A conversation with Dr. Davis Robinson on Talent Management

Over 15 years experience in Training and Organizational Development working in leadership roles in the following industries: Finance Government, Health care/Hospital, Higher Education, Sales, Retail.

Dr. Robinson’s specialties include Organizational Development, Leadership Development, Training and Development, Organizational Change, Mentoring, Group and Team Development.

Website: www.davisrobinsonphd.com

Publications: Discipline Your Motivation


Don:    [00:00:00] Hello there, welcome. My name is Don Weobong, president of Telania LLC, and I’m here today with Dr. Davis Robinson. Welcome.

Of course we’ve known each other for a good while, but I’m particularly excited today, because it’s a topic that we’re going to be discussing that is near and dear to my heart, it’s talent management.

I’m excited because I know of your background and your experience. I’m hoping that you can lend some of those ideas and experiences to our audience, and that they can take some actionable steps from this interview.

To get started, let’s kind of know you a little bit better. Can you tell us about yourself, your life’s journey, and what you’re currently doing?

Dr. Davis:    I don’t know about my life’s journey, but could do what I possibly can as far as letting you know a little bit about me. I’m a native here of Louisville, Kentucky. My background is in organizational development and trainer development. My PhD is in organizational development from University of Louisville, and I’ve been in seven different industries when it comes to learning and development, or organizational development.

I’ve been in healthcare, I’ve been in the health services field, worked for the government, higher education, now I’m in engineering. I’ve also been in the sales industry.

Don:    Wow.

Dr. Davis:    So I’ve been doing that for over 18 years, and right now I’m just working for an automotive manufacturer in the field of organizational development.

Don:    All right. How did you pick this particular discipline? Was it something that you kind of grew into? The reason I’m actually asking is because one of the books that you wrote, “Discipline Your Motivation,” it’s one that I read and I really recommend it to folks. I hope [00:02:00] you will have some time to tell them where to get that.

It’s a book that talks about not just thinking about things, but it’s sort of like “The Slight Edge” approach, what little things can you do?

Tell us a little bit about how you selected where your life’s path took you.

Dr. Davis:    Well it took a little while for me to kind of figure out where I wanted to go with my life. It’s kind of interesting that you ask that question, because today we’re talking about talent management. The thing I believe that most organizations don’t get when we talk about talent, is that I know we’re using the word talent such as when it’s used in the silver screen.

We have talent agencies because we look at this individual as an actor, as a talent. However, you really have to understand truly first of all, what is a talent? Most people in organizations … and I think this is very referential with what we’re talking about today … most people in organizations believe that they have talent, just because they have a member in a seat, they have an employee who works for them. But what you truly have at that point in time is an individual who has certain skills and has certain talents.

I think what we do in organizations now, Don, is we think about our talent just as, “What Don can do very well.” What Don does very well is basically what you have been taught to do since you’ve been going to school. Kindergarten all the way up to the last grade in which you completed.

What we’ve all been taught are not talents. What we’ve all been taught are workplace skills. So therefore, when you begin talking about what talent is, first of all you really have to understand what talent really means.

I like to look at talent not as … and I hope I’m not throwing a wrench in this … but when I look at talent I’m really looking at who the individual is, and what their natural strength is.

For example, a talent to me is something that cannot [00:04:00] be taught. Skills can be taught. A talent is something that I bring. So when you ask [crosstalk 00:04:06] …

Don:    That’s innate in the individual.

Dr. Davis:    It’s innate in the individual. So when you ask me how did I kind of get to where I was, it took me 40 years to understand that I’m a very good in utilizing my personality, which makes me very effective as a speaker, or as a presenter, as also a facilitator.

So the way in which I got here was … You know, one piece of the talent management is assessment.

Don:    Right.

Dr. Davis:    I don’t think that our organizations are doing a very good job at assessing outright. What I think we assess on at the forefront of any type of talent acquisition or recruitment effort is that we are assessing based on, number one, how does a person fit into a culture? How does this person’s skill set fit within this role.

You heard what I say, skill set, not true talent.

Don:    Not true talent.

Dr. Davis:    Right. So when I do my talks based off my book, I ask the question. I say, “How many people in the workforce right now do you believe are working off their talents? What percentage of the workforce do you believe are working off of skills?”

I actually asked it vice versa. I say skills first, and then talents second. I always get a high number, like 90% are working off their skills, 10% are working off their talents.

