Managing Talented People

By Alan Robertson & Graham Abbey
Momentum / Pearson Education
June 2003
ISBN: 1843040247
224 Pages, Illustrated, 6 ¾" x 9 ½"
$49.50 paper original


Highly talented people have very different values and motivation from the majority of people. More is expected of them and they expect more in return. They are often high-impact but high-maintenance too. They think differently (and faster). They get bored more readily. They need different kinds of challenges. They can deal with more complexity but are more complex in themselves. They get frustrated more readily and express themselves readily.

They are a different kind of person - and they need a different kind of management. The manager of a talented team needs to learn quickly how to spot and respond to talent, how to encourage it to grow, whilst gently directing its course. The manager of talent needs to be able to cope with the fact that certain members of the team may be in some respects brighter and more able than they are - and they need to be comfortable about that. The manager of a talented team needs to completely understand what role they play in the team's success and communicate that subtly but effectively. The manager must be respected and be the person that the talented individual is happy to be led by.

This is the book that explores what talent is, how to recognize it and how to deal with it on a day-by-day basis. "It is an easy-to-read text, written in a conversational style, refreshingly free from jargon and pomposity. Any managers who want to get the best from whatever talent exists in their teams would do well to read it."

Additional information:
What do we mean by talented? Proposition: there is something that makes non-conformity or independent-mindedness an essential ingredient in our contemporary definition of talent. Proposition: defining talent simply as above average performance doesn’t get us very far. By whose definition? Different people may have different definitions? In particular, the managers and the managed may have different definitions. Is the label ‘talent’ purely subjective? Or is there some pattern in how people define it? Can there be an objective basis for calling someone ‘talented’? What synonyms are used for ‘talent’? Is the definition of talent essentially contextual, a function of time and place? Different domains are likely to define talent differently Are there some domains where the word talented tends not to be used? When did you ever hear ‘talented’ applied to a clerk or administrator, secretary, labourer, taxi driver, tax officer…? Are definitions of talent changing? If so, how? How has talent been defined through history? (Any off-beat definitions?) Are there various discernible types of talent? If so, what are the types and what do they consist of? What are the common ingredients? Is versatility an essential ingredient in talent? Or speed of learning? 3. How do you manage these people? Why are they difficult to manage?

Proposition: you’ve spent years empowering people; now you’ve got empowered/talented people, you’ve got a new set of challenges! (PS This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t empower people!) Proposition: talent can be double-edged: it’s good to have talented people working for you, but they can be problematic to manage Proposition: talented people tend to be highly motivated but what motivates them can sometimes be at odds with managerial/organisational priorities and requirements. Hence a tension to be managed. What are talented people looking for from work (these days)? What do they value? Respect? Freedom of action? What? What values do they tend to hold? What will they/won’t they tolerate? Any patterns here? How do you motivate talented people? Perhaps a better question is how do you ensure that you don’t demotivate talent? Do talented people tend to be highly motivated? What are the problems of managing talented people? Which are the most common/most typical problems? Examples of the challenges of managing talented people from different domains would be interested; e.g. not just business organisations, but sport, education, science, entertainment…

What allowances get made for talented people? With what effects? What allowances should be made? Is Belbin’s idea of ‘allowable weakness’ more trouble than it’s worth? What can you do about it? Manage expectations Continue to develop their talent Manage them on the move Trust them Talk to them Get clued up How do managers tend to tackle these problems? (What is current practice?) With what effects? (as respectively assessed by the managers, the talent, others…) How should managers tackle these problems? Why? What’s the rationale? What’s the evidence that other approaches work? Manage Expectations One of the ways talent gets wasted is through the unrealistic expectations which are held of it. (Something about the time dimension in here.) We all think we’re talented. Or do we? Is it part of a manager’s job to let people know that they are talented? Or that they are not? Proposition: there are higher expectations of talent; more is expected of them and they expect more in return, that’s an aspect of what makes them different, and perhaps the essence of what makes them difficult to manage. So what do managers these days expect of talented people? Part of the price of being reckoned to have talent is that you are given bigger, more difficult, more demanding jobs AND expected to do them better and faster than others. Is one of the ways in which talent is squandered by managers…not managing expectations about the rate at which talent is going to develop. And what do talented people expect of their managers?

