Monday, November 01, 2004

Rethinking Top Talent

My blog friend Dutch Driver has alerted me to an interesting "manifesto" by Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Tipping Point. This manifesto (and don't ask me what a "manifesto" is versus an article) is called, The Talent Myth - Are Smart People Overrated. It's an outstanding look at the results of recruiting the top pedigreed candidates and giving them free reign once they are hired. The article - oops, manifesto - looks in detail at one company that embraced this philosophy to the nth degree with disastrous results: Enron.

One of the areas that Gladwell covers includes the Mckinsey consulting firm method of rating employees in A, B, C groups and reviewing them twice per year. With this method, A employees are rewarded disproportionately and given an unusual amount of autonomy. In some companies A employees are allowed and encouraged to pursue any and all projects they choose to work on regardless of their abilities and/or the company's needs. This is further complicated by the fact that employees are often rated as A employees not based on their job performance but on their expected job performance as predicted by their former ivy league college status and high grade point average.

At Enron, if an A rated employee took on a task and failed he or she was labeled an excellent risk taker and praised for his or her efforts. Once assigned an A rating, the employee could do no wrong.

Another interesting tidbit in the manifesto is how there is very little correlation between high IQ and job success. If you use a scale where 0.1 equals no correlation and 0.7 equals strong correlation, the correlation between IQ and job success, according to Gladwell, stands at a paltry 0.2 or 0.3 correlation. IQ it seems does not pick up common sense nor the ability to work effectively with people.

It's a thought provoking piece of writing and I highly encourage everyone to read it.

My own opinion on recruiting Top Talent is as follows:
(reprinted from something I posted elsewhere)

Top talent is important and it should be sought out for every position whether we are talking the mail room clerk or the COO. But a top talent person isn't the high flying ivy league college superstar. A top talent person is someone who has a little more knowledge and a little more interest and a little more initiative and a little more dedication and a little more smarts (and so on) than the average person for that position.

True top talent doesn't have to be showy and true top talent doesn't require mega-bucks. There are lots of talented people out there from every walk of life. It just takes patience to find them and a keen eye to spot them and sometimes a recruiter to uncover them.

In light of Malcolm Gladwell's manifesto, maybe it would be a good idea to redefine what is meant by recruiting top talent. And while we are at it let's take a good hard look at the best ways to manage, motivate and retain these most valuable employees too.

Beth C.

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