Companies & Industries

A Private Equity Stance on Talent


Companies can improve their chances for success by applying private equity takeover strategies to their talent needs

There are lessons to be learned from how a private equity venture views talent acquisition. While the trend now in private equity is to take companies private, the traditional long-term (three-year) goal is to have a company re-emerge as a new, stronger, more-efficient public entity.

That means moving quickly in all aspects of the business, especially talent assessment and recruitment. Too often, though, companies that aren't playing the mergers-and-acquisition equity game manage their recruitment process with an incremental approach. They might do better to employ a mind-set similar to that of a private equity venture, and move faster and think bigger.

Consider the rapid turnaround time of a private equity deal. Recognizing and addressing talent needs at a pace typical for most companies would be deemed too slow and would not be tolerated. For the private equity venture, making rapid, dramatic changes to an acquired company's processes within the first fiscal year can yield performance improvements the following year, effectively positioning the company for reemergence in the third year.

Talent Triage

A large part of the solution for private equity ventures revolves around both building talent within the organization and performing the transformation quickly and deliberately. During the first stage of the acquisition, the organization is restructured to eliminate duplicative or unproductive positions. An assessment of the current talent is performed to match existing talent to the needs of the new company. The goal is not to eliminate talent, but to have talent in positions where they can perform best and help lead others through change. Loss of knowledge can have a negative impact on the business; however, having talent that is unable to perform effectively in the new environment or has not committed itself to the new mission can be just as damaging.

Typically, there are three pools of talent, which we will label A, B and C. The A group is the talent that you believe will stay with the new company and has the desired knowledge, skills, and abilities and is a fit for the new company. The B group is the talent pool that needs training to stretch to the new role or is likely to leave the organization. The C group comprises the talent that is not a cultural fit for the company or doesn't have the skills to be productive in the new company. Member of this group are likely to be released to create new open positions.

The success of employees in any company is as much about cultural fit as it is about skill. There is a reasonable chance that some of the existing talent will not be a fit for the new roles created by the merger, acquisition, or bankruptcy process. However, a company not driven to act by a private equity acquisition will wait for the players to fail rather than evaluating the talent objectively based on the ability to drive the business to next level of performance.

Pre-emptive Recruitment

Traditionally companies recruit only for their open positions. In the case of acquisitions, however, swift action is needed to put the best team into the business and the strategy is to recruit candidates, knowing that a portion of the existing team won't make the successful transition. Recruiting is done with an eye toward both current openings and anticipated ones—jobs that will be open because of changes within the B and C groups. This strategy builds a pipeline of talent, with little tolerance for poor performance. The overall result: rapid top grading of talent and faster competitive positioning of the company.

Any company could benefit from having a private equity mind-set when evaluating future talent needs. It is critical to commit the resources and planning to structure the right talent pool for any company's overall success. The most common mistake companies make is undercapitalizing the talent pool. In the private equity world, the belief that an existing group of talent can support a new organization without training and proper talent planning is anathema.

Private equity ventures act quickly and decisively because their goal is dramatic, rapid improvement. However it is crucial for all companies to have an uncompromising talent strategy that goes deep into the organization and is able to supply the talent to meet a changing business climate. Create change at a faster pace by thinking bigger. If your company was bought tomorrow, what changes would you make? Good planning and an aggressive, detailed approach will improve performance and the likelihood of success. Act now. Time is of the essence.

Kurt Ronn is the president and founder of HRworks, a national recruitment firm that helps major companies acquire talent to build their organizations. He is a contributing columnist for BusinessWeek.com.

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