Don:    That’s an imbalance.

Dr. Davis:    That is a huge imbalance. That’s the reason why I truly believe that you have 80% … I always go with the old 80 20 Don. I believe that 80% of people in the workforce right now are unhappy, and are unfulfilled in the work, simply because they’re working primarily off the workplace skills, and it’s no fault of their own.

That’s the way our educational system has been structured. For us to actually have these workplace skills, based off [00:06:00] the industrial revolution, and we need these skills to be effective in our workplace.

Don:    The production line.

Dr. Davis:    Right, you’re exactly right. If you ask individuals in the workplace right now, “What do you want to do?” They always having something else they want to do when they retire. When they retire they usually go to do something that they are utilizing their talents.

Now, see for me, the reason why I get fulfilled at every job that I have right now, is because I’m able to … when I’m on stage literally and figuratively … When I’m on stage, I’m utilizing my talents and I’m also executing the skills that I learned through my education.

When you bring these skills along with this talent, that I believe I have dynamic personality, and am able to use my poise, my presence, and my positivity … when those things come together, boom …

Don:    Then you have a real solution.

Dr. Davis:    There’s no better feeling than it in the world. That’s what most organizations should be seeking out when it comes to talent management. The assessment piece is one of the things that I think can be strengthened and done a little bit better with an organization to make sure that when I bring Don in, that he is actually able to utilize his talents, and also the skills needed for our organization.

Don:    That is really … I’m glad you mentioned that, and you brought it … So here’s kind of taking it from concept, from academic discussions to a real world application. Is talent management an exclusive preserve of large companies? For example, if you have less than a hundred employees, can you truly execute a [00:08:00] talent management strategy?

Dr. Davis:    Well, before I even answer that question, I just want to give you a definition.

Don:    Okay, all right.

Dr. Davis:    The reason why I want to give you the definition … doing a little bit of research and knowing a little bit of talent management … Talent management was one of those things that was kind of hard to define, so American Society for Training and Development, which is ATD, Association for Talent Development.

Don:    Talk about re-branding huh?

Dr. Davis:    Re-branded, right. It’s been ATD for years, decades as a matter of fact. This is how they’ve identified talent management. Listen, “Talent management is a holistic approach to optimizing human capital, which enables an organization to drive short and long term results by building culture, engagement, capability, capacity, through integrated …” Here’s the key points right here, “… integrated talent acquisition, development and employment processes that align with business goals.”

It says it’s a holistic approach of integrated things, and involves culture, capability, all those things. So there’s certain components, so when you ask me is it for small organizations as well, I believe certain components can be put in place with better results.

So when you’re talking about succession planning with let’s say a hundred employees, it may not be as robust, but when you’re talking about something, let’s say individual development, I think that is something that can be utilized. When you’re talking about career planning, that may be something that could be utilized as well.

The thing that I think most organizations get in trouble, large or small, is they try to throw all of them in there at one time [00:10:00]. You have to be able to do one or two things well, before you are able to execute all those other things. For example, before you talk succession planning, first of all, how well are we doing with our individual development and our team development? Because if we’re not growing our employees internally, then how can we put a succession plan in place?

There’s a process I believe with all of that. I think some small organizations can be effective in using a couple of those components.

Don:    Do you think, based on your answer … There’s components of talent management, either from recruitment or just organizational development and individual development … How would for example … and the reason why I keep coming back to a small business is one, I’m obviously biased to it, that I think some of the solutions have been exclusively basically identified or branded as for extremely large companies.

I find that really the ones that need it the most, are the small organizations where you can be able to develop the best staff, and be able to execute some of these talent management strategies, and then of course be able to get a results that a business is able to.

Let me ask you, as a talent manager professional, or maybe an HR professional, how do you even begin the conversation internally to get upper management to buy into talent management as a concept, or to invest in talent management as a process?

Dr. Davis:    With a small organization that will probably be very difficult initially. The reason why is as a small organization, most of them are in grow periods. They’re in that stage of growth, so what’s more important for the organization at that time during growth? It’s all about profitability, right? Income, revenue, and those types of things are important, so it’s a difficult [00:12:00] conversation …

It’s not a difficult conversation to have, it’s a conversation that needs to be had. However, whether or not they’re going to understand the rational at this point in time is going to be a selling point for someone who is in HR, or someone who does have knowledge about talent management, and say, “Hey, if we do not do this thing right now, when we try to implement it, it may be a little too late.”

