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.

Process this….

It won’t come as a surprise to people who know me that I’m not keen on unnecessary process. I understand that there is a minimal need for it, but I can’t accept the need for process to drive practice. That for me is alien and wrong.

I had a particularly problematic conversation with Tesco Bank this weekend (Yeah…..I know….) when I was subject to two immortal lines,

“The problem is that you’ve been a customer with us for a long time”

“We can’t override the system”

I do have much left to die inside, but that is pretty much going to clean it up.

But it also really resonates in a “shoot me now” kind of a way.

How many times in the last month have you or your teams uttered:

“It would set a precedent”

“It isn’t as simple as that”

“I can’t do that”

“The system doesn’t work like that”

“The policy is….”

“You need to complete this form”

“Have a look at the process/policy”

“We can’t make an exception”

And how would it feel if you’d said:

“We completely see the need to make an exception here”

“Let us work out how to make this possible”

“Of course”

“We can work around this”

“I understand your specific needs”

“Let me sort out the paperwork for you”

“What is it you’d like to achieve and how can I help you?”

“You’re the most important person to us”

Then ask yourself two questions:

Which feels better to the person asking the question?

Which feels better to the person answering the question?

And as a supplementary:

Why do we make this so hard?

Ask a stupid question….

Applying for jobs is hard work and particularly so if you’re graduating in the current environment. It is hard for other groups too, I know, but it isn’t that many years since I was coming out of University and trying to get my foot on the career ladder. So I have a lot of sympathy.

Job seeking is a pretty soulless process. Time consuming, expensive, depressing and often fruitless. But you have to keep going and you have to keep positive. Despite the stupid application forms you need to complete, the ridiculous processes that are created, despite the, oh so clever, questions you have to answer.

Because yes, that question that you wrote that you thought would sort the creative wheat from the non-creative chaff is being met at best with an eye-roll and at worst with utter contempt. As one job applicant said recently to me, “[it] makes me feel like I’m not being taken seriously as a hard-working student who wants to show my skills and talents”.

Seriously, have you looked at your recruitment process from the other side of the fence? Sure there may be more candidates than there are jobs, for now. But does that make the applicants less human? I’m not talking about candidate journey – there are recruitment bloggers out there who will cover the subject much better than me. I’m talking about common decency and respect.

If you ask a candidate to complete pages and pages of answers as part of their graduate application, don’t you think you should show them a little respect back? If you’re going to ask them question after question, then at least make them relevant to the applicants and respectful of the time, hard work and financial commitment that they have already put in just to be deemed worthy to complete your process.

We all need to make selection decisions, of course. But can the candidate see the relevance of it and do they feel that they are being judged on criteria that feel fair and transparent?

“Describe a unique experience you’ve had over the last year” (are you testing me on my descriptive abilities or the quality of my experiences?)

“Where would you like to be in 5 years time?” (geographically, existentially or financially?)

“Why do you want this job?” (because medical science rejected my body and a corporate career was all that was left open to me)

So yes, ask questions, pull your application processes together, design your assessment centres, do the do. But try to put yourself in the candidate’s position too. This probably won’t be the only job they’re applying for, they’ve seen hundreds of similar processes. Make it relevant, make it easy for them to shine and make it reflect well on you, both in the short-term and for your longer brand perception.

I still have all the rejection letters that I received, somewhere in a file….I’m not against grudge bearing….I know who you are…..

The HR sausage factory

Every company has a back and forth debate.  The sort of debate that, if you spend long enough in that company, you get to see various solutions attempted at either end of the scale, normally unsuccessfully, before swinging to the other end of the scale. Back and forth. I spent many years working in retail, our back and forth debate, was about customer service.

At one end of the argument was that customers just wanted to get in, get what they wanted and get out (an argument I had some sympathy with given the state of a lot of the stores). At the other end was the view that customers wanted to be given a bit more individual attention, advice and support. We went back and forth, back and forth. The reality was that they probably wanted the latter, but the financial model of the retailer wouldn’t properly allow for it, so they got the former and, well, you only have to read the news to see how that worked out…..

Moving from one end of the alphabet to the other, we arrive at Zappos. There isn’t much to write that hasn’t been written about the American retailer. One thing that amazes people on first reading about the company is their approach to the customer.  The customer is put at the heart of the organisation, even if it means finding a product for them in a competitor’s store.

Now let’s make one gigantic segue into the world of HR. The mainstream agenda over the last decade has been about standardisation, about systematization, about centralisation.  How can we get slick processes that are efficient and allow us to reduce the amount of resource we need to deploy? The answer is simple, you treat employees in the same way that my old company treated customers. You process them.

The thing is about processing rather than serving is that initially it looks like great value for money. It costs less, it moves quicker, it isn’t resource hungry.  So you feed the disease. Slicker and slicker you get, faster and faster, more streamlined, you start to measure, so that you can get even better. And then suddenly you realise…..you can’t remember why you’re doing this anymore.

In the same way the retailer forgets the customer, you’ve forgotten the employee. This is all about them fitting into your process, not you understanding their needs. In fact, their needs are an inconvenience that gets in the way of your process. Because they aren’t really a “need” in the first place are they?  They don’t REALLY need it, they’re just being difficult.

Humans want to feel like they are being treated as individuals, that they are being listened to and that their needs are being taken into account. Treating people as people isn’t an inconvenience; it is should be the foundation of every half decent company.

Engagement, motivation, retention? So why is it than In HR we talk a good talk, then put on the overalls and get back to the sausage factory?