Talent Management: For the Few or the Many?

First there was employee development. Then, as trends such as management by objective (MBO), transformational vs transactional leadership, servant leadership, and countless other flavors of the day (I say that with the utmost respect for the advances in the science of management and leadership that each of the aforementioned brought with them), the focus turned toward greater investment in leadership development.  And more recently, in the embrace of more holistic organizational development perspectives, more and more organizations are launching talent management initiatives.  This would seem to be a logical and healthy evolution, right?

In actuality, while the heart is in the right spot, organizational budgets win out in the end.  And the result?  Talent management retains its name as the only reminder of intent.  More often than not, talent management focus on fulfilling little more than the continued development needs of a few key formal leaders.  Left in the dust are any emerging leaders, whose talent lie dormant beneath the surface of their current individual contributor or informal leadership roles.

Smiling business people standing together

Unfortunately, it is both the organization and the individual who will pay the price for this tendency.  The informal leader remains essentially hidden from view, ignored for her talents and often disengaged at the prospect of little development while those already in formal leadership roles in the organization thrive.  Thankfully for that individual, the price is typically short-term, as other opportunities elsewhere will present themselves, and such top talent will typically jump ship for greener pastures.

The cost to the organization is both long-term and often irretrievable.  They lose key talent at a time when they can ill afford such losses, and for which they will pay mightily in years to come.  And such “talent management” practices promote an in-bred upper management mentality that similarly proves costly in its lessened ability to adapt to the speed of changes the global economy requires.

If yours is an organization that is tempted by the “talent management” bug, take time to consider what it is you hope to gain by this approach.  The next move will indeed be increasingly toward enterprise talent management, but not just of the current leaders.  No, true talent management requires diving completely down into your organization to understand all layers of talent.

Not all employees want or can take on leadership roles.  That’s okay.  Employees bring to the workplace all sorts of talents and goals.  Some may be to climb the corporate ladder.  Some may prefer to remain productive at the same level of the organization for years.  And others might benefit from moving horizontally from one position to another.  It is not only likely, but inevitable that all three types exist in any organization.  And actively managing and developing all three is essential for any organization to truly achieve its full potential – engaged employees, top-notch leaders, and high productivity.

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