Managing The “Talent”

images (41)So what is talent? Its a tricky question as definitions of talent and career management vary widely yet the terminology can easily be interchanged. Though for our purposes I will stick to the term talent to avoid confusion (mainly mine). Definitions vary as do the talent management programmes across many industries and businesses. Some good and not so good and some non-existent. So to drill a little deeper l will try to identify some key characteristics of what talent management is and how it can work.

Managing talent in an organisation could be defined as being focussed upon particular people in the business, a set of characteristics or more toward a statement of identified needs for the future. Some organisations see talent as the ability to go on toward leadership & CEO status, or as McCartney & Garrow (2006) suggest as “employees that have a disproportionate impact upon the bottom line, or have the potential to do so” However the CIPD (2006) defines talent management as ‘the systematic attraction, identification, development, engagement/retention and deployment of those individuals with high potential who are of particular value to an organisation’. So how do organisations identify a talent pool or groups of individuals that will have significant effect upon the business and most interesting what do they do with the group when they have been identified?

Toxic Talent Management

Having witnessed unfettered and undefined talent programmes in a large organisation here in the UK, where graduates (mainly young men) were employed on-mass, as being educated therefore talented, that over time created a significantthem and us divisions. The talent management plan was undefined and none of the non-participants of the programme were informed of the plan (or lack of them) to help them understand it and potentially rise to the levels of the talent pool. Thus raising performance expectations for all employees instead of the few. Without this information people easily saw the initiative as being unfair, it effected motivation and job performance.

The chosen few in the talent pool soon became overly competitive, boorish and unmanaged because they could. Young men with little in the way of people skills were promoted way beyond their capabilities and began to struggle with the burden of expectation. They were offered no coaching or mentoring or development workshops just expected to slug it out toward survival of the fittest. Not a healthy state of play and gives rise to the suggestion that managing talent is certainly not easy and not easily defined.

Talent Management Planning

Clearly the management of talent has many areas of focus. Any program will need careful planning to fit in with organisational culture, form appropriate measurement of the high performers and equity within the organisation. Moreover, no one size fits all, as many HR organisations do not see managing talent as a priority. Of course this is perfectly understandable in the current business climate. These programmes need time and commitment from all facets of the business to work and can be expensive. Though there is considerable evidence to show that the business that engage in talent management make significant returns of their investment. Profitability up by between 15.4% to shareholders to 1,289% returns to shareholders over ten years data from So lets move on toward positive talent & leadership development here are a few discussion points to get the ball rolling

Draft Plan

  • Have a clear agreement as to what high potential staff or talent is for your organisation. Is it to lead, manage, sell, or develop products etc that effect profit or what exactly?
  • Define the job roles for this process
  • Are the people inside or outside the organisation for the talent programme?
  • Will performance management programmes be rigorously applied i.e. fit to focus?
  • Have you identified a clear system of identifying the talent potential?
  • Are organisations expectations realistic?
  • Is their an open and honest organisational culture and able to give and receive constructive criticism? Does this programme fit your cuture of operations?
  • Non-participants encouraged to understand the talent programme and aspire to the standards expected.
  • Development centres/workshops to encourage group working, deal with poor performance, taking stock of career progress, personal performance coaching and most of all reflection time for learning and PDP.
  • Ensure development has clear purpose

Managing talent is tough to get right. As to some extents it is counter intuitive in a very lean and competitive business world. Clearly these initiatives are expensive and time consuming as mentioned earlier and need progressive commitment from the organisation to work. However, having key people in key positions leave the business as a result of a lack of career development can be expensive. Both in terms of loss of revenue and recruiting the right type of person to the role. So managing talent could be seen as perhaps inoculating your organisation to potential high performers leaving and succeeding elsewhere. As the old adage goes and adapted for this purpose – train your talent so that they can leave, but treat so well that the don’t want to.

Having a clear focus upon the talent needs of the business demands a framework and expectations clearly defined at the outset. Equally important to the organisation is the ability to engage the whole group in developing a ‘talent mindset’ and to help everyone engage and have the same opportunities. Moreover, encouraging the whole team to strive toward pre-defined objectives for those that can achieve will no doubt lift motivation, productivity and sense of purpose & career direction.

The introduction of talent management can viewed as a highly positive response to a changing business environments. However, talent management programmes will need the commitment from leadership teams, management, coaches and mentors to ensure success. Thus signalling a shift to a more proactive culture of people development and performance management for the whole business. However, committing to the talent management plan and setting out goals and objective is a great start.


