You just came out of your strategy review session with wind at your back.  Your growth strategy was approved by the top bananas.  They like your plan to move aggressively into emerging markets, and to target small acquisitions to expand into new product areas. 

“Go for it,” they say– just make it happen! As you are celebrating with your team, you step back, look around the table and are hit by a jolt of cold reality.  Can this team deliver on the promise?  Is there anyone well suited to lead the emerging market strategy?  Who can sniff out M&A targets, negotiate complex acquisitions, and manage the integration process?

Any team leader must periodically ask, “Does the current team match the strategy?“

This means evaluating your current talent against the demands of a new business plan.  You need to see if any serious gaps exist and if so, systematically address them.  Even in highly competitive business markets, few leaders handle this well.  It isn’t always easy to align your talent and business strategy.  Shaking up an existing team can be emotionally taxing and damaging to morale.  The best you can do is to follow a disciplined approach when realigning your team:

Honestly map your talent needs to the new strategy or plan.

A pharmaceutical team leader created a simple chart to illustrate major areas of change from current to future state needed to execute their new plans.  One move was from focusing primarily on the physician customer to focusing more on the payer. For this particular shift, they listed the main implications for talent.  It led them to include people who know how to work well with managed care payers like governments or insurance companies.  Through this kind of systematic mapping, the leader identified experience and skills gaps plus the talent changes required for each element of their strategy.

Identify those few critical roles that will make or break success.

A common mistake is to view all team roles as equally critical to executing the strategy.  Another is to equate people’s importance to project success to where they rank in the hierarchy.  The team leader in the opening example embarked on an aggressive growth strategy in emerging markets with gusto.  The GM role proved most critical to this goal, especially for business units in Asia and Latin America, so this got special attention.  Top talent should always be allocated to the most critical roles for the strategy to succeed. The pharmaceutical company mentioned above put a laser focus on five key roles and heavily invested development resources in those critical areas. 

Define the top capabilities needed for success in those roles.

Be crystal clear about the capabilities for future success.  If growth in emerging markets is the top priority, fostering a global mindset and acquiring local experience become essential.  If the new strategy requires a matrix structure, then collaboration and managing across boundaries become paramount.  So, take the roles from the previous step and design role profiles for each of them.  Then spec out the experiences, skills, values and other attributes that matter most for each role.

Assess skill gaps and find talent internally or externally.

Knowing which roles and skills are mission-critical is a good start, but the next step is even more crucial.  Take an objective hard look at your current people and ask how well they fit the evolving criteria for each role. For the above example, are they sufficiently global, strategic or collaborative?  Use assessment tools like our The Strategic Aptitude Assessment  as well as others, targeted at future capabilities.  This will help surface gaps.  Next, identify and invest in developing the needed talent across the organization to fill those gaps.  Also, look outside since new strategies often require different mindsets and skills that are easier to buy than build.

Offer training, leadership support and incentives.

The right talent is necessary, but may not be sufficient.  Groom and support your talent.  Create targeted training programs since they can be a powerful catalyst for transformation and development.  Be mindful, however, that their degree of success is often proportionate to the level of senior management ownership, involvement and support.  Engage executives to mentor and coach new leaders in key roles.  Periodically send strong messages and design incentives to support the behaviors tied to strategic success.

This article was co-authored with Steve Krupp, CEO of Decision Strategies International.