The form of talent management I witness in many organizations is maintained via talent identification and process management. Yet, these inflexible models are rarely able to permit the flexibility that is required in complex, agile environments. If talent management means to tap and foster employee potential in new forms of organization as well, it must leave behind the old, linear ways of thinking and acting and, like the business itself, become non-linear, agile and flexible.

Development-guided notion of talent

A development-guided notion of talent is a helpful addition in this context. In contrast to a static notion of talent, the development-guided understanding does not focus primarily on such categories as talent and high potential. It considers all employees and kinds of talent, essentially the »power of the many« and not the »vital few«. It is a way of maintaining performance and innovation in an uncertain and dynamic situation: by mobilizing the entire staff, distributing the risk and having an experimental attitude.

Differences in performance and potential should not be denied, but considered subject to alteration across time as well as situations. Stanford professor Dr. Carol Dweck demonstrated a startling effect in studies and examples: The mere conviction that abilities can fundamentally always be improved by way of effort and learning by experience has a surprisingly positive influence on individual learning achievements and eventually also the success of a business. Rigid categories of talent and intelligence are more likely to result in status thinking and eventually in standstill (Carol Dweck: Mindset. Changing the way you think to fulfill your potential).

Being guided by development also means that talent management in agile environments is less predictable and more iterative. The aspect of »management«, meaning direction, loses its primacy and can be replaced by »enabling«. Talent enabling is a more appropriate term to describe the way companies enable their employees to free their potential and make this potential available for the company.

Self-organization in talent management

Development-guided talent enabling will profit from concepts such as »learning agility« (a.o. Center for Creative Leadership). The skills entailed in learning agility include the ability to question the status quo, to learn from experience, as well as reflection, feedback and the willingness to take risks. These aspects are surprisingly reminiscent of a SCRUM Sprint. There is little room for rigid formats like career paths. This is so not only because career paths appear to be of little benefit in a fast-changing environment with fluid roles, but even more so because agile organizations live off their employees’ self-guidance and intrinsic motivation. Self-organization means giving the employees responsibility for their development while still remaining at the helm as a company and especially as a manager. Self-organization in the sense of learning agility means that employees identify the need to learn and expand their skill set by learning from experience, reflection and feedback; in that context, it falls to the manager as the person accompanying this process to provide stimuli, give feedback and actively offer learning opportunities. The company as a whole also needs to foster a comprehensive talent culture that goes beyond role descriptions and organization charts to value and sponsor employee learning, trial and error (yes, also the latter), and reflection.

Talent management in agile organizations therefore requires new terminology, new attitudes and a culture that adopts and integrates the company’s own non-linear development.

Anke Wolf

Coinciding with this article we are pleased to introduce one of our associated partners: Anke Wolf from Anke Wolf Coaching & Consulting is a recognized expert in talent management and leadership.