Talent cannot be managed


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 ?

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “Talent cannot be managed

  1. Pingback: Size Always Matters | It's always personal and not only business

  2. “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 .” This is in conflict with ““Talent” needs direction – especially because they are quite capable of thinking about many ways to do things.”
    I think what you refer to as management others would refer to as micromanagement , and no-one likes to be micromanaged. Good managers provide direction, guidance, training, and other resources to facilitate – not take over – a project.

    ““Talent” doesn’t mix with non talent – the moment they mix with people less smart than them , they lose interest .”
    Not true I know of many exceptional professionals that enjoy mentoring their younger or less experienced colleagues. What talent doesn’t mix with is apathetic ignorance, which they see as slowing them down or deliberately blocking the way.

    ““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. … 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. ”
    Your statement is typical of individuals who see themselves as an “All Star” in their given field, because of their ego’s, but I believe the more talented the individual really is the more they recognize they do not know, nor could they know all of the complex goings-on of something as vast and complex as a major corporation, field of science, viability of a product in international markets, etc. The talent you’re looking for is humble, honest, and interested in the observations and contributions of others. Consider Albert Einstein and Steven Hawkins as a couple of examples. The skilled ego maniacs your paragraph suggests are often skilled, but the limit in their ability to consider alternative ideas puts a shelf life on how valuable they really are. An open personality is a better hallmark of really talented individuals – let the best idea win.

  3. I really like a lot of your insights/tips, but I just can’t get past the elitist mentality and dog analogy. Kind of reminds me of an old joke (with new characters, of course):

    The son of a steel worker, an old man, and the #1 Talent are the only people left on plane that is going to crash. There are two parachutes.
    The #1 Talent says “I have to have a parachute because I’m the smartest and the world will be lost without me” and jumps out of the plane.
    The old man looks at the boy and says “You take the remaining parachute, son. I’ve lived a long life and yours is only just beginning.”
    The boy smiles and says “It’s OK sir. The smartest Talent in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack.”

    • Yes – I did think after I wrote it that there is a bit of elitist after taste there .
      Being a very casual blogger , I don’t spend a lot of time perfecting this craft . But I appreciate the feedback and will see if I can avoid the elitist thing in future – just don’t hold your breath on it , given the level of my writing skills 🙂

      As for the dog analogy – we all relate differently , and I am sorry if it sounded offensive . As a guy who has three dogs that are treated as sons – I can assure you I did not mean that analogy to be interpreted in a demeaning way .

      I liked the joke – heard it before , but still had a smile when I read it . However , more than talent – I think of that character as a jerk primarily . Those people that I have seen as talents – they don’t all have same social and political views . Some are super arrogant and some are super humble . But they all are capable of doing more than others . A jerk who is a talent is a jerk first and a talent next in my mind .

  4. Hi Vijay,

    Superb and comprehensive blog on Talent as a whole. I agree with all your thoughts on Talent except for the last but one line i.e “Today’s bills are paid by everyone else . “Talent” can only pay tomorrows bills . And every leader needs to keep that in mind”.

    Talent too can contribute “to pay today and tomorrows bill” provided if they are well managed as written in your blog.

    I would say talent and strategy are the most used (misused) word in today’s corporate world. Hence this blog is a “Must read” for thought leaders and HR professionals.

    Kind regards
    Sathya

  5. Hi Vijay,

    Top class blog and one of the best “Talent Management” blogs I have ever read. It is no surprise based on this that many individuals we would consider talent work for smaller companies where there is flexibility and dynamism that allows these individuals to flourish.

    Talent Management systems don’t really work to “manage” these individuals per se, rather they are more tracking systems.This is where human intervention is required, not just from the Talent Managers but from those within the organization that can identify these individuals as talents (and not troublemakers) and ensure that they are handled in a way that benefits both individuals and the organization as a whole. Trust me, the novice manager will identify these type of individuals as troublemakers when they do not fit within the typical mold. And the last thing a talent wants is to be considered *less* than what they are (or what they feel they are). In your typical organization there is very little room for talents, hence why anyone showing a good level of performance are considered talents – thus eroding the meaning of the word.

    Best regards,

    Luke

  6. This notion that “talent” is somehow exceptional is rubbish. Once you reach a certain level of competence, it is the rule, not the exception. Having said that, your description of how to motivate people seems reasonable. I definitely perform better when I have faith in the mission, am excited by what I do, and can generate the requisite enthusiasm needed to concentrate deeply enough to be effective.

  7. Pingback: Inspired by true believe | It's always personal and not only business

  8. Very great products have been created by small group of talented people. Always it’s better to keep the team with low headccount ensuring optimum contribution.

  9. Very interesting read! I truly enjoyed it! How do you define “talent”? And how do you nurture talent in a big organization? Also, in big companies, I hear the mantra “everyone is a talent”, and managers saying “well, I cannot give you a promotion this year, but I’m pleased to inform you that you’re a member of the top talent community”….and guess what, after a few years in a row all your team members are top-talents!? This is a total dilution of “talent”. How do you expect mediocre people to deal with talent? In my view, this is impossible….but unfortunate reality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s