The Talent Grid - online



Being able to challenge and being organisation sensitive

"The Talent Grid"

Recognising leadership potential is no easy matter. It is one of the major research subjects in management literature. At this site you will find a description of the Talent Grid. What does this model have to add? It is an accessible and simple theory, which has evolved from practical experience. The model has proved to be one that is easy to use by both professionals and management for the selection, assessment and development of talent. The added value of the Talent Grid lies primarily in the fact that it provides the opportunity for communicating in one 'language' on the issue of management qualities. By placing the Talent Grid on the Internet, the authors wish not only to make the theory available to the public at large, but also to invite readers to respond. With the addition of supplementary insights, the model can grow further.

The text of this site was the basis of an article that appeared in "Gids voor Personeelsmanagement (Personnel Management guide)" (July/August 1999).

About the authors:
Mr N.F.C. Willems and Mr R.A. Beelen are partners in Career Openers, talent agents for the elite of the labour market for young managers. They have experience in career counseling, recruiting and selection at AT&T, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical and HBG.


(The words he, his and him, can also be read as she, her and hers.)


© 1999 Career Openers


"It involves insight into the relationship between personal interests and the interests of others."

Talent Agents

The authors are the founders of Career Openers, an organisation that is changing the roles in the labour market. In their opinion, a vacancy is not the starting point for a perfect match, but the competencies of high potential are. The talent agents guide top talent, with a number of years' experience, in their second or third career move, mainly to multinationals. However, before Career Openers is willing to act as a personal broker, candidates have to pass a stringent selection process. This process is used to identify the profile of, what they call, the innovator. This article describes the development of a model used to predict the potential for higher management functions, based on research conducted among a number of multinationals. In addition to selection, the model can also be applied in personnel development and planning.

Head and shoulders above the rest

We have been caught off balance searching for the profile of high potential for a long time. In the development of our ideas we were continuously led to new discoveries, as our original assumptions regarding the potential top manager were repeatedly proven incorrect. The following factors, in particular, were responsible for this process.

  • The core value of good leadership has always been that a leader rises above others and gives them direction.
  • In the past decade, social developments have significantly changed labour relations. The merging new production concepts have resulted in a shift from complex organisations made up of simple tasks, to simple organisations with complex tasks. Functions and teams are becoming increasingly self-managed, requiring a more coaching (softer) leadership style.
  • At an organisational level, it is also becoming clear that the environments of organisations are less stable. Therefore, it is increasingly important that organisations have the ability to innovate and adapt to these changes.

In search of a solution for a conclusive model for the recognition of management potential, we collected information on the characteristics used to select young executives and assess management potential from large organisations in the Netherlands. The companies involved in this study included ABN AMRO, Ahold, Campina Melkunie, Centraal Beheer, Coca-Cola, Friesland Coberco, General Electric, Hollandsche Beton Groep, Heineken, KLM, KPN Telecom, Mars, Phillips, Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee, TPG, Unilever and others. We subsequently used the lists of personal and behavioural characteristics, supplemented with interviews, in an attempt to compile groups of characteristics that logically belong together. This was done in the hope that more general dimensions would emerge from the data.


© 1999 Career Openers


"The informal organisation has become a coordination mechanism in itself."

Driven to change

An analysis of the collected data showed that a profile of high potential could be compiled by plotting two relatively simple dimensions in a coordinate system, creating a grid with four ideal-typical profiles. The axes were labelled agreeableness and organisational sensitivity. The agreeableness dimension was placed on the x-axis of the model. The concept is derived from the Big Five theory. (Howard, P.J. & Howard, D.J.M. Within our model, in which we gave a slightly different meaning to this concept, it is defined as the extent to which someone is willing to adapt their own opinion to those of others. A person, who displays a high degree of agreeableness, is called an adapter. The behavioural characteristics of such a person include the ability to adapt and cooperate. It is the commitment to a goal, without any direct personal benefit. At the other end of the scale is the challenger, whose behavioural characteristics include, in particular, ambition, independence, courage and initiative. Adapters can easily adjust their opinions to those of others. Challengers are particularly focussed on realising their own opinions, ideas and suggestions in preference to those of others. Challengers are driven to change the status quo - they want to make a difference


Agreeableness in behavioural characteristics:

Our findings lead us to conclude that people with management potential usually display challenger behaviour. This is also confirmed by a variety of studies. Ambition, vision and dominance appear to be important in predicting success in management functions.

