Talent can't be bought - managers have to develop it

EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT BUSINESS IS WRONG: If you want the best talent you have to buy it.

by Alastair Dryburgh
Last Updated: 27 Mar 2015

I was talking recently with an HR specialist about what 'talent strategy' would suit a certain large supermarket chain seeking to get out of a hole of its own making. The specialist's ideas were based on getting rid of people who didn't have the 'talent' required and replacing them with others who did.

Anyone looking at this question in such reductive terms is making assumptions that need careful scrutiny. Firstly, that 'talent' is something that exists, and is created, outside the organisation. Secondly, you are assuming that you can then profitably acquire it.

The first assumption, that 'talent' exists out there for the finding, leads you down a strategic dead end. If you are competing for the same people in order to do broadly the same things as everyone else, you are a me-too business and well on your way to becoming a commodity.

How about the second assumption - that you can profitably acquire talent? This depends. Take sales - if your product and sales function are better than those of your rivals, then you will make more - and more profitable - sales and can pay more. But the converse is equally true: if you have an also-ran product and a badly run sales department, you can't hire your way out of trouble. You won't be able to compete on 'talent' until you address those more fundamental failings.

The alternative is to stop thinking about acquiring talent and start creating it by finding apparently ordinary people and turning them into stars. Organisations that possess this ability to make people more productive not only do better business, they hang onto their homegrown heroes because no one can afford to lure them away.

Talent is developed at work, by individual managers who take on the great responsibility of doing so. I suggest that you should be one of them.

Alastair Dryburgh is chief contrarian at Akenhurst Consultants. If you would like to develop your talent for thinking and acting in surprisingly superior ways, subscribe to his newsletter at www.akenhurst.com


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