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Part II: Understanding and Preventing Talent Derailment in the Organizations

In the first part, we discussed the concept of talent and the impact of talent derailment on individuals and organizations. Continuing our exploration, let’s delve into the final part where we explore factors contributing, concluding with the shared responsibility of organizations and individuals, to prevent derailment and maximize potential.

In most of the major organizations, management of talent is an active and structured effort and some of the organizations like Google, IKEA, Cadbury, Facebook, SAS, BCG, etc. have done an excellent job, both in terms of identifying and nurturing talents. While these companies are great examples, we also observe a significant percentage of derailment of high-potential subjects in many other organizations and which according to some studies are well over 35%. Derailment of talents in organizations, as an industry has defined, refers to the phenomenon where individuals who were initially considered high-potential possibilities or had promising careers within an organization, experience a setback or fail to meet expectations, leading to a significant deviation from their projected career trajectory.

There is a significant number of companies that have a strong preference for talent management practices, exclusively directed at a small, elitist percentage of the workforce: – the high potential, highly performing, or strategically important. However, there are other organizations, that are in favor of more inclusive talent management approaches that are directed at the whole workforce. Apparently, choosing the former one, out of these two approaches appears to be easier and more common in a commercial context as it builds strong possibilities for a great ROI and the results are much more favorable for parading to a boardroom audience. The basic premise of talent management in these organizations is guided by the notion that it’s only a few employees who are endowed with certain innate qualities qualify as talented while others are not. However, this approach pre-excludes possibilities of identifying hidden talents or more popularly, uncut gems that only flourish when appropriately nurtured and there is an umpteenth number of successful examples for it.

Industry observers and academic researchers have mentioned several factors that may contribute to talent derailment. These factors can be broadly categorized into personal, organizational, and situational ones. Personal factors may include a lack of self-awareness, poor interpersonal skills, or an inability to adapt to changing circumstances. Organizational factors may involve inadequate support, lack of clear expectations, or limited opportunities for growth. Situational factors may include unforeseen market changes, mergers, and acquisitions, or organizational restructuring. And these are just suggestive and not exhaustive.

While all of them are valid premises for talent derailment, it’s important that organizations analyze all other plausible causes for rectification as it has much wider implications and impacts on both the individuals and the organizations. It’s interesting to note the findings from successive research by the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) which conducted them during the 1980s and 1990s and found derailment factors to be grouped into five core themes:

  • Problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Failure to meet business objectives
  • Inability to build and lead a team
  • Inability to develop or adapt
  • Narrow functional orientation

One of the other major derailers from the organizational context is the lack of defined processes and ineffective performance management. Inefficient performance management practices, such as unclear expectations, inconsistent feedback, or a lack of developmental opportunities, can hamper employee growth and lead to derailment. Without adequate guidance and support, individuals may easily fall prey to demotivation and disengagement and thereby negatively impacting their career curve.

As some knowledgeable industry stalwarts have observed, there appears to be increasing evidence and a strong correlation between the thematic concept of Motivation-Hygiene Theory of Frederick Herzberg to talent derailment: – Motivators, such as challenging work, recognition, opportunities for growth, and responsibility, are crucial for fostering employee satisfaction and motivation. If talented individuals in organizations lack these motivators, they may easily get disengaged and their performance may suffer, leading to derailment. For example, if a high-potential worker is consistently assigned mundane and repetitive tasks without much opportunity for growth or advancement, they may lose motivation and derail from their career trajectory. While Hygiene factors such as compensation, work conditions, company policies, and interpersonal relationships, are necessary to prevent dissatisfaction and create a conducive work environment, they are likely to have less of an impact on talent derailment so long the motivators are well-available in the environment.

As companies are increasingly becoming aware of the talent crisis in the market and the impact of talent derailment (like loss of potential, decreased morale, increased talent turnover, loss of valuable knowledge, experience, and intellectual capital), combined with growing costs for recruitment and training; – many of them, nowadays, are actively engaging their talent management teams to prevent derailment through major organizational initiatives like internal academies, assessment and development center exercises, 360 degrees feedback, career counselling, coaching, and mentorship, etc. In fact, management consulting companies are playing a big role to support this direction for many organizations.

While there is a big role for the organization to make the talent thrive and avoid derailment; – the individuals as talents would also need to play an important role in this milieu. A retrospective analysis suggests that individuals those who have demonstrated dynamic choices in career decision-making and backed them up with self-confidence, resilience, and desire for novel experiences and to move out of their comfort zone were more successful in fulfilling their identified potential. On the other hand, hi-potential individuals who eventually got derailed were observed to have made career decisions in line with their expert knowledge, generally took fewer risks when making career changes, and were less inclined to engage in significant change projects. Interestingly, these derailed talents were previously successful and were identified as significant possibilities.

At the end of the day, it’s a joint responsibility between the organization and the talented individual to actively work together towards the prevention of derailment and fulfilling the promised potential for collective gains.

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