If you want to grow, your team members, your employees are the most important thing to you.

Don:    That’s not just a nice phrase.

Dr. Davis:    It’s not.

Don:    It’s not just a vision statement, that’s a reality.

Dr. Davis:    Because they’re the ones out there on the ground. They’re the ones who actually are helping you become profitable. I you are a manager or an owner of a small organization, it is really up to you, because it’s part of leader ship is what I see it as. It’s a part of leadership to, number one, develop your team and pay attention to them. Because if you do not have them, guess what? You’re going to continue to lose money because you’re going to go seek other individuals because people are leaving your organization.

Don:    They’re not fulfilled.

Dr. Davis:    Because they’re not being fulfilled, because you’re not paying attention to their needs. Again, it’s really a selling point, and that’s the reason why I say that any leader in an organization, a CEO, executive, or whatever you want to call it, the C-suite, I believe that they should truly know organizational development.

Don:    I agree.

Dr. Davis:    Because when you know organizational development, you know about these other things that we’re talking about. The assessment, the performance management from the individual, the career plans, the succession plan, and all those different types of things. Because if you don’t, you have blinders on. “We need sales. We need sales. We need sales because we need profit.”

Don:    Right. How do you [00:14:00] actually get the individuals to go out and execute a sales plan that goes over and above just self preservation, and be invested in the company?

Dr. Davis:    I think at some point in time they do get it, but when they get it, it’s too late. The competition has already …

Don:    Gotten them out.

Dr. Davis:    [inaudible 00:14:10].

Don:    Let’s break the conversation a little bit. I’m always curious, this is a question I always throw out when I get a chance to talk to entrepreneurs and people that have succeeded or tended to excel in the lines of business. What is the first 30 minutes of your morning like?

Dr. Davis:    First 30 minutes of my morning is probably unlike many. The first 30 minutes of my morning, is I’m at the gym.

Don:    All right.

Dr. Davis:    I wake up every morning at 5:15 and go work out.

Don:    Wow. You’ve got me beat on that one (laughs).

Dr. Davis:    I got a lot of people beat. Even Miss [inaudible 00:14:50], “5:15 in the morning. Wow.” I’m like, “you’re doing nothing but sleep.”

Don:    Well, if you put it that way (laughs).

Dr. Davis:    You know, go ahead and get up. Actually, the first hour of my morning has to do with exercise.

Don:    Okay, all right.

Dr. Davis:    Once I come to work … I’m pretty sure that’s what you mean right? When I come to work. Actually, I’m putting myself in this habit now of actually reading magazines. Reading professional magazines to keep abreast on the trends in training and development.

Don:    That’s great.

Dr. Davis:    That’s what I do now.

Don:    That’s great. My mornings start a little later, about 6:00. Here’s something I’ve actually started doing, which is I spend the first 20, 25 minutes reading. Right now I’m actually reading “The Slight Edge.” I just finished reading the “One Page Talent Management” book, but I think by … This is a new habit I’m hoping to build until I retain it … So read a little bit, get on the treadmill or go for a run, come back back get ready for coming to the office.

I always ask that question, because I think it helps [00:16:00] figure out how somebody perceives their priorities in life. Are you taking care of yourself? Are you obviously taking care of your family, and how do you prepare for the workday? I thank you for the answer, because I think that insightful for people to know. Take care of yourself, make sure you’re invested in professional development, obviously.

Let’s go straight to another question here. How have you helped your clients embrace concepts of talent management? What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome those challenges?

Dr. Davis:    The first question … let’s go back to that one … review that one for me one more time please.

Don:    Yep, no problem. How have you helped your clients embrace the concepts of talent management?

Dr. Davis:    Okay. My efforts in talent management are very specialized. Specialized in organizational development, and specialized in team and individual development. My background is in training and development. You know I give a background in OD, so I’m very specialized.

However, I fit into the other pieces of the talent management, such as acquiring talents. So when talent or employees are acquired I help with their development. Succession planning, that is a piece of their succession planning, the training and development.

Since I am very specialized, my selling point right now is that I know that in order to have a very effective employee, to actually create this individual that can perform at a high level …

I’m trying to position our training and development area right now into becoming more of a performance management department [00:18:00], because I know that if you are not performing well at your job it’s not a training issue. I need to do some more assessing, which is part of talent management. I need to do some more assessing to find out why isn’t Don doing the job. You’re performing the [crosstalk 00:18:26] he should.

