It’s a compelling idea. For organisations to have continued success they need to identify people with the greatest potential and provide a programme of support to develop their skills. Sectors like sport, dance and music have been doing this for a long time. What can business learn from them? It’s easy to get this wrong. Many people on these programmes don’t have the expected level of success and others who missed out go on to have amazing careers.
Which begs an interesting question. If people can be successful despite the support your offer, should you really invest time, effort and money on programmes for high potentials?
The most common approach to talent in business is to put people into (usually one of 9) ‘boxes’ based on their current performance and future potential. The ‘boxing’ process is usually done in secret and if you are in the right box you get access to a healthy chunk of the staff development budgets.
This approach hinges on being able to accurately assess what someone is capable of in future. Not easy to do without a crystal ball and too often assessment is based on what someone can do now, rather than their potential to develop crucial new (usually people) skills.
So how can the evidence about ability help businesses to do this better?
Don’t call what you do a talent or high potential programme for a start! We know that people develop at different rates and inadvertently labelling them through their inclusion or exclusion to a talent programme can demotivate those who are not included. More importantly, it can also LIMIT those who are selected as they may avoid some challenges for fear that setbacks might be seen as a sign they’re not up to it.
And because developing skills is non-linear process, you also need to ensure managers provide an accurate assessment of potential which is individualised and longitudinal. From experience, not enough managers know what to look for when there’re assessing potential so any approach to talent can be inconsistent and doomed from the start.
What should they look for?
Far and away the most important factor supported by the research is that people who take responsibility for their own learning are significantly more likely to have continued success. Development needs to be an active (“what more can I do to improve”) rather than passive (“what development can I get”) process.
This is great news for businesses because they can avoid the adverse motivational or avoidance behaviours associated with talent of high potential programmes. Instead businesses need to create a range of self-driven development opportunities that are open to anyone IF (and it usually is a big IF) the individual is prepared to drive them and can show continued improvement. The best development opportunities then go to the people who are most motivated to do what it takes to improve.
Effective talent programmes give EVERYONE the CHOICE to grow their skills. Not everyone will make this choice. But it must be a choice. Otherwise you’re in danger of creating a programme which really does do more harm than good!
If you’re interested in creating an evidence based and inclusive talent programme for your business, please contact Tony on firstname.lastname@example.org
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