How will leading global companies create value through people? Les Pickett gives HR Leader a peek at a new UK report on “tomorrow’s global talent”
The war for talent is over. Talent is
abundant and in today’s competi
tive market takes many forms.
Senior executives and human resource
professionals need to rethink what they
mean by talent. Talent is about people and
their potential, not just about the jobs and
skills they have acquired.
At present, most companies reserve
the word talent for high-flyers who are
destined to become top executives or
This is too narrow a view for a world
with multiple challenges – a world which
needs people with a range of capabilities.
Talent is all around us just waiting to
Tomorrow’s company will be operat
ing in an era and a new business environ
ment in which value creation depends on
environmental and social issues as much as
on economic issues. This triple context
presents significant challenges to corpo
rate leadership and human resource pro
fessionals and places new demands on
people in organisations.
Contrary to popular belief and practice,
we believe that talent should not be seen as
a rare quality. It is a diverse, multi-faceted
one that exists in everyone.
It is a nice quirk of the English language
that talent is an anagram of latent, under
lying our view that much talent remains
hidden and undiscovered.
A big challenge confronting executive
management is to discover talent. Instead
of looking for people who correspond to
some narrowly defined notion of talent,
talent becomes something that companies
must define in their own terms, according
to their own circumstances.
Talent is something that their inter
nal recruitment and development
processes should be able to uncover in
As well as finding the appropriate
talent, creating value through people
means engaging them in pursuing the
This can be achieved only by identify
ing what people care about and then devel
oping the overlap between individual and
In all of these areas, leadership is criti
cal. But leadership needs to change.
Tomorrow’s leaders will have to lead with
sustainability at the front of their minds
and they will lead in new ways.
Sustainability means being capable of
keeping going. We define a sustainable
company as one that understands that its
long-term success depends upon – and,
therefore, it must contribute to – the health of the economy, the environment
and to society.
Building a sustainable company in the face of the triple context places
considerable demands on the enterprises and their people. These will require
new capabilities and approaches to talent and this will impact on the way in
which they select, develop and advance their people.
Companies that believe talent is a scarce quality tend to adopt a filtering
approach that excludes more and more people as they try to track down the
elusive next generation of leaders.
Companies which believe that talent is abundant will widen their search
and endeavour to get the best out of everyone in the organisation.
They will set less store by CV’s, qualifications and detailed job descriptions,
believing that talent is about people and their potential, not just about the jobs
and skill they have acquired.
Talent can be discovered inside and outside the company and the biggest
task of the company and its leadership is to discover, unlock and harness it.
This means recruiting for values and motivation and developing skills.
Research shows that many talented people work best in organisations that
place little emphasis on hierarchical authority and more emphasis on the
authority that is earned though knowledge, expertise or experience.
Many talented people tend to be non-conformists. Managing them is like
herding cats. Unless an organisation can adjust its structure to accommodate
such people, they may find themselves losing them to those who have flatter
structures, ultimately leaving them full of conformists.
Talent is wasted in every organisation that pays only lip service to the
idea that its employees – all of them and the way they interact – are their
most valuable asset.
Once people have been recruited development is essential. Much effort
goes into the recruitment process, finding the theoretically ideal person for the
job. Once the person is inside the organisation the assumption that they are
the “perfect fit” often means that they are left with little support.
This ignores the fact that new recruits need to learn about the organisa
tion and the particular context in which they will be working. Instead of this
systemic shortcoming being recognised and addressed, the individual is judged
to be lacking in the necessary talent.
Once people join an organisation they quickly gain a sense of how much
they are valued. They can quickly become demotivated by processes and
cultures that suggest that the organisation regards its real talent as being
the small cadre of leadership succession candidates to whom it devotes
development investment and executive attention.
By contrast, other organisations have thrived under the opposite approach
– one in which the company is seen as the star and everyone in the company
sees themselves as contributing their talent to its success.
Even when companies resist the star culture, but still retain groups of con
spicuous high-flyers, problems can result. Those who are not included in the
high-flyer group may become resentful and lose momentum.
Those who are included may not stay in any one job long enough for
any real learning to take place. Others may find themselves staying too
long as regional or divisional managers try to hold on to them and their
As the massive implications of the triple context become increasingly
understood the value of employees who can navigate the multiple strands of
sustainability will become increasingly recognised.
Beyond the challenges of attracting suitable people, developing and
retaining talent will become a highly competitive capability. Traditional
methods of engagement must be redesigned to reflect the interests of the
emerging talent pool, and the needs of this pool must be understood.
In the end it all comes down to leadership. Successful leaders will also
appreciate that they are simply looking after the business for a stage of
its journey. They are stewards of the company and its people.
Tomorrow’s leaders will be exceptional individuals. They will be more
exceptional than previous generations of leaders. It was relatively easy to
be a leader who made the decisions and devolved the execution. In turbu
lent times the acquisition of leadership talent is not just business-critical –
it is country-critical.
Tomorrow’s leaders will really care about developing every ounce of
individual and collective capability that exists within their organisa
tions. Talent will be one of the top three agenda items for the corporate
Different leaders can produce dramatically different results from the same
team of people. This says something about both the team and leader. As well
as demonstrating the leader’s effectiveness, it shows how good the team can
be and just how much talent is wasted by poor leadership.
Our report shows that the way organisations and leaders think about
talent has to be fundamentally different. To help understand the impact,
we have identified a new mindset to progress our global inquiry into how
leading companies will create value through people.
Les Pickett is ambassador for Tomorrow’s Company, chief executive of the Pacific Rim Consulting Group and partner,
Australia and South East Asia, for McBassi & Company. Les can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org