Grow your top performers in house – don’t buy them from the outside


Talent management is a very hot topic for many businesses today. A lot of time, effort and investment is being dedicated to attracting, retaining and developing key talent for key organizational roles. Quite a lot of companies are tempted to fill key roles by recruiting “stars” with proven track records from other firms, the logic being that success is guaranteed and results will come more quickly by bringing in someone from the outside with the specific skills required to do the job.

Such a policy can have a strong impact on workforce morale. Many employees may often feel they are neglected or passed over as the company seems to give a clear signal that it doesn’t have the skills internally to deliver the desired results and this in turn can lead to disengagement of good performers.

However, research recently performed by Professor Boris Groysberg from Harvard Business School indicates that it is not always such a good idea to “buy in” talent from the outside. Indeed, quite often, “stars” who have performed successfully in one environment do not necessarily succeed in their new environment and their “talent” does not necessarily transfer over into the new organisation. Why?

Boris Groysberg points out some very simple but fundamental reasons why talent is not automatically “transferable” from one environment to another.  Talent is not simply a question of “individual qualities” or “expertise” held by the person but depends also on the system which surrounds and supports that individual: the company culture, the team, the “talented” person’s  direct manager, the IT systems, etc. Talent is therefore also a product of the organization and the individual loses this when he/she moves elsewhere.

Above all, High Performance is a question of trust and depends on relationships with others. Even highly talented individuals need to build trusting relationships with the world around them and building such trust takes time.

When a “talented” individual leaves one organization for another one, building the trust network takes a lot of time and therefore the individual’s performance is likely to dip significantly in the short to medium term in the new organization while he/she is busy building such relationships.

In other words, companies may buy in the “talent” but they can’t buy the trust and that’s why  many individuals who have been successful in one organization fail to replicate their success in their new organization. Indeed, some individuals may fall victim to the “talent paradox“. A company recruits a talented individual to deliver immediate, short term  results but his/her ability to perform depends on relationships of trust which take time to build and so he/she is caught between the short-term requirement to deliver results and the long-term need to generate trust within the organization.

That’s why Boris Groysberg recommends developing talent in-house as you will then be able to lever the trust network built up by those key individuals whom you gradually grow to become  your organizational “stars”. In other words, companies  need to “make their own stars”  and effective talent management therefore requires systematic long term planning and investment, training, coaching and mentoring of key individuals from beginning to end.

In this interview, Boris Groysberg addresses many other key talent management issues such as:

  • should you inform your key people that they are considered stars?
  • do you increase the risk of losing your key people if you inform them they are considered key talents
  • Why do key talents end up leaving your organization?

Check out Boris Groysberg discussing Talent Development by viewing the video below.

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