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Part I: Understanding and Preventing Talent Derailment in the Organizations

Understanding and preventing talent derailment in organizations possibly is a highly important topic as there is a war out there in the marketplace amongst organizations to sign-up critical talents. But before we move forward with the construct of the major premises for this important topic, let me start the deliberation with a real-life incident from my personal experience.

Those days I was managing a group of highly talented and dynamic L&D leaders in the pharma industry who were leading the L&D operations for their respective countries. There, in that group, was an individual who stood out as a special one as she was managing one of the larger and more complex countries in the Asia Pac region. She was indeed a talent personified; – a bundle of energy and ideas, leading her L&D team exemplarily and delivering great results since taking over the role under a very demanding and challenging situation. Let’s call her Jane, not her real name though, as she is still part of the industry.

In one of the meetings, we were discussing a project for the development of leadership capabilities for mid-level Sales Managers, and all the L&D Heads, invited to the session were contributing their ideas against the backdrop of their country context. I was taking some notes and making comments as appropriate. When Jane started speaking out her ideas, she enthusiastically went on for almost 15 minutes, making some great points as expected but was repetitive as well. I had to request her to conclude. She then asked what I think of her ideas. I said to Jane “You’re the head of L&D for your country operation and at your level, you can do pretty much whatever you want.”

She said, “OK” and just sat down, looking highly disappointed, and made very few comments for the rest of the meeting. I was genuinely surprised. She had asked for something, and I had given it to her without hedging or putting any conditions. I was wondering what has gone wrong. Then it occurred to me; – Jane didn’t want to be treated like the other members of the group. She wanted to be treated like a special individual. She expected possibly to hear “We really value your ideas and as this makes a lot of sense in the context of your country’s situation, we support you 100%.

My learning: Recognizing them as special and making them feel that way possibly is more important to talented individuals than other organizational considerations. We will revisit this premises again when we would look at the 2-factor theory of Motivation-Hygiene of Frederick Herzberg in the context of talent derailment. It’s important to understand that professionals like Jane aren’t just doing a job for the organization but they are creating outcomes that wouldn’t be possible if they quit or get disengaged. They are the Lionel Messi or the Kylian Mbappé of their world and those spectacular performances wouldn’t be happening if they are not engaged fully, both emotionally and intellectually.

We must create a unique understanding for them, even if that means the special need for adaptation as an organization or operation. When individuals like Jane keeps on feeling disappointed, they simply either switch organization or move into a non-responsive or neutral approach, thereby jeopardizing the plausible performance graph that the organization has projected for them. This can be a major loss for both the individual and the organization and while it’s difficult to put an economic value to this lost opportunity, there is a significant net negative for all concerned.

Talent as many of us know, is a term that emanated from the Greek word “Talanton” which in the ancient era meant a weighing unit or a unit of money. However, the terminology took a different understanding around the 14th century with the academician of that period defining it as a special gift of nature for superior aptitude and ability. Subsequently, there was significant debate in the academic parlance regarding the basis of this very theme called Talent and whether to define it as an innate or an acquired phenomenon, or a result of nature–nurture composite.

In the current era, Ed Michaels and co-workers, in their research publication in 2001, described talent as “the sum of a person’s abilities – his or her intrinsic gifts, skills, knowledge, experience, intelligence, judgment, attitude, character, and drive” and have further extended their definition of talent in managerial context, “as a code for the most effective leaders and managers at all levels who can help a company fulfil its aspirations and drive its performance.” Although most scholars nowadays agree that talent comprises both innate and acquired components, they differ greatly in the ratio to which either of them contributes to the overall compendium. This assumes significance as it influences the direction of an organization for talent management in terms of focus: – i.e., whether to put more emphasis on the identification/selection or on the development and nurturing of the talent.

As an industry, we also haven’t conclusively defined who and what of talent as there is a lack of clarity in the literature as well, over talent as a subject and talent as an object. Talent as subject refers to ‘who’ the talent is perceived to be and talent as object focuses on the ‘what’ of talent, the characteristics talented people are likely to possess. While in the organizational talent management context, it is more of a common practice to identify ‘leaders’ as the subject; – the premises hold a hugely biased assumption that all leaders are talented individuals. Maybe we can draw a consensus and remain consistent up to the point that individuals undergoing the Talent Management process are referred to as subjects with the possibility of higher potential.

Stay tuned with us for the next and final part of this article series, where we will delve deeper into the factors contributing to talent derailment and explore strategies for preventing it in organizations.

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