Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fact of Myth: There are two kinds of employees - top talent and everyone else

Companies are continually advised to invest in their top talent and this is not bad advice. But the almost exclusive focus of talent management authorities on ‘top talent’ seems a bit myopic and may be an overly simplified version of the full picture.

In reality, a lot of people contribute to the success or failure of a company and even ‘top talent’ depends on the performance of these people. And all too often, people identified as top talent are those who are involved in high profile projects rather than the unsung heroes quietly pulling their weight in less visible areas. To say that only ‘top talent’ should be retained, rewarded, mentored and promoted is misleading to say the least and borderline irresponsible.

Recently, Pay for Performance strategies have come under fire for failing to achieve their objectives or even appropriately recognize top performers. It seems that quite a few managers are either afraid of being disliked and give everyone a raise, or else inflate their performance figures to increase their own budget allocations, so that the average delta between high and low performers is too small to motivate top performers.

There is also some question of whether monitary rewards motivate at all in companies where the entire talent management strategy begins and ends with pay. According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, Organizational Behavior Professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in Workforce Management : “Typical pay increases are not enough to motivate employees, but they are enough to irritate them."

I love that. I wish I had said it. I mean, first.

These are legitimate concerns. Certainly it makes no sense to throw ‘top performer’ rewards at poor or mediocre performance and effective talent management involves more than just a paycheck.

But whatever shape talent management takes in your company, a successful talent management strategy should focus on both top performers and the people who enable them.

Think of it this way: If you only recognize and reward ten people, why should people who are not in the winner’s circle go the extra mile to be #11?

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