Human resource management, management, sensemaking

Do I need to be named as talent when I really am a talent?


Let me state it clearly from the onset: I am not against talent management per se! I feel the urge to remove any misunderstandings, because I am pretty sure that some among you will feel frustrated by what will follow soon.
Talent management has been a successful story if we judge it by the number of companies that created new roles from scratch and designed complex (and expensive) programs to nurture their talents. Practitioners in the business consulting industry, and academics profited as well from the hype around talent. Talents themselves, or presumed-to-be-talents, enjoyed the wealthiness of dozens of incentives devised for their happiness, and retention. So, what is the reason for tearing all this apart? Why should I cry wolf, instead of reinforcing the idea and maybe presenting myself as a talent management fan or supplier?
Well, a number of reasons could be find in the existing literature that departs from the happy choir and provides a more sound description of what is in it, really. Let me mention the absence of clear definitions of what talents are, the time inconsistency of talent mapping, the scant evidence of any true relation to performance (yep, there’s the McKinsey folks, with the talent war, you might argue, but surprisingly the study is so flawed, it would not be worth a dim), need anything more?
Still, companies in hundreds ran to prepare for the war, like crazy lemmings. True, we know there are people out there who you really sense to be outstanding, and I can understand that any company might like them to join, but trading that for a talent management system is not an answer.
Outstanding people do not need companies to take care of them, specifically because they are outstanding, or talents if you prefer. They work their ways through the ranks by virtue of their own ability, not because we set them on a faster route. Actually, they leave if they sense there are barriers to the accomplishment of what they are in for, more than for lack of one-to-one attention. Believe it or not, they do not need HR managers or Talent managers to take care of themselves. We should treat them as if they were start-ups, made out of a single person:
1.Remove obstacles: let them confront with peers and bosses, they are not afraid of that, but be sure that they have a way out of managers devoid of any insight;
2.Do not reward stupidity: they might get along rather well even if you do not cover them with gold, but if they sense the organization is rewarding stupidity (i.e. lack of innovation, loyalty or proneness to platitude) they will get mad at you and leave;
3.Let them put several bets at a time and accept a reasonable degree of failure: they are outstanding, but they are human as well, therefore they might run so many more projects at a time, but they still can miss some of the details, and it is useful for them, learning from failure.
Before firing your talent manager, though, remember that he might have gained the Holy Grail while attempting to target talents. Do not know what I mean? Talent managers in HR are most of the time alone in the perspective of figuring out how to align all HR practices. If you abandon talent management programs, you might find yourself in the capacity of running a tightly coupled set of HR practices and align them to the needs of your employees. So give it a try.

3 thoughts on “Do I need to be named as talent when I really am a talent?

  1. Kerry Whitaker

    Great column. I support virtually everything you’ve said. Only one suggestion–get yourself an editor. You had a lot of typos 😉

  2. Maria Francesca Bernava

    I agree with you. There’s not a clear definition of “talents” and managers are often not able to evaluate their employees. So today you migbeht a “talent”, but tomorrow you could be evaluated “poor”.

  3. I agree with many of the sentiments in these reflections. I believe that true talent manage themselves, and require environments in which they have the freedom to explore the possibilities which “switch them on” (and when these environments do not exist, or no longer exists and it changes on them, they opt out and leave on their own accord – because true talent will always find opportunities somewhere in the world) … they do not need to be ‘specially managed’. What I notice in organisational life is the ‘romaticisation of the ordinary’, and calling that real talent. Real talented individuals are self-driven, internally motivated and typically (but not always) do not enjoy being over/micro-managed.

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