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Are We Managing Talent or Stifling It?

Are We Managing Talent or Stifling It?

Many of you know that I am not a fan of buzz words or the latest corporate fads.  The term “Talent Management” falls into this category.  More and more HR, HR Management, HR Strategies, HR Solutions
companies are hiring Managers of Talent Management which is just another term for recruitment.  Talent management refers to the organization's commitment to recruit, develop and retain the most talented employees available to form a high performance workplace. This sounds wonderful in theory.

The problem with this statement is that the most talented people are not interested in being “managed”.  They are not interested in spending 45 minutes to an hour completing an on-line application (read an article by Liz Ryan, Why HR Can’t Innovate. They are not interested in working in a cubicle. They are not interested in having their mind taken over by most corporate managers. Organizations spend a lot of money hiring the most talented employees, then quickly work to stifle that talent.

Regardless of what business you are in, providing top notch customer service is paramount to your success. The first contact a customer has with your company will make a lasting impression on them.  Therefore, a very important “talent” is someone who will provide a great customer experience. Let’s talk about the company that recently changed all employee’s telephone extension numbers.  When employees told top management about complaints from customers who were having trouble getting through to the people they needed to speak with, management’s response was “the system was installed by a highly regarded communications company so there could not be a problem”.  So much for talent management – the talented people who wanted to do a good job were shot down when a customer service problem was brought to management’s attention.

Is Talent Management Real?

I recently went into my bank because I mistakenly wrote my business account number on the back of my personal paycheck. I asked the teller what to do. She crossed out the business account number and wrote my personal account number on the check. The deposit into my personal account went through with no problem in about 30 seconds.  I thanked the teller and left the bank.  A couple of days later, I received a call from someone performing a survey. He started asking me questions about the level of service I received from the teller. “Would you say your customer experience was poor, fair, good, excellent or outstanding?” My first question was what is the difference between excellent and outstanding. By the time he got to the fourth question, I interrupted the poor guy because I noticed that this was going to take more time than I had available. I told  him the teller did her job well. I apologized to him for cutting off the survey because I knew he was just doing what he was told to do and trying very hard to do it well.  It had to be the most inane survey I have ever taken.

It seems that all of the telephone customer service lines want the caller to complete a survey after the call. What is troubling is the customer service rep (CSR) has to remind us to rate him or her straight 10’s on a 1 to 10 scale. Otherwise the rep won’t get credit for a good call. I am sorry to say, but I have to respond to the CSR that doing what you are supposed to do does not equate to excellent or outstanding service. In most cases, we don’t need excellent customer service. We just need the people to do what they are supposed to do. Another problem is they are often stifled by company “policy”. Instead of doing something to help the caller, these people are stuck with a script they cannot deviate from.  Any deviation will result in being “written up.”

In other cases when completing customer service surveys, we are asked to ignore whether the problem was solved and just rate how the representative handled the situation.  Message to Corporate America – the two cannot be separated!!  If I call with a problem and it is not resolved by the customer service rep who treats me with empathy and kindness, the problem still exists and your organization has failed to remedy the problem. If your customer service rep does not have the authority to solve my problem, you have made this person a useless voice on the phone.

Worse yet are the automated attendants that are supposed to be able to recognize the English language but cannot understand the words, “Speak to a human being.”

We don’t see ads stating, “Immediate need for someone who will blindly follow orders, perform mindless duties and immediately jump when the boss speaks. Qualifications include graduation from an accredited dog training institute, the ability to sit and roll over when ordered, speak on the telephone, sit at a computer all day and have a strong bladder as there will only be one bathroom break per 4 hour shift.”

How is Talent Measured?

So is talent defined by the service the person who has the first contact with a customer offers or by the practices instituted by management? Is talent measured by stupid surveys or when the employee tells the customer to rate them high so they get a bonus – even when the customer got nothing out of them?  If talent management is not measured by increases in revenue and profits than talent is not being managed properly.  It is pretty simple.

Attracting Talent

Getting back to the purpose of this article which is to figure out best ways to manage your talent. People want to know they are making a contribution to the organization. They want meaningful and challenging work. They want to be treated with respect. They want to be trusted to do their job without being micromanaged. They want to deliver a high level of service. They want to work in a strong team environment and have some fun. They want to be recognized for doing their job well. They also want to be paid fairly.  This is not complicated.

The culture and reputation of the company will either attract or repel talented people. The competition for talent will get tougher as the economy comes back. If you are stifling your talented people with your own absurd practices, you will not attract the best and the brightest.

Commitment to Talent Management is a Cultural Thing

If there really is a commitment to “Talent Management”, managers would listen to their employees.  Creating an organization that is team driven and customer focused through enhanced communications and empowerment would be the norm instead of the exception.

The fact is, most people want to deliver a high level of customer service.  If the internal processes do not allow employees to provide high service, the most talented will leave the company.  The mediocre will remain and mediocrity will become the norm in the organization.

Is This an HR Function?

Some of you will say this is not an HR function; that  this is a function of the operation or customer service department.  My response is, as the keeper of the culture, this is definitely a Human Resources function.  In fact, it is probably the most important areas HR should be involved with.  There is nothing more important than keeping talented people.

What are you doing to keep your best talent?  Have you asked them how they would like to be treated?

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Bob McKenzie is certified as a Senior Professional of Human Resources (SPHR) and has 30 years of human resources management experience. His background includes a wide range of hands-on HR practices including training and development, Equal Employment Opportunity, Affirmative Action Plan Development, development of compensation and incentive programs, performance management systems, recruitment, employee relations, union avoidance and labor contract negotiation. His working experience encompasses the manufacturing, banking, financial services, transportation, government, managed care, information technology and theme park industries.

2 Comments


  1. Agreed 100%. Talent is a Cultural thing. One way to understand this is to look at the actions and behaviors of leaders. Do these behaviors actually let others both in and out of the organization know that the company values talent? For talent to be truly valued it must be supported by visible action – must go beyond mere words.


  2. Bob, great post! You’ve described with humor and directness what we have each experienced at least once on the receiving end of customer service and the surveys. And you concisely described what people want in their jobs. You made good points while also making me laugh. Thank you!

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