That’s not talent, that’s process

Sometimes there is an unassailable truth that needs to be told. A guilty secret that needs to be revealed. A lie that needs to be challenged.

Because, in your organisation, you’re not managing talent, you’re managing process.

Well, if you work in 99% of organisation you aren’t. And if you work in the other 1%, you’re lying.

The thing is, the language that we use around “talent management”, the behaviours that we all display, the way in which we approach it has as much to do with managing talent as chocolate has to do with teapot formation.

Most of us don’t know how to measure talent. And where we do measure, we’re not really measuring talent at all.

HiPo? Is the definition of talent someone who is capable of being more senior?

Because Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Sylvia Plath. They were all destined for management?

And if they weren’t then they clearly weren’t talent.

Our organisations are based on a myth of hierarchy that assumes that power and value is added as one progresses, rather than understanding the true mechanisms that drive organisational performance and rewarding the people who truly add value.

As a result we reward a politically charged, single focussed, rise to the top. A game that is suited, not to the most talented, but the most politically adroit. We promote the people who impress by playing the game, and we neutralise the people who don’t fit the mould.

You’ll argue that you don’t do this, that you’re different. But you’re not.

And that’s because our organisations, our businesses, the western world is geared up to systemically ignore true talent. Your reward systems, your recruitment processes, your learning and development programmes. Not a single one of them really recognises talent.

And the funny thing is, the hours we spend on “talent management” the grids we fill in, the conversations we have, the investment we place in systems that effectively wipe the lipstick off the pig are a complete and utter waste of everyone’s time.

You would still make the same promotion and development decisions without doing it.

Until we are willing to re-engineer the way in which our organisations operate, to refocus our energy on the right argument, rather than the incessant and dogmatic pursuit of a rather badly dressed up false promise.

Until then, we will always be managing process.

And that has nothing to do with talent.


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  2. Julie · January 19, 2015

    Thank you for writing this – it is so well worded.

    There’s a vicious cycle of management focusing only on the upward and onward talent path and employees responding by thinking that’s the only way they can truly develop (or succeed).

    It a challenge to get both levels of participants to understand that there a many faces of talent, which shouldn’t include the pig wearing lipstick.

  3. · January 27, 2015

    Excellent piece Neil, very pleased to have discovered your blog recently. Totally agree with your point on how we reward those who are good at ‘playing the game’.You could reference the way that we value ‘obedience’ in western society as another example to support this. Nice work, will share with a few people who I think might find it interesting.


  4. kennedyjp · February 14, 2015

    Just re-read this post and am hugely excited by the opportunity it presents to really see the difference between developing talent and ‘growing managers’. This might find its way into a new Performance Management approach I’m writing. Thanks Neil!

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