Why isn’t talent management working?
For years, companies have believed in and attempted to harness the power of ‘talent’. Talent management is regularly cited by leaders as one of their top priorities, but little seems to change in the approach or impact of our time-consuming and well-intended efforts.
Over the years, I have seen excitement and enthusiasm for talent management turn to apathy: organisations and leaders, with great positive intent, end up going through the motions of a process that delivers little in terms of results or fulfilment. In search of a solution, companies tweak what is already flawed and outdated.
Our business, technology and socio-economic environment is changing at an unprecedented pace and yet we are still applying the same people practices and expecting a different result. This is madness!
What is it that is broken? There are many factors that contribute to this, depending on the organisation. However, there is one prevailing characteristic of how talent is managed, that I think could be the key to reinvigorating this crucial area of business management. Before we explore that, consider your own experiences…
If you have ever been labelled ‘talent’, how did it feel and what did it achieve? For me, I found it a mixed experience: elation from being valued and seen as having potential; followed by uncertainty and a lack of understanding of what I was actually supposed to be good at; followed later by disillusionment as some of the approaches taken to nurture my talent (whatever it was) left me feeling disappointed, exposed or overworked.
So why, when everyone agrees this is so important, are we not getting it right??
I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer. Instead, I have some observations from my work in a variety of different industries, from start-ups to mature global blue chips. They are as follows:
Largely, senior teams get excited about talent: they connect with it from a personal perspective, as they see themselves as talented. They know that if they could harness all that wonderful potential, their businesses would benefit. Then the majority of senior teams fail to focus on what talent really means for their business and what outcome they want from any talent management philosophy or process.
Process eats away at intent: even without clear talent purpose and vision, investment in talent can pay back successfully. Until a bunch of clever, committed and well-intended HR folk put in a process that takes off the table every opportunity to innovate, differentiate and be agile in talent management.
Lack of adult to adult discussion: even if the purpose and process are divine, the lack of meaningful discussion with individuals again strips out the value. As with my own experience, talented employees can be left feeling ‘done to’ instead of elated by the freedom to explore and leverage their individual talents.
The talent of today won’t always be the talent of tomorrow: a watchful eye on the changing talent needs for future successful performance is often missing and talent management is often, at best, reactive.
Talent management, while spoken of as a priority, rarely is: in reality, it’s a long game and there is no short term fix or approach. When time spent on talent management is up against meeting challenging revenue targets or putting out the latest ‘fire,’ it slips to the bottom of the list. It is not seen as a burning platform.
What is the one thing that could be the tipping point towards success?
It requires a mindset shift where the question is no longer ‘what is it that talent needs to do for my business?’ but ‘what is it my business needs to do for the talent?’
A truly open and individual approach to talent is needed: welcoming the diversity that talent brings and nurturing the individualism of potential (rather than trying to put it in a box). This cannot easily be achieved through standardisation and process.
Create an environment where talent can truly own the development of their potential without frameworks, ladders and expectations. An environment where those with potential can be enabled, with an expert coach, to fully explore their career and development direction and then be supported by the organisation to follow their own unique path.