Care with Labels (2) – Non Talent Management?

And so it came to pass that one day, having been considered ‘talent’ for most of my life, and having spent most of my energy on defending this ludicrous position, I eventually became known as ‘non talent’.  Anti talent? Whatever, I did not make the talent pool in my next consultancy job, and it hurt.

I only found out there was a talent pool when some whipper snapper – who I had recruited – blurted out that he was on it.  And what effect, dear reader, did this label have on my performance?  Needless to say, I did not handle it well:

1. My first reaction was childish.  I sulked and withdrew.  I stopped all discretionary effort and focused on trying to find out who was in the talent pool and what they had that I didn’t.

2. My second reaction was to believe that now, suddenly, I was not living up to my potential.  This knocked my previously overinflated confidence, and may have been a good thing, except for the fact that I very quickly bought into a story that I was failing. This led what I would loosely call ‘unfocused activity’ or panic.  I was thrashing about, trying to find answers to a problem that probably only existed in my own head.

3. Eventually I became depressed and stuck in career paralysis.  My job became one of simply getting through each day.

I know there are benefits to talent schemes, other than profits for consultancies.  But I have to ask the question whether these benefits are not hugely outweighed by the costs.  On the one hand, the talent label seems to be a way of reinforcing peoples’ tendency to recruit from their own, which leads to groupthink and a serious amount of overconfidence in one’s ability.  Financial crisis anyone?

On the other, the ‘non talent’ label leads to a sense that we are not worthwhile, and that we must defer to those who are.  In terms of performance, this takes us back full circle.  Julian McNally told us:

“Labels, including diagnostic ones, are only useful to the extent they enable constructive action”.

I’ll leave you to decide how useful the talent label is at either individual or organisational level, and whether it enables enough constructive action to justify its use.

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