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Six things I discovered about Talent

tm2What do you think a Wild Duck, Sound Smith, Bounty Hunter and a Rain Maker have in common?

If you thought these were the names of pubs I visited this year, have no such notion. These are the latest job titles. Yes, you read that right! Amused as I was with these titles when I first heard them, they also took me down memory lane. Over a decade ago, I remember feeling similarly amused by induction of the word `Talent’ into our daily vocabulary. The word stuck around. And not only did it add shimmer to a host of job titles but it also swept a better part of our corporate culture. It made the focus on skills laser sharp and burnt people with the same laser. Talent announced it’s war with people.

Occupations like Talent Acquisition, Talent Augmentation and Talent Management and job titles like Talent Partner, Talent Designer, Talent Engineer and Architect became commonplace. Today, these talent fancy designations announce your arrival. My ill wit kept me speculating about their real meaning. To clear the dust of oblivion, I enquired about the job contents of a friend who had donned a new designation called Talent Architect. Her job contents were skill & competency gap analysis, designing training programs, making training calendars, vendor identification & contracting, training coordination, tracking skills and preparing matrices. That looked like a training job to me. I asked a Talent Advisor friend of mine about what he did and his description sounded absolutely like hiring. And now I wonder if it is just me or there is really some sense in this?

I wonder why organizations use these titles that create more mystery and confusion than clarity. I wonder why is there such a mad rush to use fancy names for conventional stuff. Why is a training coordinator called an OD Manager or Talent Manager? What on earth does Talent Augmentation even mean? Why would we muffle our work with these misleading titles? Are we doing something so dull that we need to so frantically gloss it over? Or is one able to `kick-ass’ with these names better? What have we achieved by using Talent as a prefix to our job titles? I went all out to find out but…

When I went to market, I didn’t find Talent available for hire at all. Talent was a small part of what was available. The whole PERSON! Now, is it really possible to separate talent from person? This separation is in our mind, it’s not real. It’s our projection. It’s our perversion, our delusion. Talent needs a carrier, a home and the person provides that. Carry comes with the carrier, not alone. I haven’t seen talent accept an offer or take an assessment. But I have seen people do that. But this person also comes bundled with emotions, aspirations, world view besides talent. For the talent to show, organizations need to respond to person’s emotional universe, aspirations and understand his world view. You can’t just throw a test at him and ask only his brain to respond, can you! Dealing with talent entails dealing with the whole person.

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Could we have processes that take care of talent but not the person?

Many organizations do. They have extracted the talent and dumped the person. People go on making sacrifices for organizations but don’t get much beyond a fat pay in return. Not that organizations don’t care for people, but they do it only so long as the `talent’ is delivering. Once the dance of talent stops, life of the person is in jeopardy. Hunt for talent is a de-humanizing process. I sincerely hope HR folks delve on this, realize this. Unintentionally, organizations have ended up sucking talent from human brain and killing the person emotionally, only to unleash the R & Rs and engagement initiatives for their rejuvenation and renewal. This is hypocrisy.

Many times, talent could be latent in a person. Talent advisors, hunters, acquirers, managers will not easily find it. One needs tremendous patience and investment to let it surface. Many times it is trapped in the `Dark’. It comes in the `Open’ `Arena’ when the person is pushed into the unchartered territory, is challenged/ stimulated or inspired. Extracting talent and nurturing it, developing it are the myths organizations and their people hold. Talent is inanimate. Person brings it to life with his will which is developed by his motives, with his passion and such other things. Organizations make an attempt to bring talent to life by responding to only one part of people’s motives, to earn money. This obviously is short lived in terms of achievements at work but leaves a long term impact on culture where relationships become give and take oriented, Utilitarian. Nurturing people, fostering their personal growth create immense possibilities that could give extra-ordinary results in a conducive environment without any carrots.

In other words, developing talent without investing in the person is not possible. And developing talent doesn’t tantamount to investing in people because talent development is a business need, may not be that individual’s need. Hiring talent has the built in risk of the whole person with all other attributes coming along.

Aristotle proclaimed, `the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Principle of synergy, as per Wikipedia, whether applied to physiology, medicine, business or human behaviour means creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. When the whole person is available to you with all his dynamism, potential, creativity, charm etc why should we focus only on talent? And when we scan it under the microscopes of meaningless processes like appraisals and assessment centers, we kill the talent carrier, the person. We assess talent but judge the person. So he walks around demoralised, unhappy and hurt.

By dissecting a person for his talent, then for engagement, then for potential development etc., we seem to have made things very complex. We seem to have forgotten the person while chasing all the things he carries. This is all a result of our need for control. Our need for managing things better and making people feel good about their work made us over-engineer this concept. Time has come for us to de-engineer it. We need to focus back on the person selflessly, not just for his talent. Adequate focus should be on culture not on numbers. And if the culture is great, people usually achieve numbers with no frills.

-          Rahoul Joshii

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