The wrong question

Enjoyed the recent HRINZ conference in Wellington. The ‘Restoring the Trust’ theme was right on from the current economic environment Well run with a provocative series of speakers especially Roger Steare (Ethicability) , Vanessa Stoddart (Air New Zealand) and  Fermin Diaz (Mercer). The conference ran like clock-work. Well done to Beverley Main and the HRINZ team.

I did take issue with David Thompson (Beyond the Dots) who talked about Talent Management. I think I may be in a minority of people who object to the idea of identifying the few talented ones in an organisation! I don’t think I’m being a socialist here. The whole approach is based on the wrong question – ‘how do we identify and support our talent?’. If you ask the wrong question, you will come up with the wrong answer. Focusing on a relatively few high performance individuals is dumb.

Here’s one of the reasons why. Lets say your talent program identifies 10% of your organisation as talent. If your program raises their performance by 50% (which is hard as they already are high performers) the net organisational gain is a mere 5%.

I think a better question is – ‘how do we unlock the talent throughout the organisation?’ Because if you can raise the performance of the rest of your organisation (the 90%) by just 10% (which is easy as they are low performers) the net organisational gain is 9%. An 80% improvement on focusing on the talented few (ie. 9% instead of 5%).

I’m not an HR professional, but I think …

The problem is that talent management sounds like a good idea. But if HR is to build trust with business, it needs to stop advocating strategies that are fundamentally flawed and will not deliver value to their business. Eventually the results will speak for themselves and Talent Management will fail to meet it’s expectations. That will damage HR’s credibility and reliability which in turn will damage trust.

My second point here is about the art of questioning. Such a powerful and under-utilised skill. Our individual credibility is communicated as much though the questions we ask as though the stories and experiences we share. But take care not to ask the wrong question. Give the right question some consideration.

Of course, I could be quite wrong. Happy to heard alternate points of view.

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3 Responses to “The wrong question”


  1. 1 Lynda Moe October 11, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Clear thinking! Great advice!

  2. 3 jpbatt May 2, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I’m not an HR professional either (by any stretch of the imagination) but I feel like your maths might be a bit out. Or more specifically, the logic behind your maths. I agree with what you are saying, but maybe it’s over simplified?

    The 90% of other is probably going to be a whole bunch of different groups linked together… and they are more likely to include the ones who are most frequently ‘forgotten’ by management and leaders throughout the organisation.

    From the teams I’ve worked in, it seems the most successful strategy is when manager develop those who are sitting in the 65-90% bracket. It’s not the stars who are capable of helping themselves, it’s the next group after that. By helping them, you unlock potential which is already primed to be tapped, and you can demonstrate to others who are maybe less able or less interested that it’s not just the people who are already freakishly above the curve that get the assistance.

    The 10% can get along fine with a bit of guided supervision, they don’t need the same input (and as you point out, won’t reap the same rewards) as the 65-90%.

    Interested in your thoughts.


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