The Talent Ring: Choose—Grow—Inspire

When you view the choosing, growing, and inspiring of talent as a game without a finish line, meant to be repeated over and over again, you begin to develop a culture that will define your company brand well into the future.

In 2021, we will see yet another chapter in the Lord of the Rings adventure when Amazon Prime releases a new mini-series. The first of the books, The Hobbit, was published nearly a century ago, yet interest in the fictional land of Middle Earth continues to endure. Foundational to the narratives are the characters, or, for our purposes, the talent. In my industry—physical and systems security—and likely also in your industry, talent is foundational. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” emphasized this point when he said, “People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”

In the stories by J.R.R Tolkien, a ring is a central element, signifying great and mysterious powers (mostly evil). In the talent journey, there is, much like a ring, a continual process or flow. Therefore, it is worth taking a few minutes to explore how we choose, grow, and inspire talent in what can be described as an infinite talent ring (only this one is for good, not evil).

The professional security sector is growing exponentially and the need for security industry talent is vital. The Freedonia Group, an international business research team, reports that global security service revenues are forecast to rise 3.6 percent per year to $263 billion in 2024. How can we keep the flourishing security workforce ready and able to take on the daily challenges they face in divergent sectors across multiple industries in many different countries? The answers in my industry are likely no different than in your own. Choosing, growing, and inspiring talent are the framework of any vibrant organization.


“The world is changed.” —Galadriel

The heart and soul of the security industry are the nation’s security professionals. These include officers, supervisors, technicians, managers, and executives. They all assume leadership roles—sometimes with lifesaving ramifications—at facilities across the world. Security professionals act as the first line of defense against civil unrest, violence, and terrorist attacks, while also adding to the customer or visitor experience through concierge-like activities. Due to the aforementioned industry growth, choosing new employees at every level is arguably the most important step in our talent ring.

Galadriel rightly observed Middle Earth as “changed,” and so, too, has our world. While the pandemic has created many job losses in various sectors, the security industry has been onboarding tens of thousands of people to their ranks. This has required organizations to pivot in both strategy and tactics. While some geographic markets are hosting in-person career days at their regional offices, hiring events also have included socially distant protocols such as “drive-through” career days, with hiring managers meeting up with prospects as they drive up to the parking lot.

In addition, while gaining some steam pre-pandemic, technology enhancements in the hiring and onboarding process rocketed to the forefront of the strategy for many organizations. Examples of tools that have been supercharged over the last 12 to 18 months include automated applicant contact and initial screening, video interviewing, and artificial intelligence-enabled new hire surveys.

Choosing talent also includes how to select the best talent through legal and effective means. This requires training of anyone in a hiring role. Teaching leaders to choose wisely requires clarity in five areas:

  • Define what “top talent” is for each position: Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player and coach, once quipped that “if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” So, too, with your choice of talent. If you have not made clear what qualities, experiences, traits, and abilities define excellence in a role, you will end up with something other than excellence.
  • Clarify who is responsible for choosing: Back to Jim Collins for a moment. In the aforementioned book, “Good to Great,” he makes clear that the leader is responsible for who gets on their “bus” (team). If you want a manager to own the results, let that person own decisions related to who goes with them on the journey.
  • Remind leaders why choosing talent is so important: When asked, most leaders of people are quickly able to recall a hiring mistake. When asked to reflect upon the negative impact of that poor hiring decision, leaders recognize the value in avoiding a similar situation. Conversely, when asked to recall the benefits of the selection of a top talent employee, leaders are quickly reminded of the desire to replicate the situation.
  • Explore where leaders find the best talent: The best way to start this discussion is to ask the leader where and how they found the most recent top talent. Often, that talent was developed internally or the person came from a trusted source. On this point, remind leaders to embrace the value of a diverse pool of candidates for selection.
  • Train leaders on how to choose talent: Most leaders believe employee selection to be a strength, yet often history and results tell a different story. Leaders need training on how to select top talent legally and effectively. According to Gallup research, 80 percent of turnover is the result of poor hiring decisions. Training might include the basics of employment law, properly managing an interview, and effective interview questions.


“There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself.” —Gandalf

The security services industry has advanced greatly, thanks to the recognition that training and leadership are crucial to executing often complex missions at diverse locations throughout the world. Security professionals are a vital part of a facility or community’s safety and security—working in conjunction with local law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical responders. Therefore, growth in the security sector demands that employees are continuously prepared to occupy the next rung on the leadership ladder.

