have more areas or more mindsets for growth, and more mindset towards productivity, and more mindset towards learning so that you have more learning agility in an organization. He became a true component of building a talent-based organization. As he left the organization, Simon Cooper who is now the CEO of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, has led that organization to exceptional growth opportunities. Simon also has been a significant influencer in my life.

Dr. Relly Nadler: You were talking about strengths in general. This is a good opportunity to just talk about strengths development and the impact of focusing on strengths has in business and the work outside of business. I know that when I talk to groups I typically having all of your people be well-rounded is not the answer anymore these days, but really focusing on their strengths. Maybe you could speak to that.

Kimberly Rath: I definitely agree that when somebody says you need to be well-rounded, that is not the best use of building a platform for somebody strengths. A good example of that is when you are in undergrad work. The first two years you spend most of your time doing general studies. When you ask a student at the end of their four year degree what their GPA was; many times they’ll say, “well do you mean over all or in my area of specialty in my degree?”

What it begins to highlight is we do better in areas where we have more aptitude. In the last two years of college where I was very focused on teaching and teaching methods and being in the classroom, I accelerated; I had the most fun, I was in the center of happiness. The first two years where you take a lot of general courses, you are exploring things but a lot of things didn’t have the same type of interest.

That happens in businesses. If we can put individuals in areas where they can come to work every single day and the majority of their time do things that are more natural and they have more potential to do those accurately and with efficiency and excellence, I guarantee you we will have less stress in the work environment. You have stress in the work environment where you are asked many times to do something routinely that you don’t have as much natural repertoire for.

Let me give you an example; sales people are great examples. The very best sales people are good at selling. They can close deals. But, how many of them are drug down at the beginning of the week and the end of the week with a lot of reporting, a lot of administrative work? Yet companies, need to think about in recessionary times, we need to get sales people out their selling. They need to spend more time out there with clients and prospects and moving business forward than doing a lot of administration work. So often, we cut out somebody who could help them with administration and we say you need to do that on top of it and then we are upset with the sales person doesn’t get their paperwork done, because that is not an area of strength.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Or when their numbers go down.

Kimberly Rath: Yes, their numbers go down and yet we selected them to sell, and yet we spend most of our time in performance management focused on what they are not getting done. We are not focused them on their conversion rate, their relationship building with prospects, their networking, how they are moving their territory forward.

We are always focused on the one area that on a report card, if a child brings home two “A’s” a “B”, and a “D” or and “F”, where do we spend as parents? And we do the same things as managers and leaders with our associates when we give a performance review. We spend most of our time focused on what the employee’s area of weakness is rather than their areas of strength, and say, if I allowed you to do 85% of your time this week on areas that you do well, how much more could you really do?

An example of that is that we work with a very large sales organization; they have 350 sales people. The difference between their top sales people and their contrast sales people. So their top 10% and their bottom 10%, is a $1.4 Million in revenue annually. If you think about keeping a contrast sales person for 10 years, you haven’t lost just 1.4 for one year, you have lost it for multiple years. You are looking at $15-20 Million of lost revenue.

When we spoke with the very top sales people and we said if we could provide more opportunities for you to convert business, how much more could you do? They are already doing $2.4 million. All of them said I could double my sales if I had someone to help me with paperwork and the contracting and doing some of the things that I don’t like to do very well and I’m not very good at it; if I had somebody who could assist me, I could double my sales.

When we ask the contrast performers if we provided more opportunities for them to sell, what could they do, they said I could maybe sell a little bit more. Maybe I would go from $1.4 to $1.5. Because as you see, they are not in an area of strength. We are asking them to come in and sell every day and that’s not something that they have as much aptitude to do.

The hardest thing to do when interviewing somebody is measure aptitude. That’s all you can measure. You are typically interviewing a person who has not worked for you, who has not done this job, and you know only a resume. So all you can do is study what is the aptitude or the potential for this person to do this job with excellence. That’s why in strength management, you really need as a leader in an organization, to study what are your top performers doing that are points of difference than your contrast performers. What do they do differently and why are they so happy in their work that separates them from the rest. Then you need to figure out in a selection process which questions to ask to tap into those natural talents, skills and knowledge to begin to say I want to hard wire my organization with more people like that, then I can begin to cast people into areas of strength. Rather than focus on oh here’s the available population and I’ll put people wherever we can put them, I’m focused on a talent acquisition model of I want to find somebody who has more natural aptitude to do this; more potential to do this. I’m going to put them in a job where they have the chance to do that the majority of their time.

That’s why companies experience turnover, because people are in jobs where they are not using their strength; that is why people have more stress because they are not doing things that enable them to use their strengths and grow from their own talents. So that is where we spend a lot of time as leaders on efforts to fix people rather than using training as a way to refine talent but not create it.

To learn more you can listen to the entire interview, above.


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