One of our focus areas is retention, specifically a complex approach to retaining key staff.  Many organisations refer to this as “talent management”.  This is a very hot topic currently, especially in light of great skills shortages here in SA and elsewhere.  Although I see the necessity for a retention strategy, but there is a part of me that believes that the whole idea of managing ‘talent’ creates more problems than it solves.

How does one determine which individuals can be classified as “talent” and which can’t?  This is a highly subjective process, fraught with assumptions.  For example, is a deep expert more valueable than a generalist?  Or is a person with a list of academic credentials more valueable than one with “street cred”? This is a divisive issue, and this very thinking may be part of the reason why many organisation cannot retain good people.

Some organisations make a very clear distinction in their treatment of “talent” vs .. what shall we call them “non-talent”?  I came across a good description of these ‘ordinary’ people, who are so often overlooked in organisations and society, in an obituary (of all places!).   Studs Terkel, a well known author, liked to walk around the streets of America and interview ordinary people, he called them the Etceteras.  I quote “In his presence, they mattered.  He knew they had something to say – about race, about class, about work, about hope, about community.  About America.”

I wonder how different organisations would be if more managers were like Studs Terkel.  Able to make a connection with, and bring out the best in all their employees, not just the “talented” ones.  I sincerely believe that everyone is talented when placed in the right context.  Many of the people who seem to struggle in a certain position may flourish when moved to a different role.  In a resource scarce environment, especially in South Africa, I don’t believe we have the ‘luxury’ to retain only a certain portion of our people.  A talent retention strategy should actually be a people retention strategy, aimed at making sure that no-one feels like an Etcetera in your organisation.