At large companies, we may be challenged with ensuring that all employees are fully supported with the optimal learning tools and guidance required to be successful in their current roles while also preparing them for future development and growth. Our learning culture has developed within the framework of leadership support; the creation of programs aligned to support client objectives; and the deployment of learning technology designed to make learning opportunities flexible and accessible to all.

HR and Training professionals often speak of potential. “This person has high potential.” “That person does not.” The truth is, everyone has potential. Now, not everyone has aspiration for more. And that is OK. What is not OK, is when organizations, or better, leaders, do not look for and encourage employees to adopt the proper development mindset. Identifying what development employees should be leaning in to provides guidance for both the leader and the employee.

As a learning organization, we lean in to three specific areas of development:

  • Safety Mindset: More than anything, we want to help our employees work and live safely. Our business may be security, but security does not happen without first developing a safety mindset. We also know that training impacts Workers’ Compensation claims costs. So if every employee develops a keen awareness of safety within their environment, we will provide a better service, have healthier employees, and save on unnecessary expenditures. Good for the client. Good for the employee. Good for the business.
  • Service Mindset: The #1 concern from raving fan customers is often the same as the #1 complaint for unsatisfied customers: employee performance. In the service industry, every moment matters and every interaction leads to a reaction—positive or negative. By instilling a service-first mindset in all employees at all levels, we not only serve customers well, we also serve each other well.
  • Growth Mindset: Much has been said about Dr. Carol Dweck’s research into the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Much like Emotional Intelligence, growth mindset can be developed. When Gandalf speaks of Bilbo, he, the leader, sees potential, or growth. Bilbo begins the journey in a fixed mindset, but gradually shifts to a growth mindset. How? His leader challenged him along the way, not letting him sink but also not pulling him out the moment Bilbo thought he might drown. Gandalf used a healthy mix of the big three that most learning experts know well: training, coaching, and experiences. When employees shift to a growth mindset, they are more likely to stay with the organization, adding increasingly more value to customers, employees, and co-workers.


“The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.” —Faramir

When leaders are positioned to inspire the workforce, the benefits will be seen by the employees, the organization, and the customer base. Inspiration leads to engagement, which leads to retention (employee and client), which drives value to every stakeholder. So how does an organization go about inspiring the workforce? A clear employee-focused vision of career planning combined with consistent recognition are two key levers.

Employees want to see the possibilities when they are part of an organization. Career planning is best designed as a shared responsibility between employee and organization. However, the organization should take the lead on creating the vision. A great place to start is by weaving the vision into your employee value proposition during the recruiting process. Then, develop more clarity during the onboarding of each new employee. Next, during the talent management lifecycle within your organization, build in components of this vision to include employee feedback, supervisor feedback, and specific shared development plans to achieve the vision.

The second lever to inspiration, recognition, is the fuel that helps drive the vision. In The Two Towers, the second in the LOTR trilogy, there is a dialogue with a fair amount of tension. One of the characters of noble lineage, Faramir, is recognized for his actions by Samwise Gamgee, faithful friend to Frodo Baggins. Upon receiving the lavish praise, Faramir responds to Samwise, “The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”

Several lessons from the interaction between these two characters captured my attention:

  • Leaders are praiseworthy: In a position of authority (by title or, in the case of Samwise, by their actions), they know that the true value of the recognition they give derives only from the strength of their own character.
  • Leaders are timely: In making their gratitude clear when they experience an act worthy of recognition, they do not delay.
  • Leaders are sincere: While the culture has wrongly taught that recognition must equal some extrinsic reward, they know that the emotional stimulus of a heartfelt word of praise has a much longer shelf-life.
  • Leaders are humble: Any response to praise is marked by genuine humility.

Sustained Success

“Either go through or give up your quest. There are no safe paths.” —Gandalf

New journeys and adventures are just around every Misty Mountain. The steps in the “Talent Ring” are not easy. However, the organization with the best talent will have the most sustained success in what Simon Sinek wisely refers to as “The Infinite Game.” When you view the choosing, growing, and inspiring of talent as a game without a finish line, meant to be repeated over and over again, you begin to develop a culture that will define your company brand well into the future.

Brent O'Bryan
Brent O’Bryan, SPHR and SHRM-SCP, is senior vice president, Training & Organizational Effectiveness at Allied Universal. He has more than two decades of experience recruiting, hiring, managing, coaching, and developing employees at all levels for Allied Universal and holds a BA in Psychology and an MSA in Human Resource Management. He can be reached at: Allied Universal, a leading global security and facility services company, employs more than 800,000 people with revenues exceeding $18 billion. Additional information is available at: