Most people can and should be managed in an organization – but not talent . And talent is not a word that should be used in a light hearted and generalist way . That is how it loses relevance .
Interestingly, I did not learn this originally from corporate world or business school – I learned this from training and working with dogs . My intention is not to compare dogs to humans – just that I learned something from my hobby that empirically seem to also apply in my real career .
Most novice trainers go around looking for smart and intelligent dogs . What they don’t realize is that you can’t train smart dogs with novice training skills . It is one of those things that people won’t learn without making their own mistakes . Been there done that and learned , I think I learned at least . The dog for novice trainers is the one that is highly motivated by food , and an over eagerness to please the owner . That is – a pretty dumb dog , the opposite of an intelligent dog . Once they are trained – the dumb dogs will perform spectacularly to please their handler – but they usually can’t think for themselves to save their lives .
That is pretty much the case with management too . If you really want to work with smart people – you cannot manage them . They don’t thrive under management . They need collaboration and leadership . Set them in a direction , and get out of their way . Check in periodically and let them know you can be approached for help whenever they need . And then don’t let them down when they come to you .
“Talent” is not scalable – there is no such thing as a talented team of 100 people . I wish there was but I have never seen or heard of it . So be prepared to run smaller teams if you want to work with real talent .
“Talent” doesn’t mix with non talent – the moment they mix with people less smart than them , they lose interest . That is when turf wars and politics and all start – and they will out wit everyone else , even if the result is that the team will not deliver on goals . So if you decide that talent is what you are after – you need to be super careful as a leader to not lower your hiring standards .
“Talent” is fiercely loyal to their own ideas – and this is why they cannot be managed . It is a test of character for the leader to see if you can gain their agreement on a team goal . Or at least get them to disagree , but commit . And you will be the biggest idiot if you don’t consider their ideas carefully – because “I said so” is not what they consider as rational criteria . If you dismiss their idea – you need to beat them to the punch at an intellectual level they are at . Very very hard to do .
“Talent thrives on loyalty” – they value integrity in their leaders . If you fight for them when they needed , they will usually lay down on the tracks for you. Conversely – screw them over and they will screw you over harder than your worst nightmare . Don’t make promises you can’t keep and don’t give them standard company lines as excuses . They know exceptions can be made almost in every case . If they suspect you are not doing everything for them – that loyalty goes away in a hurry .
“Talent” will challenge you every step of the way. Don’t hire them if you can’t deal with it constantly . They will make you think when you would rather sleep or have a beer . It is not easy – you are either in the game with them , or you are in the cheap stands . No bench in this game. Always on !
“Talent” doesn’t tolerate breach of trust – they know that they won’t always get managers who are as smart as them . But as long as they trust the leader – this is not an issue . The issue is that they won’t usually give you a second chance if you break their trust . Be open and fair as a leader . And be consistent in being open and fair.
“Talent” needs direction – especially because they are quite capable of thinking about many ways to do things . And they will get bored if there is not enough challenge in their jobs . They will also be pissed off if you set unrealistic goals . It is a fine balance to strike .
“Talent” needs money , but money won’t keep them there for long – these folks don’t come cheap and most of them know their value quite well . But that is the easier part . The harder part is retaining them and keeping them positive without turning them into bitter employees .
“Talent” will walk away – but they probably will give you some time to get your act together . They might even politely remind you that they are losing patience . But they won’t sit around for ever to bitch and moan . They know that they are in demand irrespective of the economy or general market conditions . So they will walk away . And they won’t usually come back if you do counter offers – because they would have computed that in their decision making process before they chose to walk . So if they are leaving , allow them to leave on pleasant terms . You never know when you need each other . It is a small world .
Nothing but problems in general – so why bother with talent at all then ? Because these are the few people who will take the big swings and hit home runs . And that is what separates you at the end from competitors . If you are happy with status quo – don’t worry about talent
But here is the thing – you need the rest of the organization to work at peak efficiency so that the “talent” can be given the freedom to make big swings . If the rest of the organization is not disciplined – it is reckless to just depend on big swings to change your fortunes . That is hope – hope is not a strategy . There is a management concept called “policy by lapse” – that is not an admirable strategy , to say the least .
This is where rubber meets the road for companies with big innovation agendas . They tend to over do it by trying to light as many fires as they can – hoping that something will catch on . In this process – they forget that “talent” can easily deal with it , but others probably cannot do it to the same degree . And when “talent” sees the lack of differentiation in what got assigned to them – their passion will evaporate. And pure recklessness results – with no goals being met . The smarter companies know what part of the team needs to be industrialized and what is the portion of the team that can be allowed to make those big swings .
And in the process of (mis)managing “talent” – the real hard job is to take adequate care of everyone else . Today’s bills are paid by everyone else . “Talent” can only pay tomorrows bills . And every leader needs to keep that in mind .
Now , which part of the team would you like to lead ? All “talent” , All “everyone else”, or a mix ?