While making the most of your assets is a top priority for any organisation, making the most of your staff isn’t always given such attention. Lets consider how employers in the region can get the best out of their human capital.

People management versus talent management

‘People are our greatest asset’ is a mantra often trumpeted in labour intensive sector, particularly the service industry, but this has been challenged by commentators such as Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald of the Harvard Business Review. They argue that there are other, more influential factors that help to sustain competitive advantage, such as financial and physical assets, and technological innovation. In capital-intensive sectors, this is easy to understand – in an LNG business in Qatar it is the gas field and associated exploration rights that are the greatest asset to the firm, not the staff who work there.

Yet even in the most capital-intensive organisation, without the right people running it, the business will fail. What is absolutely critical is getting the right people in the right job. Organisations need to look after their employees and managers, as that is likely to result in extra commitment and productivity and impact directly on their success.

Is the distinction between ‘people’ and ‘talent’ helpful?

Margaret Heffernan and others argue that such a binary judgement - talent or not - is unhelpful. Why? Primarily because performance can change over time just as individuals change. Talented individuals are unlikely to be doing the same jobs when they start with the company, compared with ten years’ time, and the skills they need will change as they progress. Beware, though – sometimes people will be promoted beyond their capability and might not be able to perform at the higher level.

In short, defining ‘talent’ can be wasteful as it writes off others not regarded as talent. Employees may be reluctant to bring their best game to work if they have been indirectly told that they are not talent and therefore don’t have a great long-term future with the organisation.

Can we measure talent?

Stanford University’s Carol Dweck argues that having a ‘growth’ mindset, as opposed to a ‘fixed’ mindset is the best indicator of future success. The ‘growth’ perspective says that everyone can get smarter. Continuous learning is embraced and setbacks are seen as positive; individuals learn how to persist when things get tough. Dweck believes that not everything can be measured, and testing cannot always be relied upon. Grading and ranking of staff tend to reinforce a fixed mindset, inhibiting the potential of people to succeed.

Laszlo Bock, former HR director at Google, believes that assessment of talent is needed frequently and using a variety of methods, while Angela Lee Duckworth sees ‘grit’ as the differentiator, where someone has a passion to achieve meaningful goals and works very hard to make these a reality.

Where next?

Clearly, it is a journey. We can’t all be anything we want, but I do believe that individuals have the capacity to go much further than they may believe. The challenge for employers is to find the talent within and make it work not just for the organisation but the individual themselves. Make the human capital a key asset and the organisation will benefit. This can be a self-fulfilling prophesy, as Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are right.”

Peter Lawrence is a chartered fellow of the CIPD and operations director at Human Capital Department

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