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Plutarch: Thoughts on People Management

Is Portability of Talent a Myth ?

Monday 22nd May 2017


The need to pursue the best talent is a given for most business leaders, but it may be worth pausing to ask some uncomfortable questions: to what extent can one expect talent to magically transform every situation? Is talent a fixed thing or is it highly contingent on circumstances? How does one ensure the success of the talent hire that is made?

According to Neil McCausland, Chairman of Karen Millen and Joules, two of the key attributes of defining talent are a combination of brains and appetite for hard work, assuming the basic skills, experience and qualifications are in place. Finding the 5% of people who have these attributes is a constant endeavour. Once they have been found and recruited, the cultural alignment comes into play, either facilitating or impeding progress. Finding genuine belief in the business and passion for its agenda can also have a significant impact, supercharging the efforts of the business towards success. He commented ‘the team at Karen Millen has come together brilliantly, they have that genuine passion that makes great things possible’.

What defines talent, however, is not entirely a fixed thing, according to Cathy Reeves Executive Resourcing specialist at Virgin Media. Individuals who are considered hot prospects in one firm, can sometimes be felt to be pretty ordinary in another. There are also instances where dramatic inconsistencies emerge between the individual during the recruitment process and how they are, day by day, in role.

Improving the chances of gaining immediate benefits through the arrival of new talent takes careful consideration, according to Cheryl Toner, Marketing Director, Personal, RBS. Often it is the alignment between the behaviours and practice that actually made someone successful in their previous role and those required in their new position that really matters. This is not on the job description, nor is it in the list of achievements and responsibilities on a CV.

The final part of the puzzle, according to Stephen Beynon, MD of Power Solutions at Aggreko, is whether the individual involved will diagnose what is required and adapt himself or herself accordingly. To do so, they will need to have a complex combination of self-awareness, sensitivity to environment and absolute determination to succeed. As he put it ‘you have to learn not to assume you know what the situation requires before you arrive’.

Talent, it seems, is not as portable as we would like to think. For sure it is possible to find apparently successful people but do they have the brains and appetite for hard work required? Do the habits and ways of working that have made the successful so far fit the business’s needs well enough? Finally, are they prepared, with the support of a new employer, to do what it takes to bridge any gap? Food for thought when next you embark on a key talent hire.

Plutarch in no way claims to offer comprehensive statistical reports – the absence of numbers reveals that much, and individual confidentially remains his priority. Nonetheless Hunter-Miller's vast network offers compelling anecdotal evidence, and some occasionally interesting insights.

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