The Talent Abuse Epidemic

It may be due to benign neglect or to unenlightened leadership. It’s more likely the result of reliance on long-standing unproven or pop-culture practices that just won’t go away. I’m referring to the continued spread of talent management practices that detract from an organization’s ability to thrive. This epidemic continues unabated at a time when there are evidence-based approaches that can replace the time-worn.

Don’t think there’s a talent abuse epidemic? See how many of these endemic, waste-of-time practices you’ve seen in your organization or other companies.

Managers hoarding high-potential talent. High -performing, high potential talent can and should be allowed to make a difference a range of roles in an organization. In addition, navigating a variety of challenging experiences is the best way to develop raw potential. Unfortunately, some leaders abuse top talent by selfishly barricading them in the functions they head. There argument for doing this is, “I found them. They’re doing a good job. Why should I give them up?”

Following the Chain of Command. I recently heard a top executive of a large global organization berate his colleagues for having the gall to talk with some of “his people” without going through him first. A crucial capability in today’s complex and fast paced environment is building and leveraging informal and adaptive networks. Real work gets done in the white spaces of the org chart. Trying to force networks to follow the lines of an organization chart is nothing but abuse.

Training and Development is all “T and no “D”. Training, when properly executed, is good for improving some skills. However, most of the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for success don’t come from the classroom. The skills come from the “lessons of experience” or intentional development – navigating a variety of challenging jobs or assignments with a variety of different people. You are abusing talent if all you offer is a catalogue of classroom instruction. This is particularly a problem since a good bit of classroom training fails to have the desired impact.

You are still doing Performance Appraisals. A recent Conference Board survey showed that 95% of leaders are dissatisfied with their performance management system and 95% of HR execs don’t feel that they yield accurate information. And employees hate them. Yet many companies are still searching for the perfect appraisal form and rating scale. Every time I’ve done an analysis of performance ratings, I find no relationship to meaningful results or data that can be used for effective talent decisions. The amount of time wasted on this outdated practice is abusive to employees and leaders.

Poor performance is tolerated. Marginal performers have a significantly under-estimated negative impact on an organization’s performance, especially if they are in pivotal roles. Low-performing leaders’ teams are less productive. Poor performers destroy engagement, create turnover, and don’t develop talent. No one wants them on their project teams. Yet we are reluctant to confront this abuse or just pass the poor performers around until we find a place where they can do the least damage.

Using selection criteria that has no relationship to job performance. The worst example of this is GPA for college recruiting. We’ve known for quite a while that GPA predicts nothing. Another abuse is selecting on knowledge that can be easily learned in a short period of time in the new role. Add to that the over-dependence on personality assessments to screen out and you almost have a criminal case for abuse.

Have you seen other symptoms of the talent abuse epidemic? I’d love to hear about them.

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