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Top Talent – in it for life?

Posted by Amy Wilson on January 23, 2009


Leading organizations that identify top talent are often asked, “Do you tell them?” The answer is “Yes.” Though the sharing of this critical and juicy information comes with it’s headaches (and lots of coaching and guideline tweaking), it is generally well worth it for a couple of reasons:

  • Motivation – the individuals get an extra kick to step up their game and know that their future is *bright* at their current company.
  • Necessity – the individuals are often placed in a special development pool that includes superior opportunities like executive coaching, mentoring, international assignments, etc. Why? they would ask if they didn’t know the full details.

Another related, but far messier question is whether the Top Talent assignment is temporary or permanent? Once a person is selected, are they developed until they leave the company (retired, fired, or just rewired)? Or, should the pool be continuously tweaked, with people coming and going, based on regular talent review meetings? As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Organizations are working through this as we speak. Without a firm best practice here at the moment, I suspect that this will emerge over the next few years. Let’s consider the opposing arguments:

Organizations are better able to establish a long-term strategy if there is a sense of permanance to talent pools. Candidates can feel more confident in a 5-10 year development plan with long-range goals. It also gives organizations the ability to measure the effectiveness of programs with such a systematic approach. However, there are downsides too. The candidates may develop a sense of entitlement rather than a mindset for growth. It may also de-motivate other “not quite there” candidates for whom there is no room in the future.

Organizations that take a temporary approach are able to react more nimbly to changes in the business such as predicted demand in particular regions, need for particular skillsets, changing diversity requirements. Such organizations can quickly adapt development goals and bring on rising stars that meet the needs of the business. However, there are downsides too. Former pool candidates may feel “dumped” and therefore, demotivated. Also, measuring effectiveness may be more difficult due to the short-term nature of the development programs.

Messy indeed. Unfortunately, many organizations do wallow in the middle and feel the pain of both sets of downsides. I hope that we will see a best practice form that mixes the upsides of these two approaches, focusing on achieving and adapting organizational strategy, keeping employees motivated with a growth mindset and with the opportunity to practice deliberately.

3 Responses to “Top Talent – in it for life?”

  1. I agree that effective handling of top talent is best served by more transparency (funny how that word keeps coming up these days). Without it, the risk of misperceptions outweighs any perceived benefits of reduced headaches and work handling expectations and keeping people motivated. Also, managing top talent should be done in the larger context of managing all talent, i.e. if there is a message and a plan for all talent, top or not, there’s at least a way for folks to understand better how they are viewed by the company and what they might be able to do about it. This would also help the more nimble approach to managing top talent where folks might be shifted to different kinds of pools that reflect the priorities of the company. Whatever the structure and process, true success in this area requires focused, well-trained, and committed management that coaches all talent towards achieving their personal as well as performance goals.

  2. […] the global battle to attract and retain top talent it may turn out that the people you need to succeed are already working at your company; but if you […]

  3. […] you really want to think in terms of pipeline and talent pools that can better represent the needs of the individual and the organization in the […]

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