IMG_1769Within an organization, how can you identify its key talents? How do you manage and develop this this talent successfully, and what strategies and techniques can you use to retain them in the organization? Or are there risks in focusing specifically on talent development for the chosen few? A research team at the Stockholm School of Economics has been exploring these questions for the last three and a half years.At a seminar organized by SSE Executive Education, researchers from Stockholm School of Economics presented some thought-provoking results.

Professor Andreas Werr, together with two colleagues, Associate Professor Pernilla Bolander and Ph.D. student Kajsa Asplund, conducted nearly 60 interviews in 30 different organizations to map out how people view talent management, how people engage with it in each organization and what effects it has on both the organization and the individual.

Four approaches
Although the concept of talent management – identifying, attracting, developing and retaining highly skilled individuals – has roughly the same meaning for most people, it turned out that different organizations have different ways of looking at how it’s achieved. The researchers were able to identify four main approaches to talent management: humanistic, competitive, elitist and entrepreneurial.

The four branches can be briefly described like this: The humanistic view considers all employees as potential talent, and talent is developed gradually and is more about potential than proven performance. The competitive approach sees talent as something that only a few people actually possess; it is innate and based largely on an individual’s past performance. The elitist view differs from the competitive one, but it also considers talent as a personal attribute, the province of a select few, that must evolve and be refined. This process is often is done by older, more experienced colleagues who take on the role of mentor for the talent. The entrepreneurial approach ultimately means that talent is more about motivation and drive, and that talent is developed through experience.

An organization’s dominant approach to talent management was also strongly tied to the type of organization. The humanistic approach was found mainly in flat, non-hierarchical organizations, whereas the elitist approach dominated primarily in organizations that focused on strong individual performance, such as law and accounting firms.

Affects both the group and the individual
Depending on how talent management is managed in an organization, it can exert a strong influence on both the individual and the group. The researchers reported that there are also pitfalls and risks with initiatives like talent programs and special measures for particular individuals. Being cherry picked as a special talent and becoming the subject of a company’s focus and investment need not necessarily be a good thing for either the organization or the individual. An individual who is accepted into a company’s special talent program might indeed feel gratitude, show greater loyalty to the organization and accept that the new role or title brings with it higher demands. But it can also mean that the individual gains an elitist self-image, becoming less able to accept criticism and less willing to learn new things.

Even within the organization as a whole, talent management programs can have unexpected effects – both positive and negative – depending on how they are designed. In fact, it’s been shown that if a company’s talent management program is perceived as fair in the organization then it leads to a higher degree of commitment among all staff — not only those selected as talents. But, on the other hand, if a talent program is perceived by other employees as an unfair allocation of the company’s efforts and resources, or if the talent selection process itself is perceived to be unfair, the effect will be the opposite.

To sum up, companies stand much to gain from their ability to attract, encourage and develop outstanding talent in their organizations. But achieving success with talent management initiatives requires plenty of thought and commitment from the executive team and managers.

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