McCartney C, Garrow V (2006), The Talent Management Journey, Horsham:
Roffey Park Institute

CIPD (2006), Reflections on Talent Management, Change Agenda, London: CIPD


A Leadership Question – formal or informal?

images (32)I am sure you have seen LinkedIn and other social media platforms awash with articles on leadership and becoming a better leader. How many articles and promotions do we see “10 ways to become a great leader” or “Essential Leadership Training” etc, along with countless banal quotes from eminent business characters. You have all seen them I am sure. Now if I was a cynic there could good reason for this in terms of leaders & managers may well have a resources to pay for management consultants fees? As I am not a cynic I am sure that this is not the case. However, most of the leaders we hear and read about are those with formal power, influence and position. What about those who have no formal power in an organisation or a group, what is it that draws people to them? What is it that perhaps creates a more authentic sense of leadership and vision for the followers?

Needless to say, a person can influence others, and in this sense be a leader. Others look to them for ‘leads’ and follow their direction or probably more importantly their behaviours (health and safety is a good example). I am sure we have often seen someone have a negative influence on behaviour within a group/team when they flout rules or reject authority. Similarly a person can have a positive influence by being clearly supportive of an initiative and engaged in a process – particularly where their involvement is discretionary. In many cases, it is the informal leaders that will be the strongest influencers of behaviour within a group as their influence is more direct, closer to the group and constant.

Informal leaders have capabilities that more formal leaders do not, simply because they do not hold a position of designated authority. They can suggest things to other team members that could not be said by a person in an official management role. Their ability to influence is different, since informal leaders are often perceived differently than formal leaders. The informal leader who might take on this task is respected, perhaps trusted, based on his/her performance and relationships with the others within the group. While the formal leader is more likely to be in a leadership role due to his formal authority and power.

So what do we make of the informal leader? Dean Pielstick at North Arizona University published a fascinating paper a few years ago “Formal & Informal Leading: A Comparative Analysis” where his findings suggested that informal leaders are higher levels of leading than formal leaders overall but notably in vision, communicating, relationships, community, guidance and character. All of the vitalcomponents of authentic leadership. Informal leaders seem to have more fun are personable and treat co-workers with more respect. The informal leader is less likely to use coercion or have a need for power and perhaps more importantly less likely to use fear. Although this study is not without its faults the finding suggest informal leaders are more authentic that may well provide a lesson for more formal leaders.

This topic is much under researched perhaps for the cynical reason noted above. Though we may need to pay more attention to informal leaders and identify their qualities. Perhaps it is a more pure sense of authentic leadership as they have no formal power within the organisation? This may then fuel the need to strip away titles and trappings of power to provide the organisation a more transparent form of leadership that the group engage with fully. Therefore inverting the organisational pyramid with the leader & leadership team no longer sitting at the pointy end at the top but facilitating the organisation to function without barriers. Food for though at least.

Drop me a line or call today to find out more of how to nurture your informal leaders or leadership style .



CD Pielstick – Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 2000 –


Its not me……………its you! Resolving Conflict at Work

imagesConflict in the workplace (or anywhere else for that matter) can create significant inter & intra-personal stress, anxiety and any number of negative psychological affects for people. Some see conflict as something to be avoided at all costs just to maintain an equilibrium and and perhaps give a manager an easy life……………as if!  However isn’t conflict a fact of life when groups of people come together with different goals and aspirations? Does conflict have to always be a negative thing? Perhaps the perception conflict and how the problem is ultimately resolved in a non-judgemental task focussed way, may shed some light on how to help produce more positive outcomes and culture change.

Clearly, dysfunctional conflict is a bad thing. No good can come from it. Dysfunctional conflict damages relationships, damages self esteem, can result in verbal threats or even violence. This dysfunctional conflict serves no purpose and is often a way to just vent any number of emotions such as anger and frustration. We all have levels of what we consider to be an acceptable degree  of conflict, though if we are in a relationship or a workplace where there is ‘too much’ conflict we might consider leaving. Thus potentially creating  more stress and a disruption to life and for those around you.

Looking on the bright side however, conflict that is percieved as being functional can create an environment to achieve organisational change, create a learning environment as we reflect on our own behaviour and our decisions as they are challenged constructively by groups, co-workers or partners. One way to begin to look at functional conflict is the process of Constructive Controversy. Constructive Controversy is a powerful technique for managing and resolving conflict. Its objective is to test a proposed solution by subjecting it to a clash of ideas and an active task focussed problem solving process. Thus either showing the idea to be either wrong, you can prove it, or improve on it. Using Constructive Controversy techniques, your confidence in the solution chosen and subsequent decision making improves as you reach a better understanding of all the factors involved.

