It seems that even in Europe we are starting to challenge the conviction that the success of companies depends on a few people, the so-called talents.
The thinking has started with American companies, many of which are asking themselves:
Does it make sense to entrust the competitiveness of the company
to just part of the staff?
In short, more than one guru is saying that you cannot expect to generate profits on an ongoing basis by focusing only on people who, depending on the circumstances, we define as outperformers, high potentials, talents or whatever.
Millions of tons of paper are printed about techniques and methods to identify and retain talent, countless conferences are organised on related topics, distinguished consulting companies have made their fortunes (and continue to do so) on a questionable concept: the success of a company is decided by the 10-15% of people who can perform above expectations.
In a great number of companies where personnel management is reasonably structured, the human resources classification is broadly carried out in this way:
- people who hold key positions and provide (at least) satisfactory performance. These are the ones you should do everything to retain;
- then we have the high-potential people, who may one day end up in category 1, on whom it is worth investing for obvious reasons;
- then we have the so-called B-players, people who are not considered to be particularly talented. These are the people who every day make it possible for the organisation to function and at the end of the day to have fulfilled its mission. In these people there is little or, more often, no investments;
- finally, here we find people whom we might find in both points 1 and 3, and whom the organisation would be happy to give up. The reasons may be the most diverse: unsatisfactory performance, different views on strategy, personal conflicts and more.
Today, companies tend to invest in the people we find in categories 1-2, neglecting the B-players (a definition that makes me shudder).
Does the classification I have just presented make sense?
I would say so, although I cannot avoid thinking about…
- … managers who hold their position, not because of their competence but thanks to the excellent relationships they built up over time. Or because their performance is not properly appraised;
- … to the many high potentials that I have seen melt away over time like the snow in the sun;
- … to the people who, as managers or consultants, I have helped to rescue from obscurity to enhance their potential (sometimes even in top positions);
- … to people who have ended up in the wrong category because of superficial evaluations or rumours.
In short, American companies are considering a change of direction and investing in B players, because they are aware that it is primarily they who run the show.
However, this view is limited because the search for talent as the person who can make a quality leap has rather negative impacts.
Let’s see them briefly together:
- investing only in the people I mentioned in points 1 and 2 means accepting that the company’s performance depends on a small number of people. I don’t remember this strategy helping to achieve lasting results;
- people end up being categorised and a B-player can remain a B-player forever, with the risk of losing people who can offer more than what is required;
- the strategy of investing in talent or people with high potential will not go unnoticed. How do you think it will be perceived by a B-player, who will know that the company is not interested in investing in him/her?
That’s the point: simply investing in talent means
telling 80-90% of the staff that investing in them would not bring a return and,
at the same time, expecting them to do their job every day,
with competence and motivation.
Perhaps a children’s tale would be more credible.
Don’t you think so?