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7 reasons organisations are rethinking talent

Published 13th February 2018 by Investors in People
Talent definition - finding top talent

Talent has traditionally meant something that certain people have that others don’t. Accordingly, talent management has focused on identifying and nurturing the people who have this ‘something,’ often to the detriment of everyone else. But in recent years this practice has met resistance. We look at seven reasons driving this resistance.

High performance does not trump interpersonal dynamics

Organisations have traditionally tried to identify top-performers with limited attention paid to how they integrate with other people in the business. But this is changing.

Netflix, for example, publicly said it doesn’t tolerate ‘brilliant jerks,’ or highly-competent technical performers that make the lives of colleagues miserable. CEO Reed Hastings said that the “cost to effective teamwork is too high.”

Organisations have much less appetite for non-team players - however brilliant they may be - in a world where success is increasingly driven by collaborative processes.

Society is showing increased distaste for traditional ranking methods

Traditional methods of identifying the best and worst performers, such as forced-ranking, have fallen out of favour.

This has happened for two reasons: firstly, it’s seen as too cut-throat for a progressive society and comes into conflict with the diversity and inclusion agenda.

Organisations have much less appetite for non-team players - however brilliant they may be - in a world where success is increasingly driven by collaborative processes.

Secondly, organisations increasingly recognise that essentially marking some workers as low-value is not exactly the best way to encourage them to be the best employees they can be.

Context is increasingly recognised as an essential factor in high performance

If organisations believe some people are naturally more gifted, they will also believe these people will drive higher performance in any situation. But this idea is being challenged as leading organisations recognise success in one environment doesn’t automatically transfer to another environment.

A salesperson, for example, could thrive in a B2C environment but struggle to make an impact in a B2B market because the competencies, attitude and focus required may differ significantly.

This flips the talent question on its head: instead of looking for high performance in one domain and shifting these people to another domain, many organisations are looking at creating environments that allow everyone to thrive in order to drive high performance across the board.

The evidence is mounting on the power of growth mindsets

If you have a fixed mindset, you believe your abilities are set from birth and can’t be changed. But if you have a growth mindset, you believe ability is fluid and can be changed and shaped with practice and effort.

The growth mindset concept was popularised by researcher Carol Dweck and many organisations are now using it to overhaul traditional processes such as performance management and learning.

Growth mindsets are important to business success: if employees believe their abilities can improve they become more resilient to organisational change and better able to adapt in order to perform in the future.

Increasing evidence is reaffirming the importance of grit and practice

Journalist and former England table-tennis player Matthew Syed admits that some people may be born with a greater ability to excel in certain areas, but that sustained practice is the differentiator for those who are at the peak of performance.

He points to a study of British musicians that found top performers learnt at the same rate as less-able performers but simply practised for longer in total. Other research, he argues, says that top performers seen as having an ‘early gift’ simply received extra tuition at home.

Geoff Colvin, author of Talent is Overrated, says that practice is the key to high performance but that it’s a specific type of practice called deliberate practice. This, he says, is defined by “a well-defined set of activities that world-class performers pursue diligently.”

This is based on research from psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, who refers to several features of deliberate practice, including breaking down expert-level performance into specific skills, practicing these in isolation and getting immediate coaching feedback.

Organisations are responding to this type of thinking by creating learner-centric environments and encouraging coaching behaviours among managers and leaders, as well as stopping any practices that reinforce the belief that people are stuck with the skills and abilities they’re born with.

A rapidly-changing world is making potential and resilience more important

The world is changing fast, which makes it harder to define talent. Why? Because today’s high-performance is tomorrow’s normal and the competencies we need to succeed today will have changed by tomorrow. Traditional talent management processes may therefore be too slow to give us the people we need when we need them.

That’s why consultant Claudio Fernandez-Araoz argues that focusing on potential is important because we need people who will be able to adapt to the changing demands of an uncertain world. This is why organisations increasingly recruit people with skills like resilience and adaptability because these skills are essential to coping with change.

Society often ignores people who will add the most value in the future because they ‘aren’t quite there’ when we decide whether they are talented or not.

Rasmus Ankersen, who authored The Gold Mine Effect, says that spotting and nurturing potential is a robust strategy because of the mindset of those with potential.

He highlights a sports coach who specifically dedicated resources to ‘B-list’ athletes, knowing that their additional need to train extra hard to overcome their disadvantage would propel them to the top of their game. He says that society often ignores people who will add the most value in the future because they ‘aren’t quite there’ when we decide whether they are talented or not.

The link between diversity and high performance is being recognised

The more narrowly you define talent, the more you’ll invest in a specific type of individual and the more homogeneous your succession plans and leadership teams will end up. This makes it more likely the organisation will suffer from blind spots and biases like groupthink. In addition, increasing evidence suggests diverse teams can outperform homogeneous teams

This should lead organisations to think of talent more holistically, as a delicate balance of diversity within teams that must be nurtured and managed in the right way in order to drive breakthroughs in performance and innovation. One exceptional person can’t, after all, compete with the drive, will and diverse strengths apparent in a high-performing, inclusive team.