Home > Articles > Business & Management > Human Resources

Important vs. Critical Talent: What if the Beatles Had Been a Company?

This chapter from Talent Valuation: Accelerate Market Capitalization through Your Most Important Asset introduces the key concept in the book: that it is critical to rigorously identify specific areas of intellectual capital that drive the most value in your company, and refocus HR accordingly.
This chapter is from the book
  • Connecting goals, critical success factors, and results
  • Jobs that are important but not critical
  • Allocating limited resources in a high impact way

I have to begin with a short story, before getting to the Beatles, about the evolution of a mindset: my mindset on talent. It’s a story about Coca-Cola and Germany during the fall of the Berlin Wall and a mid-career CPA from Ohio. The experience I had in Germany with Coke, before ever having been in an HR role, set in motion a series of experiences that led me to an entirely new perspective about the value of talent to organizations operating in our modern economy.

Leading the Finance organization in 1993 at Coca-Cola’s German Division, one of the company’s largest businesses outside the U.S., I was tapped to pilot a new enterprise business model that was being tested in a few locations around the world. The intent of the enterprise model was to bring focus to the factors most critical to achieving the company’s stated goals and to document in detail how the work required by each of those critical factors was performed. By understanding these elements, we could make better decisions to evolve structure, close gaps, streamline work, and invest in the organization and information systems.

I had just spent nearly three years as part of the management team that rapidly invested half a billion dollars in the former East Germany, and we had captured a clear lead in the non-alcoholic beverage market. We were successful in part because of the infrastructure we already had on the ground in West Germany. Our scale and resources in the West were a clear advantage, as were our relationships with key customers who also wanted to develop the East, and our production capabilities, particularly in one-way packages.

On the other hand, our organization was rigid. For example, the people on my finance team had been in the same roles for an average of 19 years. They were very, very good at what they did, but not so good at what they didn’t do. We had unlimited opportunity in the East, but our organization’s flexibility was limited. Our German organization needed a way to evolve but was culturally change-adverse. For these reasons, we were an ideal choice to pilot a model that facilitated structural change and did so by involving people and connecting to business outcomes.

A key aspect of the model required us to rank critical success factors according to their importance to achieving business goals. Critical success factors (CSFs), defined as those things that must be done well in order for the business to succeed, generally ran along organization lines (for example, the marketing organization). Sometimes however, multiple functions in the organization might contribute to achieving a particular CSF, depending on the work required. It was a humbling, yet revealing, experience to discover that financial management ended up near the bottom of the ranking among 16 CSFs in terms of importance to achieving our company goals. Of course all CSFs are “critical,” but some are just more critical and value adding than others. Enhancing the Coke trademark, to no one’s surprise, out-ranked financial management as a factor critical to success.

At that time, I had been a member of Coke’s Finance team for 11 years and found this conclusion disconcerting and almost embarrassing. However, the analysis made it crystal clear that this was indeed the case. It followed that although everyone in the organization was important (myself included, I hoped), certain people were in roles that, by design, contributed significantly more value than others as defined by their relative impact on achieving the company’s goals. The more value-adding roles of course were concentrated in those parts of the organization that drove the highest-ranking critical success factors.

The outcome of this experience was the objective, even inarguable, conclusion that some roles are more valuable to the business than others. But that is a difficult position for many to adopt. Even my reaction to learning how low Finance ranked—one of near-embarrassment—indicates how deeply-seated our idea of equality and fairness is to the culture of work.

Which brings us to the Beatles.

In search of a way to remove the sociological barriers to thinking about talent and equality, the Fab Four popped into my mind as a way to objectively achieve that end. The rock-and-roll band that changed the world of music forever in just eight years and sold more than 600 million records certainly did not do all of that work alone. There were managers, producers, recording engineers, and even the guitar tuners.

