In a previous article, we analyzed the need for talent in organizations given the dramatic changes in emerging methods and technologies like RPA (Robotic Process Automation), Artificial Intelligence, and Big Data. On this occasion, I would like to discuss how companies foster talent within their organization.
Today, many organizations are proposing that being top talent means possessing and developing the greatest number of qualities within a defined profile: the people sought after are as balanced and well-rounded as possible. Internal development of talent includes not only defining these specific profiles for each position, but also holding evaluations and even training programs to cover any missing skills. However, there doesn’t appear to be more talent available in organizations, nor are people happier. So what’s failing?
Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall give us a clue to the answer in their book, “Nine Lies About Work”. They start by proposing that people are happier not when they do what they’re good at, but rather when they do activities that make them feel strong. When we do things we’re good at thanks to our intelligence, responsibility, or through practice, we can be successful and yet still end up bored, exhausted, or drained. When we display our strengths instead, we feel anxiety even before beginning; during, time seems to accelerate; and after finishing, despite being tired, we feel full and proud. But, above all, we feel joy when we use our strengths: these activities give us life and go beyond ourselves to make us more creative, resilient, and good. While we are all different, each one of us knows that feeling well.
The problem is that our current logic dictates that what doesn’t work well should be repaired, and the failure or dysfunction identified. Performance evaluation seeks to place our competencies on a certain scale, which tells us our lowest scores (what’s “broken”, our “areas of improvement”) and the path we have to take to increase performance through relentless work in those areas. The conclusion of this reasoning is that high-performance (excellence) must be the result of having eliminated deficiencies in all fields, of having a score higher than 5 in each scale. Excellence, in other words, is synonymous with being able to have a high score in everything: “complete and well-rounded” people are best.
The problem with this reasoning is that strengths can be identified, but they’re impossible to measure. Let’s take “strategic-thinking” as an example: Is it a state, variable and subject to change? Or is it a feature, inherent and relatively stable through time? Since competencies are immeasurable, it’s impossible to prove or refute the claim that all those who stand out at work share a particular set of competencies. It’s equally impossible to show that those who acquired the competencies they were lacking outperformed those who didn’t, that well-rounded people are better.
Thus, Buckingham and Goodall explain to us that excellence, understood as performing well in all areas, is only a theory. “In the real world each high performer is unique and distinct, and excels precisely because that person has understood his or her uniqueness and cultivated it intelligently. In the real world, each of us, imperfect as we are, strives to make the most of the unique mix of traits and skills with which we’ve been blessed. Those of us who do this best—who find what we love about what we do, and cultivate this love with intelligence and discipline—are the ones who contribute most. The best people are not well-rounded, finding fulfillment in their uniform ability. Quite the opposite, in fact—the best people are spiky, and in their lovingly honed spikiness they find their biggest contribution, their fastest growth, and, ultimately, their greatest joy.”
Author: Jorge Oropeza
Marcus Buckingham, Ashley Goodall; “Nine Lies about Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World”, 2019, Harvard Business Review Press