My recent studies and review of previous experience led me to the conclusion that the typical talent management process which takes place in a corporate set of conditions goes through at least two major pitfalls which are for some reason not being systematically addressed.
Thus, I decided to summarize my thoughts and explicitly describe them below.
I name these problems talent presumption error and competency model mismatch.
Talent acquisition procedure in corporate setting is a robust process which often involves highly-competent professionals to execute it. However, the figures of executive derailment are too high to say that the process works perfectly. I have an opinion that there is a problem here. And it is not about the process itself.
The issue concerns the underlying assumptions which are not being tested before acceptance. To display it I need to address the concept of talent. In broad terms companies seek talented people as their results are relatively better and their conscription is more beneficial for the companies in long-term. The idea of the difference in results is converted into two points: the idea of the difference on the level of pure productivity and the idea of the fit between the set of skills and competences and the requirements of the job. In the end, the factual “output” is the final argument which justifies the talent nomination.
Talent acquisition is focused on the future by definition. But when it comes to prediction of the future level of productivity these false assumptions cause the potentially biased decision making in talent qualification and further development.
Talent presumption error. This point is closely related with the notion of potential. Talents are identified for the sake of further investments as they seem to promise higher returns. However, what is often not realized is the fact that people deliver results basing on their sustained regular level of productivity. Not the potential maximum that they might achieve under best terms. In other words, if we take analogy from running it will look like this. If you want to know the runner’s track result you need to know the distance and the average speed of the runner not the potential maximum. However, the high potential promise looks too appealing and often distracts the decision maker. The rational priority of the maximum sustained performance of the talent is substituted by the potential maximum gain. The direct manager of the talent is the weakest element here. It is explained by the fact that his standpoint is always biased by the subjective view and lack of statistical data while the manager’s influence on the decision making process is often excessively high.
Competency model mismatch. Competency model elaboration for the international company is a complex process which ends up with the list of competencies which is bound to the targeted range of organizational roles. Further on, these competencies are used for talent orientation and assessment of the competency fit of the potential talent and the calculated optimum for this position holder. Besides it is often used as a guidance for the development process to prepare the talent for the career steps forward. The competency model value is based on the idea that the higher fit with the model means higher productivity. However, often this presumption is too ambitious to be true.
In reality, we can talk only about the level of correlation. The problem which lies here is the diminished match of the competency model ideal fit with the business results and productivity level when taken in concrete business environment. There are two aspects here which influence this relevance.
Basing on my practical experience which incorporates the understanding of the differences of the approach to business in American, European companies, companies across CIS countries the first point to mention is the significantly different intensity of the cultural background. The stronger the cultural influence the bigger the impact. In extreme it may result in the situation when the business result depends on the factors which are totally out of the scope of competency model.
The second point to mention is the difference between the competences which are required for the best performance and the competencies which are practically applied for objective reasons. Though there are common foundations, business results depend on the sum of the average decisions. But not the ability to carry out the best decision due to the capability to do it or tendencies in behavior which allow it. Hence practically it is not clear whether the business environment will let the potential talent to apply his potential and to what extent. In this case the best level of factual productivity and results may be shown not by the talent who has the best fit but the talent who has the acceptable fit and well-honed models of behavior which are required in present business conditions. It is quite obvious that the external condition will never be perfect.
This short essay just names couple of pitfalls which I witnessed myself and see as major risk for the talent strategy for the big company. It is not about the problem solution. However, I can offer few hints which I have used myself while developing talents and recommend others.
- Use factual data on past performance as the source to project the necessary talent development needs and drive business results while the competency model is mostly about the general direction for career management purposes. Professionally given negative feedback is the game changer.
- Acknowledge that the balance is required between the effectiveness as adaptation to specific terms and the coachability as the key to maintain the ability for self-development, help the talent to trace it. Strategic self-awareness is the key in this respect.
- Mind the context. The possibility to advance in business always lies in the outer space. This responsiveness to the external environment based on the intention to fill in the gap between supply and demand is the strategic competence which is often resembled as a part of entrepreneurial mindset. Every big corporation lacks it even working in innovation business. Seek it and foster it in your team to give talent appropriate nurture for long-term.