The transformation of talent-ism

The transformation of talent-ism


Talent management has been on my menu as a favored dish, at least as a dessert, for decades. When you choose to work in Human Resources, you get involved in Talent management regardless of the role you perform.

Talent management has been on my menu as a favored dish, at least as a dessert, for decades. When you choose to work in Human Resources, you get involved in Talent management regardless of the role you perform. In the last 20 years, my feelings and thoughts about this field have evolved. For a long time, I was trapped in the adoration of books, principles, tools, consultants` approaches and fascinating presentations. 

Slowly over time, I started to be aware of my personal bias as well as a sort of systematic blindness. I was (and still am) curious about the meaning and impact of Talent management within organizations and in their people. 

HR Anarchy

My exploration was a sort of rebellion. An anti-system anarchist in the world of HR. And I was not the only one. I discovered there are considerably more practitioners thinking beyond the regular exclusive Talent management practices. By ‘exclusive’ I mean the practices that focus on identifying the “lucky few” for whose development within the company will result in a significant amount of resources being invested. Those talents will go through ‘premier league’ development programs; will be continuously exposed to senior leaders; and invited to participate in projects that will further increase their networking opportunities inside and outside the corporation. The outcome is the faster development of those individuals combined with a higher visibility to decision makers. 

This special group of people creates their own network. They will share similar experiences, and most likely believe it is their natural right to have this growingly powerful position within the organization. And here there is a nuance where I say ‘powerful positions’; maybe they are not yet in the ‘powerful role’? Regardless, they are definitely on the right track to get there! The established system is working in their favor to place them into new higher roles and the Talent indicators undoubtedly show the right trends. As a direct outcome, the organization’s leaders are praised for doing their outstanding work in Talent management, having identified and developed their suitable successors. You can see the irony, right?

The ‘Old Boys Club’

Let’s dive into what is played out from the sociological perspective. The system gives power to a privileged group of people, called Talents. This power comes about through nurturing their development, creating opportunities for them, promoting their networking links and much more. The same system provides them the exclusive, invaluable opportunity of being in the spotlight in front of the most powerful people. Those powerful people have ownership to decide on a new placing in the race towards the inner-circle of senior roles. Being in the spotlight usually means being front and center amongst the most suitable candidates on the list for the role that will transform them into higher levels of power. 

Exclusive Talent management transforms arguably genuine, good intentions of developing future leaders into “Talent-ism”. Do you see the link with other “-ism’s”? Through exclusive Talent management practices, the system stimulates the domination of a privileged group to have and execute the power to access better educational opportunities, connection with powerful figures and being part of the exclusive “Talent” club. 

Un-packing the ‘Us’, ‘We’, ‘Others’

What about the others? Well, the leaders use the process to justify that others are not talented. At least not in the annual evaluation. Another absurdity is to call every employee a ‘talent’ - though as an employee “you just need to prove it”. In my experience, it‘s like saying to an Eastern European woman that she can have the same job opportunities in the European context as a Western European man. She just needs to “prove” that she has the same level of knowledge and experience as he does. 

It would be true that all it takes is to prove our worth to get to positions of power, if humans hadn’t been discriminating “others” for as long as we have started meeting any ‘others’ who are different from us. ‘Us’ meaning the group that holds the power. ‘We’ (somehow) believe it is our absolute right to hold that power. And we are very vocal in the ability to describe why we deserve it, going back to the famous process that made us so special. Why are we better than the “others”? Because ‘others’ have different skin color, gender, personal preferences, passport or they are “honestly, not good enough” to be defined as Talents. How will ‘others’ become members of the power group if they do not have the opportunity of a privileged learning experience and to properly increase their networking activities with the decision makers?

Organizational Justice and Employee Engagement

In their article E. O`Connor and M Crowley-Henry “Exploring the Relationship Between Exclusive Talent Management, Perceived Organizational Justice and Employee Engagement: Bridging the Literature” elaborate a link between exclusive Talent management and its impact on perceived organizational justice and employee engagement. In other words, it may easily be that exclusive Talent management practices lead to an important level of perceived injustice in the organization that causes lower engagement. 

Reading the picture below, the intention of HR is positive with exclusive Talent management, due to the valid purpose of securing the strengths of the leadership pipeline for the future. On the other side, the exclusivity turns out to have a side effect that might be neglected. E.g., how many people left the corporation that we did not want to leave, due to an exclusive Talent management practice? 

The additional costs` or losses related to exclusive Talent management practices might be quantified calculating the impact of disengaged employees on the company scoreboard. How do the discriminated groups respond to the system that oppresses them? I can name only a few of them: limiting their dedication and motivation, not bringing the best of themselves into the job, seeking other employment options.

There is no fast solution for Talent management although there can be fast actions to transform Talent-ism. The intention of this article is to be “the call for action” for different stakeholders in the Talent management context. A good intention when translated into strict, hierarchical, and administrative processes may provoke undesirable outcomes in the long run. Designing the principles based on a variety of perspectives has true potential to build truly inclusive and holistically powerful practices. 

I did not see the -ism in the Talent management until I found myself gazing from the outskirts. 

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