What I do, is I do a lot of inquiry. I ask questions and try to find out what is the root cause of this issue that Don’s facing. More times than not, it’s not a training issue.

People don’t understand that training, team member development, individual development, is only for skill sets. If you do not know how to do [crosstalk 00:18:54] …

Don:    Here comes that word.

Dr. Davis:    Right. If you do not know how to write a memo. If you do not know how to utilize Excel, that’s a skill. I can train you in that, but when organizations begin looking at this holistic thing of talent management and says, “Don is not performing well.” Then we need to put him in some type of training.” not that “Don may be in a situation where he’s not being able to utilize his talents right now”

I’m trying to say that, “Look, training is only for skill sets. Let me sit down and coach him.”

Don:    Mentoring.

Dr. Davis:    Coaching and mentoring, right. Coach him, and say, “Hey, here’s how you should do X, Y, and Z in order for you to perform better at your job.” So I’m in that field of training and organizational development. My selling point is that training is not the answer to all performance, or talent issues.

Don:    That’s good to know. I can’t say that enough. I think that many times it’s … I had a conversation with a banker yesterday [00:20:00] from HSBC. He’s in the training department, he wants to make a case that ROI, for all the dollars that’s invested in training. So he was asking us … He downloaded our white paper on Kirkpatrick and wanted to know, “How do I write up a ROI assessment that would not be shot down in a board room because somebody would poke holes in it?”

We talked for about an hour and I was like, “You know, there are no easy answer to that. I hate to say it that way because you are asking questions on moving and changing individuals and performance, and the data might reside in the training department only, because you’ve got other things that you’ve got to deal with in terms of the individual and their performance.

“Therefore you taking credit for whether you’ve transitioned somebody from 20% production to 80% production might have other things to do with it, not just training.”

I don’t want to throw this question and ask you for a definite answer, but what do you think about that type of conversation, where somebody says, “Well, what is the ROI for our training?”

Dr. Davis:    There are a couple ways to do it. One of the things I wanted to do while I was working for a healthcare organization was to identify all these individuals who had went through training. How many stayed with the organization for over a year?

Don:    So retention.

Dr. Davis:    And compare them to individuals that came in at the same time and did not receive any training, and how long they were there, how long they lasted.

When you talk about training and ROI, you really have to understand that first of all, your ROI is going to be your more developed individual. Your more developed team [00:22:00] member or employee.

We look at this thing ROI, we always want to look at money. We think about the money, and there’s two … There’s another evaluator out there who does ROI, and I can’t think of his name right now, and it’s not Kirkpatrick, but he and his wife, they have the ROI Institute. I can’t think of their last names, but I probably will.

They look at training and how to investigate or assess the ROI on team member development, or on training and development, so what I would say is one of the things that you can do, is I tell you this, don’t have any training and development in your organization and see what happens.

Don:    Well, that’s one way to put it.

Dr. Davis:    Perfect example, the organization I work for right now, we have a certain training that we have to train all of our team members. When team members go through that, the first thing that I always hear is, “What’s next? Where’s our next training development coming from?” So they want it. People want to grow and develop, they do.

Don:    Wow, that’s good to hear that.

Dr. Davis:    They want to grow and develop. Here’s something else where I would kind of put it back pocket. When you’re talking about talent management, and employee development, and team development, there’s a new community that’s called MOOC, have you heard of MOOC?

Don:    Yep.

Dr. Davis:    It was called Massive Open Online Communities, and that is another way in which we can enhance our employees development on the job. It’s all self directed.

Don:    Plenty of content.

Dr. Davis:    Right. Brand new content. You know about faculty, it’s very rigid too. Very rigorous.

Don:    That sounds great. Well, what is the greatest challenge you have faced, and how did you overcome it [00:24:00]? It can be professional or otherwise. It’s really designed to be helping somebody in the professional or personal situation, and what you can learn from you?

Dr. Davis:    Greatest challenge I’ve faced Don, was probably about three years ago, I believe, and I was unemployed.

Don:    Wow.

Dr. Davis:    I was unemployed, and I was unemployed standing in the unemployment line.

Don:    With a PhD.

