i4CP sent a newsletter recently commenting on the need for “Integrated” to be added to the term Talent Management in order to update it and make it more powerful as they suggest in a new book. They mention the number of providers in the area changing names – StepStone Solutions to Lumesse and PeopleClickAuthoria to PeopleFluent. It sometimes seems as if every update of strategy requires a new name, though the new ones sometimes don’t seem much more enlightening than the old.
It got me to questioning the use of the term Talent Management itself. I have always taken it to be an umbrella that takes in finding, recruiting, orienting, developing, managing and tracking performance and then moving people up through effective succession planning all the way through their careers. That definitely calls for integration of many HR functions and beyond since line managers have to be central in many of the pieces – from supportive coaching on the development side to career planning conversations with individuals. They are definitely needed for effective succession planning discussions among groups of managers so everyone agrees on how to rotate people through progressively challenging assignments across different divisions to season their leadership knowledge and skills.
So I’m all for adding “Integrated” to make the point since, as i4CP notes, HR is splintered and hasn’t made nearly as much progress as it should have in most companies at breaking down the silos that would allow true integration of these operations.
We need this now, but at a job search presentation I gave recently an audience member came up afterward to ask about my use of the word “talent” in the phrase, “Sell your talent, not your skills.” Her understanding was talent meant born-in skills. Mine (and the source I’d quoted) mean something more like “your global skill set viewed by what it can achieve rather than the individual skills: your overall ‘talent’ for. whatever”. In other words, I sell my ability (or talent) to get upset groups of people cooperating together for common solutions, not the separate component skills like conflict management, consensus-building, etc. – a ‘sell results’ view rather than a nuts and bolts view of what I do.
This definitely highlights a difficulty with the generic term ‘talent.’ Some senior executives still take this to mean the handful of ‘highly talented’ individuals they depend on to drive the business – the so-called A-players. This can mean programs set up for the rare few who show really outstanding performance or qualities. In fact Talent Management as it needs to be practiced for bigger impact on organizational results requires that the program take in far more people – including pretty much everyone in any sort of leadership role in the organization. I mentioned a book a couple of months back (Talent is Overrated) about the folly of thinking people are ‘born with talent’ or that if they haven’t got it, you can’t build it. Geoff Colvin in his excellent book debunks that neatly by showing even the most ‘talented’ musicians, for instance, get there by endless practice at their chosen field. Malcolm Gladwell gets at the same points in his book Outliers.
So while Talent Management is a term that’s grown rapidly in popularity, it probably has for the wrong reasons – because for many it calls forth the mental image of the sole super-contributor, the knight on a white horse – exactly the picture of leadership that is now outmoded and that is holding back results for so many organizations. Instead they need the up-and-coming, innovative, learners who are keen to try new ideas – guided by some seasoned veterans who can help them manage risk (ie: avoid pitfalls the younger set haven’t experienced), but still forge ahead with continual improvement. That’s a very different need from the all-knowing, all-powerful ‘talented few’ that many still hope for and imagine exist.