Is every employee a ‘talent’?

“Every employee has talents, but not every employee is a talent.”
Sandra Hoeylaerts, Talent Director at Huntsman

This statement rises the question on how we define ‘talent’.
Yes, everyone HAS talents, let’s call them ‘strengths’.
No, not everyone IS a talent, being someone who shows the will & skills to grow vertically to more complex positions in the organization.
We also call these employees ‘high potentials’ or ‘future leaders’. While they represent only 5 to 7% of the employee population, they do have a significant impact on the output.
We are convinced that these future leaders or high potentials need a development approach customized to their specific needs.

We recommend you to read the inspiring article: “Delusions of employee development”, written by Marc Effron on 6 changes that are needed for realistic employee development:

1. Radically reduce expectations: Set one development goal
2. Differentiate your investment: Develop a talent philosophy and communicate it broadly
3. Let managers set development goals for their direct reports
4. Double-down on experiences:  create experience maps
5. Create development plans in talent reviews
6. Make managers accountable for development

How to mitigate age and gender bias in the Talent Review?

Why are most high potentials males younger than 40?

Recent research demonstrates the risks of age and gender bias in Talent Management practices.

How to mitigate these biases in the Talent Review?

A recent study at the University of Leuven* shows that appraisals of potential are more likely to be age or gender biased than appraisals of performance.
This can be explained by the fact that ‘potential’ is a future oriented prediction of behavior while performance refers to the evaluation of behavior in the past. Predicting the future is always a more abstract exercise than evaluating the past, disposing of factual data and observations to base your evaluation on.
The results of the study show that
“appraisals of potential seem inherently biased against older employees and to a lesser extent women”
The observation that employees older than 40 to 45 years, are less identified as high potential, can have an important effect on their career. More specifically, this can impact in a rather negative way their
  • pay raise
  • promotion opportunities
  • access to development possibilities
  • visibility in the organization
And for the organization this means a risk of less diversity in age and gender of the talent pool. This talent pool being the source for future leaders.
BUT the good news is, that there are ways to lower the risk of age and gender bias.
Some suggestions:
1. Define ‘potential’ as tangible as possible by using observable behaviors – and ask leaders to give examples of these behavior the high potential already has demonstrated;
2. Ask employees input on their potential – offer them the possibility of a self-assessment, based on the behavioral definition of potential;
3. Use evidence-based questionnaires, completed by the employee on the one hand and the manager on the other hand, as input for the Talent Review discussions;

4. Present evaluators with descriptions of real challenges that people face in the role for which potential is appraised and ask them to imagine how the employee would behave in this situation.

* De Boeck G., Brosi P., Dries N.   Are Appraisals of Potential, Due to Their Prospective Nature, More Prone to Bias than Appraisals of Performance?, June 2019


Who do you involve when talking talent?

– all young and high educated employees?
– all managers as from a certain level in the organization?
– all incumbents of a critical position?
– all employees with potential to evolve vertically?
– all employees with outstanding performance?
– other?

WHO is involved when we talk about Talent Management ?

Prof. Dr. Lidewey Van der Sluis distinguishes 4 talent typologies to help C-level decide on how the organization defines ‘talent’. These 4 perspectives are on the one hand based on inclusive versus exclusive orientation and on the other hand the human versus position based approach. The definition of talent also has a direct influence on the development choices made by the organization.

The 4 perspectives:
1. Exclusive human oriented approach: talents are high potentials, so 5 to 7% of the employees are talents. Development initiatives focus on the accelerated development for these high potentials;
2. Inclusive human oriented approach: all employees are talents. These organizations invest in everyone’s development, taking into account the aspirations and talents of each individual employee;
3. Exclusive position oriented approach: critical positions should be filled by employees with outstanding performance. The development focus is on (future) incumbents of critical positions, in line with the specific requirements for this position;
4. Inclusive position oriented approach: every position requires certain competencies and knowledge. Talent is developed in line with the requirements for a certain position.

In my experience, when discussing the scope of the Talent Review, most organizations would like to discuss all talents and therefor choose an inclusive human oriented approach.
To me the Talent Review needs to start from the organizational strategy and give answer to the business requirements.  I suggest to focus and make choices.  Making clear choices, or choosing an exclusive approach, helps you to ensure the implementation and follow-up on the talents and/or critical positions identified.
Let us know what choice your organization made and why …


What if we look at the Talent Review with an AGILE mindset?

Within the context of the Talent Review, I have been using the word ‘agile’ since more than 15 years.
And more specifically the words ‘learning agility’ as a fundamental characteristic for employees, showing the ability and willingness to learn from their experience and use those lessons to perform effectively in new and different situations.

These days the word ‘agile‘ refers to a mindset and a methodology.
Several organisations are implementing a more agile performance management cycle, meaning they want their leaders to focus on continuous feedback conversations, preferably future oriented instead of a once-in-a-year backward looking evaluation.

What would be the advantages of applying the agile mindset to Talent Review & Succession Management?

Imagine that …

  • leaders share an aligned vision on the added value of the Talent Review and Succession Management approach
  • career and behavioural development in line with the business needs are at the center of the Talent Review
  • the follow-up on the outcome of the Talent Review is a topic on the agenda of each leadership meeting
  • the organisations’ talent pipeline is not a static list of talented employees, but an evolving pool of employees showing an agile mindset
  • ‘showing an agile mindset’ is a prerequisite to become a leader in the organisation or to be identified as potential successor
  • leaders participate to the Talent Review Meeting, cross divisions, to add value to the feedback and development initiatives for people they work with
  • succession management of critical positions is focused on a 2 or 3 year time-horizon, instead of 5 to 6 years

… in order to be more agile in the way we look at Talent Review & Succession Management.


Are your Talent Review data evidence-based?

My clients ask me how to ensure that the data, discussed during Talent Review Meetings, are trustworthy. Only valid data will lead to right people’s decisions.
As Daniel Kahneman stipulates in his must-read book ‘Thinking fast and slow,’ people place too much confidence in human judgment. We all are subject to cognitive biases.

However, most organizations trust the feedback of the manager and the HR Business Partner to gather input on the potential, aspirations, risk of leaving, … of the employee.
We better make the data, used during Talent Review Meetings, as evidence-based as possible, including the employee’s perspective. Only then can we rely on good people’s decisions.

Today, we avoid the risk of weak people’s decisions, by using several sources to collect information on each employee discussed in the Talent Review Meeting.

Looking at the same person from different angles increases the objectivity and correctness of the advice and decisions taken. We also train the managers in the aligned interpretation of definitions and
competencies used. We make it mandatory to have a dialogue with each employee prior to the Talent Review Meeting, to clarify the ambitions. And still … we lack an evidence-based approach.

I would like to bring the Talent Review Profiler to your attention as a possible answer to this shortcoming.

This talent intelligence tool, which consists of a questionnaire completed by the employee and one by the manager, gives evidence-based input on the potential, risk of leaving, the relation between the manager and employee and other vital data to feed the discussions during the Talent Review Meeting and take informed decisions.