Monday, 8 February 2016

Talented or simply good?

Why do you have a talented person?

I bet you are thinking the answer is obvious? But let’s explore what it really means. In the sports arena, the aim of using a talented player is to make a difference. These are the people who can turn a game from a loss to a victory in the blink of an eye. They make a difference when it really matters most. What is also interesting is that the super players are not visible for all the game. They are often only prominent at points when they see the chance to make an impact. They also take periods of rest during the season, and it is a poor manager who wears down his talented players.
Self-check: How many of your talented people are known for making a difference at a critical time, versus, how many are very good, but not game changers?

Does it matter? Do we define ‘talent’ as ‘very good’, rather than ‘very exceptional’? If so, then many Talent schemes are simply schemes to develop very good people. Necessary, admirable, but ultimately may not produce real game changers. Why? Because the definition of talent becomes diluted. Read on.

So who is talented?

It is also interesting to note that Talent becomes internally benchmarked. I had a chat with an HRD who was proud to say that this year over 20% of the workforce were in the Talent category and top box on their talent grid. She told me that next year they would have even more people into the talent category and HQ is so pleased with them. Having met some of these people, nice as they are, they would not even get a job working for another organization I know, and where the label ‘talent’ is reserved for exceptional people. What this suggests is that ‘average for industry’ becomes internally benchmarked as ‘talented around here’.

This leads to another curious effect. Once you tell people they are talented, they believe it, and then a number of very average people are talking about their talents. They become disillusioned when they are not promoted quickly enough. Yet, often they do not look for other jobs. Why? Perhaps it is a fear of finding out that they are really only average.

Self-check: How many people are pushing for the next level because someone has told them they are talented?

How do you compare your definition of talent?

You will have developed sophisticated competency descriptions and measures to give some sense of science behind your definition of talent. Good. However, in most organizations I can find HRBPs who are confused at the list of ‘Talent’ that a line manager offers up. Many line managers do not have the time, or interest, to read the lengthy competency descriptions. They have too many doubts about people who make a difference in their business unit going unrecognized, whilst other business units with ‘inferior’ people do get recognized. Run a calibration meeting between line managers and ask them to justify their selections; there will be a lot of disagreement over perceptions of who is a talented person. Collaborate with your HRBP friends in another business – you could compare your views of talent.

Self-check: would your Talent Pool be in the talent pool in another organization?

We all know that the challenge will be competing for talented people as much as competing for customers. Be sure that you are clear on what players you sign up; exceptional goal scorers or solid performers? You need both, so know what makes the difference.

About the Author:

Nigel Murphy is director of Portfolio and Capability Development at MCE. He has a background in management in manufacturing, education and training. For the past 10 years he has worked on leadership programmes across the globe. He is interested in the mentoring of new managers and leaders, and leading remote teams of people in today’s globally dispersed businesses.


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