Constructive Controversy is a positive and productive problem-solving approach developed primarily by David Johnson a Social Psychologist. Johnson began a program of teaching elementary, secondary, and university students to be “peacemakers” in the sense of knowing how to engage in negotiations and the instigate mediation of peer conflicts. This model is well researched and evidenced based, and it’s recognised as one of the leading models for developing robust and creative solutions to problems and managing conflict. According to David Johnson the technique draws on five key assumptions:

  1. We tend to adopt an initial perspective of the problem based on our personal experiences and perceptions.
  2. The process of persuading others to agree with us strengthens our belief that we are right.
  3. When confronted with competing viewpoints, we begin to self-doubt our rationale.
  4. This doubt causes us to seek more information and build a better perspective, because we want to be confident with our choice.
  5. This search for a fuller perspective leads to better overall decision making.

To put these assumptions into a structured problem solving process the following steps may help you to manage a situation in a team with confidence.

  1. Brainstorm ideas about the issue and the problem at hand. (please observe agreed boundaries of brainstorming as we are trying to judge the best solution to the problem not attack other people)
  2. Form teams to look at all the different alternatives that have been generated
  3. Each team engage in Constructive Controversy i.e. teams present their ideas to begin convincing the wider group that their choice is the most productive
  4. The other teams then have to opportunity to argue constructively the pros and cons of the suggestions with the emphasis upon critical and logical thought process.
  5. Following the process of presenting and counter presenting of the problem solving choices, teams are asked to argue for another solutions they originally argued against.
  6. A decision is then made from the most convincing evidenced based solution.

Constructive Controversy then is a very effective method for developing agreed and negotiated solutions to problems. However, this model has to be used within the right setting and to ensure that participants have the skills to manage this type of structured functional conflict.

The key here is to incorporate and understand different perspectives in a non-judgemental manner to gain a better understanding of the problem as a whole. As a result the solution arrived at is likely to be improved and built upon time after time.  Constructive Controversy can a time-consuming & a highly structured process. However, when used to tackle significant problems and conflict in the work place in an open minded and functional way, with appropriate rules and boundaries the benefits of using constructive controversy, the method can lead to open and positive problem solving in any organisation or in your personal life. Contact me for more information and support managing conflict for positive and productive solutions.

Appraisals what are they good for – absolutely everything!

download (7)How many people have a good performance appraisal experience, however many line managers feel that they are just a “HR box ticking” episode (bah humbug), or more to the point how many people actually have appraisals at work?

Having recently spent some time reviewing an organisations appraisal process, it became clear that there is no one size fits all formula. In fact, making sense of the weight of conflicting models and theory from psychology for conducting appraisals, it is akin to herding very excitable cats high on industrial strength catnip. Indeed the Internet is awash with confusing “do this do that” that just adds to the confusion. However, if arranged properly performance appraisals can become a source of business focus, proper job design, improved communication, employee motivation, build confidence, self-esteem and can be seen as a huge learning and development opportunity for all concerned.

Social & work psychology has a lot to say about appraising people at work and how people make judgements about others. Research shows that we are highly subjective and very often biased in our judgements. In some cases we can draw seriously invalid conclusions about motives and actions of people based on our own sometimes skewed view of the world. This is primarily due to our habit of utilising “cognitive shortcuts or cognitive heuristics” to help us manage and make some sense of our increasingly complex surroundings. Sadly, this may explain our tendency to stereotype and frame our prejudices of others, that can lead to significant problems assessing people at work and other walks of life.

So back to the performance appraisal process and how to potentially make it more of an objective, more about evidence and less subjective. To clarify, appraisals are to improve performance for the organisation, a team and the individual. So here are a few pointers that may be helpful to both appraisers and appraisees that may add a little more science to the whole business.

High performance appraisal cultures endeavour to

  • add clarity about objectives and goals for the business and individuals
  • provide continuous feedback on performance
  • provide recognition of performance
  • support personal development of individuals within the business.

Adopting an objective goal orientated approach can provide

  • a deeper understanding of the job or role
  • a focus upon the real business needs
  • improved communication

Focussing upon goals, Key Result Areas (KRA’s) and using objective measures of performance (perhaps a well designed and evidenced based psychometric test or 360 feedback) will provide a framework to remove the subjectivity of the appraisal process for both appraiser and appraiser. As a result, there is a focus upon ratings of performances that are clear and transparent and not about personality or subjectivity. Consultation with staff teams, coaching and interpersonal skills training for line managers and a leadership team that talks up the system will ensure that systems support changing the culture of appraisals from a pain to a pleasure & an opportunity.