Imagine how many times guitars needed to be tuned over the course of hundreds of live concerts. There is no doubt that the role of guitar tuner was essential to the band’s sound and brand. In fact, the tuner may have technically been a better guitar player than any one of the Beatles themselves. But they weren’t a Beatle. John, Paul, George and Ringo were. And although it is a very important job and not an easy one to do, there are probably tens of thousands of people in the world that would have been qualified to professionally tune a guitar. And certainly, the band greatly appreciated and valued their skill and service. But for the Beatles as a business, critical success factors centered on performing, song writing, music distribution, and public relations.

Certainly, the fellows who so expertly tuned the guitars would not have kept their jobs for long if they hadn’t fit in well with the rest of the Beatles’ crew, didn’t get the job done expertly and on time, and couldn’t be relied on to help make the whole venture work. I assume they got paid at least as well as others who did similar work; in fact, it is likely they worked, as needed, for multiple client bands. I guess you could say the same for all the individuals who packed and moved and unpacked the Beatles equipment as well. They all were important in the same way I was important as a Finance leader at Coke.

I definitely felt important as a newly minted CPA when I first joined Coca-Cola in 1982. It was a dream company for me; plenty of things to be proud of and everyone always seemed to enjoy hearing about “how Coca-Cola was doing.” What a great company to be associated with! But realistically, what I did was important although not really unique in any particular way. I wasn’t tasked with inventing a lot of intellectual capital or things investors would ultimately pay a lot of money for. My role was important, but a whole lot of people could probably have done my job. The fact remains, if someone else had done my job and performed either 25% better or 25% worse than me over all those years, the impact on the price of the stock would have been negligible in either case.

That is not to say that my job was not important, that it did not have to be done well, that I was overpaid, or that performing 25% better than average wasn’t a good idea. But I trusted—even took for granted—that others in the organization would ensure Coca-Cola’s relevance to consumers, that we would continue to innovate (Diet Coke, Fruitopia, Power-aide, Simply Juices, and Coke Zero were all introduced during my tenure) and that we would outpace our competitors. I had no doubt that McDonald’s would continue to serve only Coca-Cola products and remain our largest single customer in the world.

All of this was worth its weight in gold to me at cocktail parties and weekend neighborhood barbecues. If the people behind all of those efforts couldn’t sustain and grow the business, it could severely damage my valuable social currency. On a subtler note, I hadn’t believed that my comrades in the Finance organization, despite their best efforts, could have had the same impact on the value of stock in my IRA and, eventually, my stock options as those creating the magic with brands and consumers. Supporting their work from a financial standpoint was well worth it to me.

Still, in spite of all I experienced and the objective analysis I eventually led in Germany, I can understand how difficult it is for business leaders, particularly Human Resource professionals, to think about some roles (and the people in them) as being more valuable than others. So rather than over-investing in the acquisition and retention of these key skills, organizations typically opt to spread limited resources equally across the organization. Examples abound:

  • One HR Business Partner per function or per “x” number of employees
  • One approach to recruiting across disparate disciplines
  • One set of salary ranges by job level across varied functions
  • Every employee participating in the same type of onboarding, training, and performance management efforts

A dramatic cultural change must take place for businesses to strategically connect investment in people with value creation.

All people are equally as important as individuals, but some are more critical to the business by virtue of the roles they play now and will play in the future. Given the importance of human capital to the valuation of businesses, the people strategy has to be focused on these roles to drive the most value.

Think about it: If the Beatles had been a typical company, everyone associated with the band (the roadies, producers, marketers, and the musicians themselves) would have received the same general approach to compensation, training, performance reviews, and so on. George and Ringo would have received engagement surveys, and their opinions about how well things were going would have carried the same weight as the guitar tuners’. And if Paul had quit, they might have just posted the job in the same way they might have advertised for a stage hand. With an equal approach to everyone and everything, the entire company would never have survived the Rolling Stones.

Back in Germany in 1993, we set out to understand how our most important goals were achieved by connecting critical success factors to the organization and, ultimately, to specific roles. The logic of this model stuck with me, and I had the opportunity years later to begin connecting the dots between financial value and talent decisions in a bigger and more measurable way when leading Global Talent Acquisition at Coke.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020