Author and Consultant Maggi Evans of Mosaic Consulting
A recent book makes a distinctive contribution to the writing on talent management. Authored by a British practitioner-scholar team, it reaches both deeper and wider than many other books on its subject, and stands ready to stimulate a diverse readership. The principal author is international management consultant Maggi Evans, who has joined Loughborough University scholars John Arnold and Andrew Rothwell to deliver a remarkable book titled From Talent Management To Talent Liberation.
Talent liberation is positioned as an alternative view to that of the talent war that has dominated work in the talent management field for more than twenty years. The authors argue their new perspective “can result in very different ways of framing the challenges that the field faces, opening possibilities for more creative solutions.” For example, a talent management emphasis on “best practices” may not adapt well to a dynamic, knowledge-driven economy. Instead of trusting in such practices, you are invited to liberate your thinking.
The book highlights what the authors see as five substantial “problems” in the way mainstream talent management is implemented within organizations. For the purpose of this review, links to illustrative examples of these mainstream approaches are provided. The central question is not about these approaches themselves, but whether the emphasis on them deflects from alternative viewpoints. The book speaks back to each of the five “problems” as follows.
Problem 1. Mindset of scarcity: The underlying premise of talent management approaches is that organizations face a shortage of skilled workers.
Authors’ response: Talent is not as scarce as people think. Lots of workers have the “raw materials” to step up to key positions, but organizations need to do better at tapping into those materials.
Problem 2. Cult of individual heroes: A talented and visible CEO and other C-level executives are seen as necessary to attract and retain other top performers.
Authors’ Response: High performance always involves talented and productive teams, and neglecting how those teams operate can quickly deplete competitive advantage.
Problem 3. Pursuit of strategic clarity: Strategic clarity is said to be essential, in order to develop a full “pipeline” of talent to meet the organizations future needs.
Authors’ response: Organizations need to prepare for multiple scenarios by having access to a diversity of skills and experiences both inside and outside their employee pool.
Problem 4. Dominance of formal process. Calls are made for control procedures, such as “competency frameworks,” in order to embed the talent management program into the organization’s functioning.
Authors’ response: The formal elements of a talent management program need to be balanced by informal approaches that provide employees’ feedback about the program’s usefulness.
Problem 5. Missing half of the story. Talent management programs emphasize the top-down implementation of the program through the organization’s middle managers to the whole workforce.
Authors’ response: Any approach to talent management must seek out common ground between individual and organizational interests, rather than stressing the organization’s interests.
Elsewhere in the book, the above problems are re-visited from the standpoint of key stakeholders, or “liberators,” in the roles of a) human resource managers, b) leaders, and c) individuals pursuing their own careers. For example, as a human resource manager you can “broaden the talent ecosystem” by borrowing talented people through secondments, projects, contracting or outsourcing. As a leader you can act as an influential role model for a collaborative approach, and help teams to flourish. As an individual you can identify and learn a particular skill that will widen the contribution you can make.
Further highlights of the book include coverage about the line manager as a “broker” between the organization and its employees. There is also advice about thriving as a contingent worker, and an appendix of further resources. All three are discussed below.
Line manager as broker: This idea is seen as fundamental to “helping find the overlap between what the organization needs and what the individual wants.” As a line manager, you are closest to both of these stakeholders and uniquely positioned to appreciate the current performance, motivation and future hopes of your employees. In turn, you are best positioned to see how the organization and each employee may be able to adapt to one-another. As a career owner, you need to recognize the opportunity for upward communication, through your line manager, as a way to seek support for your own career interests.
Thriving as a contingent worker: What is seen as “contingent” work from an organizational perspective may be more respectfully called freelancer or portfolio work by the worker involved. As such a worker, you may contract directly with the organization or be assigned from an agency—analogous to the commonplace talent agency for professional actors or athletes—that represents your career interests. You need to be fully prepared, or “ready now,” to step into the contracted role. You ought not to expect to be treated like regular employees. Instead, you ought to take a transactional view of the money—and also the learning—that the assignment provides. Most of all, you need to “stay ahead of the game” in the marketplace for your services.
Toolkit and resources: An appendix to the book offers a complementary section for your further exploration. One resource is a full list of questions to be posed by different users of what the authors call a “talent compass,” along with a solution guide sharing example risks and actions that other organizations have taken. Another resource is a list of questions for organizations on whether to “borrow, buy or build” talented workers. Further resources include illustrations of everyday on-the-job learning opportunities, a personal “incident room” to monitor your own recent career experiences, and a seven-dimension “life wheel” to explore the balance among your career, your health, your family, and other considerations in your life.
There is much to admire in both a first reading of book and in subsequent reflection on the range of material covered. If you have any connection with the development of or participation in a talent management system, you can derive exceptional value from the time you invest in this book.
I am a professor emeritus of Suffolk University in Boston and a visiting professor at Cranfield School of Management in the U.K. I am an award-winning careers scholar, a