16 Jun Talent Mismanagement
“People are born with talent and everywhere it is in chains. Fail to develop the talents of any one person, we fail Britain. Talent is 21st century wealth.” This quotation is taken from Tony Blair’s Labour Party Conference Speech in Bournemouth UK, in 1999. It opens chapter one of “The Mismanagement of Talent” (Oxford University Press), a provocative forthcoming book by British HR researchers Anthony Hesketh, Phillip Brown and Sara Williams.
The main focus of their research was on how university graduates managed their employability in the competition for ‘fast track’ managerial positions, specifically, large multi-national companies or leading public sector organizations, offering extensive training with the expectation of accelerated promotion into middle and senior management positions.
The book attacks many founts of conventional wisdom that dominate government social and education polices and corporate talent management strategies. A primary target of their critique is the “War for Talent” mindset that they assert is based on vestigial thinking associated with outmoded ideas about the limited pool of ability that contradicts much of the corporate rhetoric about corporate innovation and cultural diversity.
The authors assert that the major problem confronting organizations today is not the limited pool of managerial talent that restrict the potential for business development or public service, but how to educate, select and develop the wealth of talent now entering the job market with close to two decades of formal education. The real war for talent is not attracting and retaining the best and brightest few but how to make better use of the wealth of talent that is now being produced. Most corporations are doing a poor job in the view of the authors.
The book sheds startling insights on the warped rationale behind many corporate human resource strategies and how companies attempt to recruit managers and leaders of the future. It takes to task a key tenet of the War for Talent ideology that only a small proportion of talent in organizations generates the bulk of the economic value and performance. This encourages elitism within companies in which resources and attention are lavished on the so-called high potentials, while the rest the organization is expected to make do. Those at the top and in the high-potential pool don’t want to dilute their elite status and thus have a vested interest in keeping the talent caste system in effect. Also by betting so much on so few, it makes it difficult for those doing the recruitment and selection of new hires to take any risks – they take the safe route by choosing people with the same personal and cultural backgrounds as those currently in senior manager positions.
The book argues that the War for Talent mentality still permeating many organizations encourages them to look for their salvation in astute hiring decisions in the wider job market rather than through the development of those people already in their organization. According to the authors, “This reflects the disease of short-termism, where the emphasis is on the maximization of share holder value, rather than building competitive sustainability. It encourages the view that there is no time to cultivate anything, including what they espouse as their most precious asset – people. These approaches are totally blind to much of what is important to organizations such as integrity, trust and loyalty.” Amen.
Another intriguing finding of the research is the vagueness with which corporations define talent. Many rely on competency models which tend to produce either lists of generic behaviors that are hard to pin down and gauge or complex skill descriptions that are unwieldy to use. In either case, the authors assert that the use of these models measures the individual ingredients of talent but not how they are applied. They liken talent to a cake, “The sum is not only greater than the parts, but also qualitatively different from any of the basic ingredients.”
It sounds to me like most corporate executives would rather stop at Krispy Kreme on the way in than bake their own cake from scratch. Could you pass me the Rolaids?
Tony DiRomualdo is a business researcher, writer, and advisor with Next Generation Consulting. He works at the intersection of people, business strategy, and information technology to help companies create a committed and high performance workforce. Tony can be reached at email@example.com.
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