Being right or being seen as being right

In today's labour relations situation, being right is completely different to being seen as being right. Social developments have resulted in organisations becoming much more informal. The breakdown of formal employee-employer relationships has created new leadership challenges and opportunities. As far as the management of change and innovations is concerned, the informal organisation has become a coordination mechanism in itself for managers. Interviews with companies confirmed that, in addition to a focus on content, a process-focussed approach is required from managers. This involves the ability to influence both subordinates and superiors informally.
Therefore, it is important to know how someone relates to the drive to challenge his or her environment to change. Does he or she succeed in creating a support structure? In other words, how do challengers attempt to achieve their goals of change within the organisation? For this reason, the x-axis, agreeableness, intersects the y-axis representing the organisational sensitivity dimension. Someone with a high organisational sensitivity score understands the interdependencies and the various interests, opinions and viewpoints of his (informal) relevant colleagues and adapts his behaviour to these aspects when necessary. Such a person understands the relationship between personal interests and the interests of other parts of the organisation and recognises the influence and effects of personal decisions and activities on other sections of the organisation.

Organisational sensitivity in behavioural characteristics:

The Asset, the Competitor, the Facilitator and Innovator

The resulting coordinate model distinguishes four different behavioural typologies: the asset, the competitor, the facilitator and the innovator. The four types can be categorised in this Talent Grid as shown in Figure 3. All four ideal types have their own value, given the specific organisational and functional context.

'The 'Talent Grid'


© 1999 Career Openers

"Many young managers achieve low scores in organisational sensitivity."

The asset
The asset is an adapter with a low organisational sensitivity score, who operates from the viewpoint of others and can adapt himself to it. He values an open and honest atmosphere and friendship in the workplace, avoids conflict and prefers to be responsible for a demarcated field, without too many functional relationships and interdependencies. The asset often prefers to have a function dedicated to one project or topic, and wants to do his job properly. Although he is not automatically cooperative, he can be stimulated to this end. The asset is often a member of a group, and (under social pressure) can be a follower on occasion. He is sometimes told to be more assertive. In brief, the asset is not the puzzler, but the puzzle piece. In many, or perhaps most, functions within organisations, an asset can be of great value. Assets can be the cork keeping the organisation afloat. It is important that they feel a bond with the organisation (loyalty to the organisation).

The competitor
The competitor is positioned next to the asset and is a challenger with a low organisational sensitivity score. As the term implies, the competitor looks for a challenge. He prefers to pursue his own views, is ambitious and is driven by innovation, improvement, progress and end results. He identifies opportunities and acts accordingly. He is the leader in a debate and is always the first to come up with ideas and solutions. The competitor is convinced of his own abilities and wants to convince others. He tends not to be influenced by others, and enjoys large responsibilities and freedom. He will sometimes actively initiate authority conflicts. As he often relies too much on his own opinions, it does happen that he is alone in his position as front-runner. He is often told that he should listen to others more, give them credit for their opinions and should act less like a bull in a china shop.

The facilitator
The facilitator is an adapter with a high organisational sensitivity score, who regards the input of others of primary import. He has a lot to offer with regard to processes. He recognises and knows the emotions, interests and needs of other sections and members of the organisation. The facilitator has a network of contacts in which he operates like a spider in his web, enabling the processes of change and cooperation to run more smoothly. He ensures efficiency and emphasises the common interests. The facilitator, in contrast to the competitor, does not provoke resistance. He does not act in a calculated manner and doesn't like working with a hidden agenda, but values honesty. He is a good team member: he can devote himself to something, regardless of whether he derives personal benefits or achieves personal goals. The facilitator conforms to the policy of the organisation and does everything possible to maintain a good atmosphere in the workplace.

