Lead, don’t manage talent

Talent Management is a topic that has been much discussed over the past 30 years.  While I am not an HR professional (or perhaps because I am not), I have always looked at talent management as an integral part of my job as a manager.

Despite the volumes of books that have been written on this topic (Noel Tichy is my favorite academic and practitioner), and despite the numerous case studies that have explicitly linked effective talent management practices to companies’ financial performance (see one from the McKinsey Quarterly), it’s still baffling to me how many managers look at talent management as a process they have to perform annually (or semi-annually, or quarterly) to satisfy their HR checklist.

Talent management is not an ‘on-top’ process you have to perform whenever you get the dreaded reminder email from your HR department, but rather the key role of effective leaders.   This is especially true in service-based industries like legal professional services, and software where people are the key assets.

So what are my best practices?

Hold yourselves and your teams accountable to identify, develop and retain top talent– very few companies do this explicitly

Give your people assignments you know they are not ready for: encourage risk-taking and coach them to succeed

Provide timely, honest and constructive feedback, i.e., provide feedback when you see an action and do so in a way that will help the person grow

Reward your top performers – while you may not have sufficient monetary flexibility (depending on your HR processes), you will be surprised how non-monetary rewards motivate people:  when was the last time you publicly recognized an achievement of one of your top team members?

And my favorite…

Let talent go – if you see an opportunity that will benefit the person and your company, don’t be afraid to encourage them to rotate, even if the person is indispensable.

So, would you encourage your best employee to move to another team within your company if this was in the best interest of the individual and the company?  Think hard before answering…

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4 Responses to Lead, don’t manage talent

  1. Julie Barrier July 26, 2010 at 11:15 #

    Well-said, Ted. Especially like the last point (your favorite :-). Thanks for taking the time to post about this stuff.

    • Ted Sapountzis July 26, 2010 at 16:26 #

      Julie thanks for your kind words, this is one topic that I am actually quite passionate about and I am glad it resonated with you.

  2. Shirish July 26, 2010 at 12:52 #

    Nice article! To your question – I would encourage if it is in the best interest of the individual or the company. That may sound a little naive and may be against the norm of building fiefdom that many corporate leaders have come to see as a sign of success but I believe it is a sign of maturity and a secure leadership.

    BTW, recently, I read an article on similar topic that you may find interesting. http://guides.wsj.com/management/developing-a-leadership-style/what-is-the-difference-between-management-and-leadership/


    • Ted Sapountzis July 26, 2010 at 16:35 #


      Thanks, based on some research I had done a few years ago, your first point was what differentiated the leaders (who believe the CEO ‘owned’ all talent) vs. the laggards (where managers felt they ‘owned’ their talent).

      The WSJ article is great indeed, I especially think the “The manager maintains; the leader develops” quote is very appropriate for this post…

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