Monday 22 July 2013

There is simply no need for a war on talent

All war is a waste, particularly an unnecessary waste of human life. 

And a war on talent I think is a chronic waste of time, energy, and money, particularly when what is spent is usually on the few rather than the many.

The phrase ‘war on talent’ was introduced by some McKinsey consultants in the late 90’s.  The poster child was Enron. Enough said!

Where are you investing?  Are you focusing on the few or on the many?

A great example of focusing on the few is CEO salaries.  In several companies such salaries are several hundred times that of the lowest paid employee.  Nobody is worth that much more.  The CEO role is important for setting direction and strategy and for many other reasons.  What really matters though is execution.  In my view the most value is in execution and therefore every employees role is vital and valuable.  Our focus should be on enhancing everyone’s talent.  Doing so in my view is the number one role of leadership.

An old adage says that a champion team will usually beat a team of champions.  We need to be paying more attention to this in our organisations.  Sadly though what we have a tendency to do is - reward the so-called talent, the top performers, beat up on the average performer, and threaten the non-performers!

The magic is in the middle as depicted in the following diagram

The Corporate Leadership Council 2004 survey of 59 organisations and 50000 employees blew my mind. It’s findings “13% of employees actively disengaged from their work, 11% of employees fully engaged in their work, 76% of employees open to persuasion through increased emotional commitment.” It was the 76% figure and the words ‘open to persuasion’ that blew my mind.

Guess what? Despite billions of dollars being spent on employee engagement nothing much has changed.The 2012 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study involving 32000 workers found that nearly two-thirds (65%) are not highly engaged.

There is a great opportunity for you by focusing your work on the majority of your people, those ‘open to persuasion’ (neither engaged or disengaged).  A key factor in helping my clients to dramatically improve performance, and the bottom line as a consequence, is to work on improving the majority of people’s performance not just a few.

I always read with interest the New World of Work newsletter from the great people at Tomorrow Today. 

The following in their September 28th 2012 issue caught my attention:
“It seems amazing, but many businesses still don’t understand the positive impact engagement can have on their bottom line. For example, various recent studies have found:
- that the most engaged companies have 5 times higher total shareholder return over 5 years than the least engaged companies (Kenexa)
- that companies with high levels of engagement outperform the stock market index and post shareholder returns 22% higher than average. (Aon Hewitt) Yet Gallup still reports that 71% of employees are disengaged.”

The magic is in the middle.  

Are you engaged in a so-called war for the so-called top people? or are you focusing on helping the majority of your people do a little better?  Do the math. If 10 percent of your people improve one percent how does that compare to between 51% and 76% of your people improving one percent?

There is a body of work around that is suggesting talent is overrated and that consistent effort in the right areas is what matters.  Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers talks about how most successful people are so by putting in 10000 hours of work.  In Talent is Overrated: what really separates world-class performers from everybody else, Geoff Colvin talks about ‘deliberate practice’.

I believe lasting success is about talent and effort.

This I know beyond any shadow of a doubt - every human is born unique.  We all have gifts/talents and a one-of-a-kind way of using them. We need to put in the effort to enhance what we were born with and what we learn in our lives.  

The real job of leadership is to inspire and influence people to become all that we are capable of becoming, which Robert Louis Stevenson once remarked is the only purpose in life.

If you are engaged in a war on talent I suggest you stop today. It’s a chronic waste of time, energy, and money.  Instead invest in enhancing the gifts/talents of your average performers, more than likely the majority of your workforce.  The magic is in the middle!

Here's how I can help you.

Be the difference you want to see in the world.

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