I have had a chance to read a few things and to chat with a few people over the last week or so that intrigued me and caused me to think about how they interconnect.
One of the first was an article in the October 2014 HBR that discusses what the author calls the rise and likely fall of the Talent Economy.
Being that my formative corporate experience was in the human resources management field the idea that we had shifted from natural resources and capital to perceived intellectual capacity was fascinating.
To me when we look at the opportunity costs represented by employee turnover and disengagement the criticality of properly identifying, deploying, and retaining talent isn’t a huge surprise. What was interesting is how talent is described in the context of this article. The most significant talent described here was wealth creation and the creativity to create products and markets with high rates of return.
I also found it interesting that the author feels like focusing on wealth creation to the benefit of the few rather than the many is a huge issue. The most significant benefit of the shift to talent is to the people at the very top of the organization through very high salaries, stock and other equity sharing arrangements and models that benefit few rather than many.
The description of talent is more reminiscent of Michael Douglas in Wall Street, or Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman, than a discussion of great artists, inventors, or musicians. It does in part explain why even though the statistics on the costs and opportunities of employee engagement are so clear why we still don’t see the majority of organizations addressing it as an organizational initiative.
We don’t see managing talent as a highly critical or valuable skill set.
Another interesting perspective I got to explore this week was that of Jack Ma, the Founder and CEO of Alibaba, the highest value IPO in the world in an interview with 60 minutes. From a western perspective Ma uttered economic and organizational heresy when he stated that in balancing the needs and desires of stakeholders he put them in order of customers’ first, employees second, and shareholders third.
What a difference from our western perspective where we worship at the shrine of the shareholder. This is well represented by the fact that the vast majority of the financial benefits of the recovery have been reinvested in stock repurchases and shareholder distributions and dividends rather than talent acquisition and retention, product development, or other areas.
Earlier today I had a great discussion with a colleague about his frustration with his current organizations lack of attention to emotional and social intelligence focusing almost exclusively on intellectual intelligence.
Some of this thinking is likely reinforced by articles like Adam Grant on LinkedIn today discussing how emotional intelligence for fields like engineering, sales, and analytical endeavors is highly over rated and likely leads to distractions and doesn’t predict high levels of success, instead may distract those practitioners from the relevant data and decision making influences.
The key is that while those may apply to individual contributors once someone advances into a management or leadership role it is all about others!
Where in the process do we expose those emerging leaders to a set of skills that are different than the attributes we hired them for in a previous role!
The answer is in large part we don’t. Just as talent was described previously as creating shareholder value we typically promote based on technical talent often with little consideration of interpersonal and social intelligence skills.
We rely heavily on the trust generated by position, authority, and perceived technical competence rather than identity based trust which is much more critical in leading people.
I don’t dismiss the importance of intellectual capacity and technical proficiency in performing any role, but I think where we are relative to how organizations are investing their profits and the trillions in opportunity costs we bleed annually with minimal employee engagement and constant turnover says we need to look at the relationship side as well.
There is no one right leadership model just as there in no one right culture. The keys are alignment and reinforcement.
I think Jack Ma might be right, for sustainability it is critical we move from a shareholder to a stakeholder mindset.