What do managers perceive that they get? And how do they feel about that? What do talented people perceive that they get? And how do they feel about that? Example cases of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ manager-talent relationships? How do the parties respectively define good and bad? Continue to develop their talent Talent is not an entity but an incremental/emergent property…needs investment and maintenance. (Some interesting connections with Carol Dweck’s work here.) Proposition: a key part of the role in managing talent is to give it time and space (‘fighter cover’), and scaffold its development. Talent is seldom a given, it has to be developed. Managers have a role in developing (realising) rather than stifling talent. How? What are the key things to do to develop and nurture talent, to get the most out of it? This still leaves prime, but not sole responsibility for developing talent with the talented person themselves. Manage them on the move

Proposition: there is something fluid, mobile, dynamic, quick about talent which requires that it is managed in a fluid, mobile, dynamic (clued up) way. Trust them Where does trust come into all this? Proposition: trust is an essential ingredient in the greater give and take required to manage – and get the best out of – talented people. (Link to Herriot’s stuff on how you can’t get innovation or change from people if they don’t trust you…and you look to your talented people to lead innovation and change.) Talk to them Proposition: dialogue is the key to developing the relationship and the trust. (So you’d better be skilful at managing dialogue.) Get clued up How do the clued up angles play into this issue of managing talent?

Proposition: one of the characteristics of talented people is that they like to put ideas into action. Proposition: talented people tend to think differently to most people. So you need good thinking to understand them. Proposition: talented people can handle more complexity (and may be more complex themselves) but may consequently be harder for others to understand Proposition: there is a lot of politics around talented people!!!!! Proposition: talented people often express themselves differently. You need to talk their language (and certainly not talk down to them.) Proposition: they are individuals (by definition?) so you need to develop a tailored management approach – pay attention to the clues 4. How does having talented people change a manager’s role? Managing talent is not a bolt-on activity; it’s part of the day job as a manager. Proposition: having talented people makes a manager’s role more ambiguous, more fluid, more dynamic. Because talent will push the boundaries, the manager often experiences a lack of role clarity, a more confused relationship than with other staff. Proposition: therefore managers have to work harder and more continuously at the relationship with their talented people. Paradoxically, the talented ones may take up the most time! Or may need periodic bouts of intense attention (a different pattern of managing than other staff.)

Proposition: managers have to negotiate and contract with talented people in a way/to an extent that they don’t with other staff. Talented people are more demanding, though you get more in return. Proposition: talent, people who are particularly good at something which is of value for the organisation, present two fundamental challenges for any manager:- balancing the value of the talented person’s individualism with the need for control balancing the value of the talented person’s individualism with the need for teamwork How does having talented people affect the balancing act that any manager has to maintain between the three perennial requirements for control, co-operation and autonomy? When do these dilemmas occur? How does this relate to the situations where managers report finding talented people problematic? How is balance achieved in practice? What are the options and choices? What are the consequences and associated with each?

Co-operation Control Autonomy Proposition: it’s not all down to the manager... Talented people have a responsibility, if they want to realise their talents fully, to recognise and engage with (though certainly not just give in to) the demands of the context they are working in. These demands include some requirement for control and co-operation. You can’t have pure autonomy. It’s only on offer if you go and work for yourself (and actually not even then!) But the manager does have a particular responsibility, which is to make sure that is understood and not to shirk the difficult discussions (too often done as managers accommodate difficult talents to placate and keep them on-side) How do you manage your whole team? Can you have too much talent in your team? (reflections on what Belbin found out about team workers and specialists) How do you deal with those without talent? How do/should managers differentiate their role from that of their talented people? How can a manager make a distinct and additive contribution to what talent does? As a ‘talented’ manager what do you want from work? Do you have all the same issues as we have been describing for talent? What are the consequences of that? 5. What does this all mean for you? Proposition: Being effective as a manager of talent will be a combination of acting appropriately with your team and dealing with you own shit. (Nothing new there then!) How much do you know about your team? Who has talent and who doesn’t? More specifically what are their capabilities, motivations etc. What about you? How well do you manage you team now? What evidence have you got? What do you do well/badly? Under what circumstances? Have you got talent? What are the consequences? How are you being managed? How could you improve your managers performance? So what are you going to do differently then? By when etc. What will help and hinder etc. etc.

Reviews "It is an easy-to-read text, written in a conversational style, refreshingly free from jargon and pomposity. Any managers who want to get the best from whatever talent exists in their teams would do well to read it." People Management magazine "Managing Talented People is worth a read. It explores important issues directly affecting the creative industry. .. Its structure is very easy to dip into - with clear headings, bullet-points and quotes - and has an easy-going style." Design Week "...contains bullet points and definitions of terms, making it easy to absorb the information." Supply Management

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