Many managers think their organisation can’t retain its best talent, doesn’t do enough with the talent it has, and doesn’t deal with underperformance. On the other hand, consultants talk about "the war for talent", while others point to the credit crunch and leaders who steered their organisations and the rest of us to near doom.
Should talent management be about differentially managing high or low talent? Or bringing to bear some key practices to attract, engage, coach and develop the best of all talent?
Didn’t everyone (not just HR) say they were talented? Not surprisingly, organisations are asking searching questions about their talent systems and leadership models, the links between their strategy, organisation design and people development, and asking whether their talent pools match their markets and the 3Gs of diversity (gender, geography and generation).
MBA students instantly engage with these debates. They are potentially ‘high-value managers’. They have experience in several organisations and know who manages talent well and who does not.
But do they really understand the challenges HR functions face in coming up with a good system?
Rarely. My solution is to give them the task of designing a system they believe is right for their organisation, then revealing the assumptions upon which it is based.
Here is our teaser for the day: should talent management be about differentially managing high or low talent? Or bringing to bear some key practices to attract, engage, coach and develop the best of all talent? Is it more to do with identifying those positions or business units that are pivotal to your strategy, and designing the roles and investments properly?
It is all of these things, and each approach solves a different problem. In this column I have space to discuss just one problem – deciding who is talented or not.
To keep the system in balance, you need managers to distribute their people across broad quotas, making sure a certain number of them is scored low
On the surface, leading organisations use the same ‘technology’. When categorising business functions, strategists separated them into the stars, cash cows, problem children and dogs. One way of thinking about talent management uses the same principles. It categorises people on a matrix of high and low performance and potential.
The language is a little more politically correct, but the idea is basically the same. But to keep the system in balance, you need managers to distribute their people across broad quotas, making sure a certain number of them is scored low.
That is when the first cracks in the system appear. "But I’m really good with my people and my people are all really good… Don’t force me to distribute my scores." Many an article has debated the pros and cons of forced rankings.
Another question is whether your system measures something useful. Consider this quick exercise. You have 100 points to allocate across different sorts of ‘evidence’ that someone is talented and uses that talent well. You can give up to 100 points to any of the following – as long as the total across all four adds up to 100. How many points would you give to the following:
1 The person has the appropriate skills, behaviours and competences (their human capital).
2 They are connected to the right people and information, have a good network and know the right people to be able to get things done (their social capital).
3 They are known by those in the know for being able to turn things into success (their political or reputational capital).
4 Intellectually they understand all the relevant business models your organisation might pursue and are aware of the consequences each one entails (business model or intellectual capital).
What were your scores? Does the HR director have a similar view, your colleagues, those who think they should be in the talent pool? It is not easy to get it right.