A director in a Spanish multinational company confided to me one day: ‘I’m not sure if we are selecting the right people for our talent development programmes. The problem is, as a result of taking part in the programme they frequently get offered a better position within the company- and their current boss doesn’t want to lose them.’ Does this ring a bell?

This remark highlights a problem which is rife in companies: the assumption that employees belong to their boss and not to the company. This way of thinking stifles talented employees and leads to the hiring of people who won’t outshine their boss; even worse, it can create a situation where gifted individuals are trapped in low-profile positions. More than 10 years ago, in the midst of a global economic boom and the emergence of talent management as a key business strategy, McKinsey found that only 16% of organisations actually knew who their most productive people were, and barely 3% thought that they were able to effectively develop the potential of their staff. Five years after the McKinsey survey, a similar study carried out in over 200 companies in Spain found that only a third of them had ‘identified the people and the teams that were outperforming’ and had put in place ‘specific policies to detect and develop employees’ potential.’ Now, this problem is not confined to human resources departments; it is also exacerbated by the attitude of many bosses. We all know that we have to meet targets and that we need to have the best people in our teams in order to do this. However, we cannot view them as if they belonged to us. If we manage in this way, three groups lose out in the medium term: first of all, the talented individuals, who will eventually become demotivated; secondly, bosses, who will end up having less committed staff; and thirdly, the company, which in the long run will lose very valuable people.

The most talented employees need to be given the chance to interact with others in the company and to take on new challenges. Bosses have to accept the risk that, in this process, other departments may try to ‘entice’ them away. Managing effectively means choosing the best people, and not being afraid that they might overshadow you. More important still, being a leader means having a strategic vision of the company’s needs and helping your staff to realise their full potential- either in your department or in someone else’s.

If we want to be successful in these most challenging times, we need to tap every ounce of the potential of the people that we have. We need to put in place procedures to facilitate this, and not leave talent management purely in the hands of bosses. Furthermore, we need to foster a leadership mentality that is more aligned with the overall needs of the company.


First published in Spanish in Expansión.com, 3 May 2013

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