Have we got talent management all backwards?

This is pretty much my favourite time of year. Wimbledon is on, and most of my Twitter followers will know this all too well with a timeline full of tennis related tweets. In fact, if you’re interested, I’ve written who I think might win in the final on Sunday.

Ordinarily, I’m loathe to write about sport and how it relates to HR or to business. Mostly because I see a lot of poor connectedness. There are, and can be, some very good analogies between the two worlds. In the main, I tend to find that the analogies are weak, and focus on a few factors neglecting many other realities of transferableness (it’s totally a word).

So today I break this rule. Cos I want to us to consider if we’ve been approaching the whole talent thing completely backwards.

I want you to abandon your notions of what bad competition looks like. I want you to imagine competition and our concept of competition needs re-writing.

Let’s take Andy Murray. I’m a big fan of his, and even though he’s been knocked out of the quarter-finals of the Championships, doesn’t mean he hasn’t achieved some awesome wins in his career to date (Masters 1000 tournaments – big deals, two Grand Slam events – even bigger deals, and Olympic Gold – the biggest deal). What helps him be successful?

He chooses his own team. Here’s a guy, who has the talent to win big and get far. He knows he needs a solid team of people to help him get there. But no-one is directing him on what that team looks like. No one’s setting him individual targets or objectives he has to achieve. He’s setting those himself. No one’s managing his performance if he performs badly. The governing body are responsible for poor attitude, substance misuse and poor form against other players.

He relies on his team to help him be successful. They guide him on nutrition. They guide him on physical fitness. They guide him on form and technique. They guide him on wellbeing. They challenge him to do more. They challenge him to push himself. They challenge his beliefs about himself.

His performance reflects on his world ranking. If he’s not happy with his performance, he reflects on himself, and also on his team and how they’re helping him – or not. He can choose to carry on with the game at his pleasure. If he’s demotivated, no-one cares. If he’s disengaged from the game, no-one cares. If he tries to stay in the game, we’ll pay notice, but only if he wins.

The competitive sport he plays in means there are too many other talented players doing the same thing for anyone to care about for too long. As long as he performs and achieves big wins, he’ll be in the news. When he stops and decides to retire, he’ll be remembered for his achievements and for his sportsmanship.

Imagine that in an organisation. Imagine we gave Talent free reign to choose their own team to help them be successful. Imagine there were no restrictions on what that team consisted of, and it was Talent who made the decisions. Imagine we said, “Hey Talent, your objectives are set by you, for you, and achieved by you. I’m not going to manage you. I’m not going to even ask how you are doing. I won’t even ask what you’ve got in place to be successful. You just let me know if there’s anything in your way and I’ll try remove it for you.”

Imagine that we’e got our concept of talent all wrong. It was never about a nine box grid. It was never about identifying talent at every level of the organisation. It was never about talent pools. It was never about succession planning. It was never about performance management. It was never about holacracy. It was never about the 70:20:10 theory of learning. It was never about democracy in the workplace.

Instead it was all about the individual stepping up and making things happen. No managers. No hierarchy. No control. No risk management. No contingency plans.

And it wasn’t just one individual, but lots of individuals. If one person tried and failed, fine. There’s someone else trying to sustain the business and make things happen. That Talent was good and interesting for the organisation. But they’re not dismissed, because there’s no contract of employment in place. They can step back in when they are back on form.

That person leads things. That person defines their success. The team members support the achievement of that goal. They couldn’t step up to be the Talent, because their role is something else. If the Talent stops, the team have no purpose any more until they find another Talent to work with.

Am I describing the role of a manager or am I describing something different?

Have we got talent management all backwards?

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

4 thoughts on “Have we got talent management all backwards?”

  1. I do have a contrary opinion on the connectivity of HR and Sports. I believe they are strongly connected. However, that would be a discussion for another day.

    On Talent Management and Tennis, I think because Tennis is an individual sport is why the individual (Tennis player) can single-handedly choose his team. In this case, he is the sole talent but also requires the help of other people to help him succeed. In the case of Andy Murray, he needs to to be able attract a good Coach, good Physio and all. This could be the reason why he once chose Ivan Lendl, a former World number one as his Coach.

    The Tennis Player here is the organisation who needs to attract, retain and also develop his talent. This might be a bit different from a Team sport like football..

  2. Sukh, I like the idea of giving talent free rein to choose their team. I also think it’s evitable that hierarchies will begin to diminish over time as both the speed and the very nature of work change. But, if we ask people to build their own teams without any assistance and without guidance, we risk at worst a free for all that helps nobody and, at best, the workplace as a playground where self-selecting captains chose their teams and there is no support for unlucky boy and girl who’s picked last. Talent management absolutely should revolve around the manager but let’s give them the tools and the support to do it well.

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