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Finally: Talent War Re-Visited

Posted Oct 20 2008 1:18pm

Last Wednesday I mentioned I'd be back shortly with a follow-up on talent war confusion followed by reports from WorldBlu Live!"Shortly" extended way beyond the most liberal meaning of the word due to a mixture of no wireless at the conference site and unexpected business that emerged.

The  "Talent War" Thing

Check out the in-depth comment s from managers and other consultant/coaches.You'll see varied and thoughtful responses, each reflecting insights from different vantage points. If you are at all interested in the whole "talent" thing you won't be disappointed.

My original issue was about the mixed message we are all hearing:

Business: We're in a "War for Talent."

Employees: My company isn't using my talent.

It's easy to point fingers at powerful, uncaring corporate entities. But I don't think that's the real answer,  as attractive as it may seem to many. Here is what I've watched unfold in recent years:

1. Companies--especially publicly-held companies--are under pressure to produce short-term numbers. That's simply a fact.

2. Part of those numbers are generated by keeping costs down.

3. Statistics from ASTD and other sources show that large corporations are spending less money on professional developmen t than they did, say, 10 years ago. There are fewer opportunities for workers at all levels to:

     a. Participate in the kinds of developmental workshops that help them focus on self-development within the organization. Part of those programs were dedicated to identifying strengths, areas of further development, and ways to initiate developmental discussions with bosses and others in the company.

     b. Be exposed to others who could see their talent and do something about it. Most of the leadership and management programs with which I've been involved have had a heavy participative component that included senior managers and executives. Their interactions with participants offered a first-hand look at people outside of their own functions. Informal  sessions provided a give-and-take about where the company was headed and what the future might look like. Workshop participants had the opportunity to talk about their interests and aspirations with those who could help the most.

4. One's talents need the light of day to find expression. That means being given the chance to "try things out" in different areas of an organization. Right now, there appears to be an emphasis on lowering risk while increasing current workload. This does at least two things:

     a. It discourages employees from "trying out" new ideas and demonstrations of talents not present in the immediate job description. This breeds a focus on "more of the same," but under stress. Therefore, one's talents may actually be subverted as a result of demands that are near-impossible to meet.

     b. It drives people to seek expression of their talents elsewhere. At a moment when organizations want to do more with less, the very people who may be capable of doing more don't see their current employer as a vehicle for their growth.

5. Many people haven't deliberately identified and acknowledged the range of talents that they possess. This isn't the fault of their employer; it's also a self-responsibility issue. In some cases, people over-estimate their inherent abilities. In others, they grossly underestimate themselves. What is most helpful to all concerned is a deliberate and accurate assessment regardless of age, industry, or level.

Are You "Talent" or "Talented?"

Hortonhearsawho I don't really like the label "talent." I understand the goal and am involved in designing ways for companies and individuals to come together productively. But language is a powerful thing. We're talking about "talented people" not "talent" or "human capital." To the extent that language becomes impersonal, our ability to objectify people increases.

Here's another thought:

If the War for Talent turned into a Search for Talented People, the subjects might feel a bit safer and come out of hiding. And those doing the searching would have a more accurate picture of whom they were seeking (rather than "what").

This isn't a warm and fuzzy conceptual plea for a group hug. It's a hard-nosed look at a fact of life: You'll get what you ask for. If you want a "who," don't ask for a "what."

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