HR and the Talent catastrophe…

Talent Management – a phrase that’s been on everyone’s lips, not least every self respecting HR professional and even the odd headline hungry CEO.  Howver, I fear we may have lost our way inrecent years in terms of defining what ‘talented’ actually means, how we identify those that that have potential, and how we develop them, their behaviours and their skills.

Consider this for a moment:

We live in a time where executive remuneration has never been so high and rewards for ‘good performance’ so attractive.  As leaders we have access to more strategies for success with more guru’s sharing their wisdom than ever before through books, seminars, blogs and development programs.  There are more graduates from the likes of Harvard, INSEAD et al in the marketplace and more money has been invested in leadership development programs and executive coaching in the last 10 years than ever before.

And on top of all this, the market conditions over the last 15 years could not have been better.

So what is the result of all of this collective wisdom? The output of all of that world class ‘talent’ combined with a booming economy?

A global recession underscored by greed, incompetence and arrogance on an unprescedented scale, that’s what.

If HR has any influence as we make our way out of this mess through the coming months and years, it must be to challenge our existing talent strategies, across the board. Our rediculous obsession with qualifications, processess and stereotypes brought the world economy to its knees and its about time we challenged every basic principle on which our leadership and talent is identified, nurtured and rewarded.

It’s time to get disruptive and deconstruct. And HR should be right up there hacking away at every assumption and everything we have previously taken for granted.

But before you get busy, something for us all to consider…

Perhaps the biggest crime is not necessarily the direct actions of the few, but the influence these people have had on others – you and me.  A loosening of standards and ethics at the top of an organisation has a significant knock on effect all the way down the hieraechy.  It’s inevitable.

Slowly but surely, like a creeping desease, this behaviour, this subtle signal from those in positions of influence and power – bankers, MP’s and executives alike – starts to distort or own moral and ethical framework.  Has it not yours?

Food for thought…


  1. I find the discussions on war on talent interesting, as an HR-person for the last 10 years (and 2 months to go, when I will leave the ´trade´ and become a GM to do what I always said GM´s should have done). I agree and disagree with you (should I have become a politician?). I disagree with you as I feel that it has not become easier to find real talent. The fact that the number of MBA and other fancy educations increased only deepened the muddy waters. As Mintzberg already stated, we need leaders, not MBA´s. In the current global market to find underneath the layers of titles, references through virtual networks and barred by legislation or social ethicts that forbid our fellow colleagues to be honest about past performance, I find finding out what one oís really worth, ever more tricky. I look with gratitude towards psychometrics, assessments and other at least less subjective tools, but there again alas, in the global playingfield, not every country looks equally pleased at passing assessmentdata across borders or even, in case of the US, inside their borders. So as you read I agree with your deep respect for title-gatherers, who sell the qualities of the businessschool they visited but not their own qualities. George W´s MBA is a reflection on that, but also the fact that most CEO´s of tp 500 companies now have an MBA, but are they realy run better now? If CEO turnover is an indication, one could say that the increase of MBA´s in the C-seats correlates to the decrease of the lifeexpectancy of these same C-suits.

    Intern my current organisation I too, as one should, have implemented values-measurement to ensure ethical behaviour and adherance to generic principles like honesty etc. However when we started to operationalise the values this was the topic of real concern, as all feared this element. And finally when the system was implemented and we ran into financial difficulties, the 50/50 weighting of target fullfilment versus values was ´ditched´ overnight and only ´what´ we achieved was important the ´how´ would become relevant again when our financials would be better. This relates back to using values and ethics as a beautifull silk vale to cover the crummy and rusted insides. We keep it up when we want people to think we look good. It is this that we should not be so surprise what we find when we finally unvailed.

    Mark van Dongen


    1. Hi Mark

      Thoughtful and intelligent comments, thank you for sharing them. I’m totally in tune with the apparent hypocrisy that you illustrate. Regarding talent, my point was not that talent has become easier to find. I was having a go at those that define talent by the current methods – e.g. you are a Harvard graduate, therefore you must be a talented potential world leader, right?!

      No, I personally believe that actually there is NO shortage of talent. There has never been. The problem has always been in how we define what talent it. And up to now, we have been using the wrong metrics to measure it. In fact, its our obsession with metrics that is preventing us from seeing the talent that sits all around us.

      12 years ago I took the same journey as you, from HR to GM. And since being in a general leadership position my affinity with people, taken from my HR days, has allowed me to see that talent, or latent talent, lies in everyone. Its how you unlock it which is key.

      As a GM, you will have a unique privilege – and it is a privilege, believe me – to engage with people and give them the permission and capability to show you what they are made of. If i can give you one tip, its to spend as much time amongst your people as possible, being authentic, listening to them and talking with them. And i dont mean your fellow managers/directors. I mean the people at the coalface, doing the jobs, talking to the customers, day in day out. That is where you will find the inspiration, innovation and creativity necessary to build a great business. Not sat round a boardroom table!

      Good luck Mark and thanks once again for stopping by.


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