The innovator
The innovator is the last of the four types, and is a challenger with a high organisational sensitivity score. This ambitious type strives for the realisation of his own ideas. The innovator is driven by innovation, improvement, progress and end results. He has no problem in gaining support for his suggestions, as he can influence his colleagues to become enthusiastic about his plans. He is tenacious and will continue to work until a plan is actually realised. The innovator identifies and makes use of opportunities. Unlike the competitor, the innovator does not ignore the emotions, interests and needs of others. He anticipates and adapts his behaviour to the situation. He studies the goals and interests of others and tries to adapt his arguments to these goals and interests. The innovator emphasises common interests, but acts in a calculated manner. In conflict situations he adapts his behaviour to such an extent that the set aim is achieved. In order to gain and maintain acceptance, he can display behaviour that resembles adapter behaviour. However, he is quite able to tolerate conflict situations and even create or (temporarily) maintain them if necessary. Innovators often look for positions, projects or tasks requiring contact with many parts of the organisation and/or managers in higher hierarchical positions.

Innovators are rare

The innovator has the profile required in higher management positions. However, the innovator is also the rarest profile. In practice we see that most people display socially acceptable tolerating and accommodating behaviour, they have asset or facilitator profiles. The young executives with high ambition and (social) courage scores, often still lack organisational sensitivity. In practise they seem to have the potential of growing into the innovator profile. In order to develop organisational sensitivity, good coaching in the early years of their career often seems to be invaluable.


© 1999 Career Openers

"An innovator adapts his behaviour to others, not his goals."

In practice the following examples of ideal type behaviour of the asset, competitor, facilitator and innovator can be recognised.

Dealing with conflict:



© 1999 Career Openers

"Ambition and risk-taking are not easy to develop, but organisational sensitivity often is."

Practical use

The Talent Grid has a variety of practical applications. In assessing potential, the grid can help to determine the directions of development of (future) managers. It can also contribute to an objective approach to the discussion of comparing people, for example in personnel planning and promotion issues. It can be used as a general indication of differences between people (the axes), but also to identify the finer differences (in terms of behaviour) between people. Determining the behavioural characteristics makes it possible to approach the dimensions in an objective and measurable fashion. The manager can form a good impression of his (future) employee through criteria-based interviews and observations. The STAR methodology is often used in this interviewing technique. By posing specific questions on practical examples and specific situations, tasks, activities and results (S.T.A.R.) within those examples, quite accurate conclusions can be drawn regarding the competencies of the applicant or employee. The point is to collect examples of proven past behaviour as a prediction of future behaviour.

Applicability in selection and development

It appears in practice that the behavioural characteristics, which make someone a challenger, are not easy to develop. Seegers confirm this: "Ambition and drive are inherent in your character, if you do not have these characteristics, they are not easy to develop. Vision is intelligence, intellectual ability, and therefore also not easy to train" (P-pers 1998, 3; In contrast, organisational sensitivity is much easier to develop. This means that a competitor can develop into an innovator, while this is far more difficult for the facilitator. Therefore, in the selection of high potentials, it can be recommended that strict selection be done on agreeableness. As long as the candidate has the ability to empathise, it is quite possible to teach organisational sensitivity by specific coaching and training.
The Talent Grid also contains recommendations for the development of management talent. In practice, we often see a competitor, who encounters insurmountable obstacles, become frustrated and eventually want to learn from this experience. He is often told and advised to admit that others are right more often, and to be more flexible in conceding to the wishes of others. It comes down to the fact that the competitor is asked to display more asset behaviour. The competitor then (literally) looks in the wrong direction. Instead of becoming more agreeable, the competitor should actually develop organisational sensitivity.


© 1999 Career Openers