Dr. Davis:    With a PhD, and at that time PhD stood for, “Please hire Davis.” It was also at that time where I also wrote my book. Again, reason why I wrote the book … It’s called, “Discipline Your Motivation,” at that time I could have gave up. I could’ve just had pity parties, felt sorry for myself, sat on the cash.

I kept exercising, I kept writing, kept exercising, looking for jobs, kept writing, finally published my book. People would always say, “Davis, you know you have a PhD, you’ll find a job quick.”

I believe that God does these things to strengthen us and not tear us down, so I didn’t give up. That was one of the hardest things.

The other hardest thing, a part of that was I had to move to Illinois. I left my family here. My son he was at the time five years old. Being away from my son four hours away, didn’t get to see him on the weekends. That was a time in my life that was very difficult and challenging for me, but the outcome was something fruitful which was my book. So everybody has a story.

Don:    Thank you so much Dr. Robinson. It’s been a pleasure, and I really appreciate … Can you tell them where they can learn more about you, where they can buy your book?

Dr. Davis:    Sure. You can learn more about me by going to [00:26:00] www.DavisRobinsonPhD.com. That’s where you can actually find a lot about some of the things I do. Also, if you would like to purchase the book, you can purchase the book at Amazon.com. If you do purchase the book, please write a review.

I tell people Don, my book is free, my signature costs $15.

Don:    There you go.

Dr. Davis:    So it does cost $15. So I will get that sent out to you directly from my warehouse, which is my basement.

Don:    Awesome. Talk about production. Thanks so much. And again from Don, thank you guys, and we’ll have some more of these great sessions. Thanks all.

Dr. Davis:    Thank you.

Don:    All right, so another question that I had … We often hear that talent management processes focus primarily on an organization’s top or senior management, why is that? Is this a mistake?

Dr. Davis:    I think it is a mistake. One of the reason why I believe it’s a mistake, is because most organizations, most senior level managers or executives do not know what talent management is.

Most of them, I believe, think talent management is only the acquiring of the talent, and how we retain them, and recruiting them. I don’t believe they truly have a great knowledge of what talent management is.

The piece that I believe that, that may be true … the reason why people were thing that, was simply because of the succession planning.

I think people look back towards the Jack Welch of GE, and think how he was such a pioneer and so great with his succession planning. I think that was the main thing that most organizations were looking at. Because leadership and organization is something that needs to be focused on overall. The way in which [00:28:00] some leaders acquire their positions is based on, number one, if they were technically sounds, and then number two, how long you’ve been there. You could throw in number three, “Hey, me and you, we play golf all the time.”

Don:    Who we know, right?

Dr. Davis:    Who we know. So the succession planning was, I think, primarily that piece that was focused on. Again, go back to the ATD definition. It’s a holistic approach. It’s an integrated approach, and these things have to work together in tandem. When you don’t work them together in tandem, and just focus on succession planning, you get a bad name. You don’t know really what it is, and we’re not doing it properly.

So we have to think about, first of all, let’s assess. Let’s assess for our leadership. Let’s assess for our talent. What process do we have in place? How’s our training and development system? How does that fit in with this? What are we doing with career planning? What are we doing with organizational development, performance management?

We have to see how well we’re doing with all these things. It may take an organization about five years to get to even the succession planning phase, because if you do not have the infrastructure in place for that to actually occur …

Don:    You’re not going to just go into it.

Dr. Davis:    You’re not.

Don:    Do you think it creates an “Us versus them” type of a mentality?

Dr. Davis:    Most definitely. If you’re only looking at succession planning at the top level, you’re not looking at succession planning at the middle level, or let’s go to the level below the middle, then, “What about us?” Those are the people that work … if you want to say they’re on the war field.

I was looking at a commercial last night and the commercial was a Carhart … the jackets, the clothing line Carhart … and you had this man sitting in a car and you had workers out there working in the mud and the rain, and the voiceover said, “You’ve never seen anyone build anything [00:30:00] from sitting in a car.”

The man was in the car watching those individuals actually …

Don:    Build.

Dr. Davis:    … build a thing that should have been built. The same thing goes with this succession plan and talent management thing. We have to focus all of our efforts, all of our assessment, career planning, it has to be a holistic approach for the entire organization in order for it to be effective, so it does not become a “Us against them,” it’s a we.

Don:    All right, that makes sense. Thank you for that. Appreciate it.

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