Saturday, September 18, 2010

Talent Management or Talent Commoditization

I spoke to a renowned industry analyst yesterday and he told me that the dirty little secret of talent management is that companies are not trying to nurture talent or retain top talent. Instead companies are trying  to turn talent into commodity and ensure that when talented people do leave the organization they do not do much damage to the existing mediocre organizational machinery. He said that organizations believe that it is cheaper to commoditize talent rather than retain talent. This should alarm leaders who are trying to attract talent and drive business results.

Business leaders are left in a situation where they have a lot of well dressed, well behaved, mediocre people who show up every day, don’t take any risks, don’t do any mistakes, but cannot deliver results or drive business forward. It is not unusual to not find a single person who can deliver results, even when you have hundreds working for you. This should not surprise you because the systematic talent commoditization machinery in most organizations is designed to smooth out any unique or indispensable skill. The machinery is carefully designed to maintain consistent mediocrity. 

So what about the occasional excellence in organizations? Such excellence happens because of the initiatives of individuals and business leaders who drive results in spite of this talent-commoditization machinery.

While there are many visionary people executives who are driving change, I suspect that human resource practices are not going to change overnight. Individuals and business leaders need to take charge of the situation.


If you are an individual contributor, don’t settle for doing mediocre tasks that keep the wheel spinning. Seth Godin, the author of Linchpin says in his book, “The only way to get what you're worth is to stand out, to exert emotional labor, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about.”


If you are a business leader, stop focusing on succession planning alone and focus on practices, tools and technologies that attract, energize and empower great people. When you invest in technology, don’t stop at tools that merely maintain HR records. Instead focus on tools that enable your people to interact with each other, share with each other, learn from each other and work with each other.

That is the only way you are going to attract and retain good people. And yes, you have to pay them their worth.
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