There are many dilemmas that companies face when determining or reviewing talent policy. The choices that these dilemmas imply require a thoughtful ‘fit for future’ approach nuanced by the development culture the company wants to embed.

But before we list these dilemmas let me share a story: Some years ago Carol Dweck, a leading psychologist undertook a series of classroom experiments involving giving the same series of problems to solve to 2 groups of students with comparable skills. The students were not told they were subjects of an experiment.  One group was praised as highly intelligent and clever at solving difficult problems. The other group was praised for effort and hard work in finding solutions to difficult problems.  The group were then set the same tasks.  The second group performed significantly better and were more innovative in the solutions they came up with. Other researchers have conducted similar ‘talent vs. effort’ experiments and shown the often unintended consequences of ‘priming’ the subject and attaching the talent label on them.

This is a cautionary tale for companies in how they frame the talent agenda and how the talent development process is handled.

A deeper understanding of the dilemmas listed below is critical for any company wishing to undertake a review of their talent practices. This list is neither intended to be exhaustive, nor are the choices mutually exclusive:

For a chosen few or many

  • Should the talent program be focused on the top 10% ranked highest potential employees or be should it recognise that talent resides in us all and is largely contingent on how our talents are deployed in the organisation?

Early career oriented or ‘fit for future’

  • Should talent be identified on the basis of the anticipated length of their career trajectory and therefore be early career oriented or picked with a clear eye on the talents required for the future of the organisation and therefore look past the early career stage?

A program or an approach

  • Should identified talent be nominated onto a formal talent program and their continuance on the program reliant on their continuing to demonstrate potential or should it be more about an approach to how the company deploys, develops and engages its highest value employees that is hardwired into the wider organisation?

Transparent or secret

  • Should the company be open about disclosing to all who has been identified as talent or should companies be more circumspect and sensitive about disclosure in order to not disengage others?

 Self nominated or manager nominated

  • Should individuals be asked to decide if they wish to go through an assessment process to confirm their potential and talent status and be asked to make a clear commitment to develop or should line managers be left to decide who is talent and assume their commitment to the development provided?

Individually tailored or generic

  • Should talent management approaches recognise the diversity of individual development needs and adopt the more costly high-touch individualised approach or should all those identified as talent be exposed to generic developmental experiences?

Self managed or organisationally managed

  • Should individuals be empowered to determine and drive the scope, nature and pace of development they need or should the organisation take charge of the talent development agenda to ensure consistency?

Written by Meena Thuraisingham, Director and Principal, TalentInvest, Aug 2012

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Watch this space for Meena’s new book on Unconsious Bias to be released in Jan 2013


Written by Meena Thuraisingham
Director and Principal, Talent Invest

Meena Thuraisingham is a consultant, author, executive coach and thought leader in the area of People and Culture. An organisational psychologist by training, she founded TalentInvest, a niche consulting practice, advising global clients in the UK, Asia and Australia in Capability and Culture. Meena is also a regular speaker internationally on leadership effectiveness and culture change.

Her published books are The Secret Life of Decisions, Careers Unplugged and Derailed!. Get Your Copy Today