Change Management

Why Talent Management Is Not for You

Orphé Matthys

The hottest term in the HR world, must be this one: talent management. Type it into every possible search engine and you’ll find all kinds of definitions, tools and strategies. All HR departments are very much aware of it, but it made me wonder: does everyone also fully grasp of what it actually entails?

Let me start off by dissecting the concept. You are considered to be ‘talent’, when the organisation you work for, decides you’re a match with the company culture and you have the right competencies to perform well. Consecutively, it’s up to the team leader to ‘manage’ you properly and to make sure you continue to excel at his or her job and (at the very least) meet the initial expectations. So there you go. Talent management, in its most rudimentary linguistic breakdown.

Even though it might seem clear what talent management is, I would very much like to clarify what talent management is not:

  1. Talent Management Is not About Desperately Holding on to Your Employees.

    Organisations have a natural tendency to domesticate people. New employees are trained to do their work in a certain manner and are very easily steered in the direction of the internal status quo (e.g. a specific format to have meetings, tone of voice to customers,..). To some extend, this makes sense. In every company everywhere, there will always be best practices that serve as a guidance for employees.

    Yet, an extreme version of this narrow-minded incentivisation of compliance with certain habitual practices, will not motivate your employees to stretch beyond their own capabilities. In the end, I believe it will even make your talent untalented. Employees who get stuck in their roles and the same set of skills, will at some point in time lose certain parts of their motivation, which will just push away your most valued employees.

    Talent management does not mean keeping your talent exactly where they are, not even if they are good at what they are currently doing. It’s about providing your people with the right challenges and the right amount of space to experiment and to explore and expand their talent. The goal of talent management to is is to help the employees you have get ready for the next step, even if that next step is not within your company.

    So if you want to retain your employees, just for the sake of retaining them, talent management is not for you.

  2. Talent Management Is not Just About Managing Your Top Talent

    The description of the concept at the beginning of this post I gave you, is quite misleading. The assumption for every hire you make as a company, is that the person is indeed talented for the job he/she is supposed to do.

    I don’t have to tell you that reality can be different at times. Mis-hires happen. A person turns out to lack certain skills he/she claimed to have during interviews, the culture fit was wrongly assumed, or the person him or herself had different expectations of the job or the company. Due to this fact, certain people leave (or have to leave) the company, while others stay doing a ‘good enough’ job and end up being the ‘low performers’ in the organisation.

    If you follow the initial definition of talent management, low performers should per definition be ignored, since they are not considered as ‘talent’ anymore. Yet I consider those low performers, as the people who just might need that little extra push or attention to get them to the next level. If you make the effort to invest a little extra time in them, they might even end up being more valuable than they’ve shown so far.

    If you feel that talent management is just about focussing on the top performers in your company and only keeping them engaged, talent management is not for you.

  3. Talent Management Is More than Implementing a Software

    As stated before, if you look up ‘talent management’, you will very quickly bump into talent management software as well.

    From what I've picked up from people in our head space, it's a recurring assumption of many companies that talent management revolves around implementing the right tool and that this will do the trick. I can tell from my own experience that companies often invest a lot of time (and money) in new tools and stop there. And it literally stops there, because this approach turns out to fail.

    Often it’s forgotten that before you implement a tool, a mind-set needs to be implemented first. If you force terms like 'feedback' and 'agile goal setting' onto your employees, you’re setting the tool (and frankly your team) up for failure. People need to see value in giving (and receiving) feedback. First give people to know-how of setting objectives and teach them need the right skills to do so. Once you’ve established this, a talent management tool is ideal in supporting your organisation.

    So if you believe that talent management can be covered just by purchasing talent management software, then talent management is not for you.