A better way to identify and develop talented people

Identifying talent One of the biggest tragedies of modern management is our approach to finding and developing talented people.

For recruiting, we use top schools and other brokers to identify the talent for us. For people already inside the firm, we construct elaborate talent management systems and leadership development programs. These methods, which focus on the few and neglect the many, are extraordinarily ineffective and, worse, they're actively harming firms and their people.

There’s a better way.

What do you expect?

We tend to treat talent as something innate, something a rare few possess. We create all sorts of filters to spot those with high potential and then do special things to retain and develop those people. Identifying potential in others seems one of the basic responsibilities of management.

Everybody does it - schools, the military, corporations. But studies have shown “potential” isn’t as innate as we think. And, in “Give and Take” , Adam Grant summarizes some surprising research.

The classic study, in 1966, was done in schools. Teachers were given names of students who “had shown the potential for intellectual blooming”. Unbeknownst to the teachers, the experimenters had chosen the students randomly. And, yet, the “bloomers” did indeed score better over time on IQ tests in the following years - by an average of 15 points in the first year and 10 points in the second grade.

Why?

“Teachers’ beliefs created self-fulfilling prophecies. When teachers believed their student were bloomers, they...engaged in more supportive behaviors that boosted the students’ confidence and enhanced their learning and development. Teachers communicated more warmly to the bloomers, gave them more challenging assignments, called on them more often, and provided them with more feedback.”

In the 1980s, researchers discovered similar effects in the Israeli Defense Forces when trainees were randomly selected as “high-potential”. In 2000, in a meta-review of 17 studies in industries from banking to retail sales to manufacturing, researchers again found the same effects:

“Overall, when managers were randomly assigned to see employees as bloomers, employees bloomed.”

A better way to find talented people

In a previous post, I told the story of Jordi Munoz who, who grew up in Tijuana and, despite lacking a college degree or other traditional credentials, went on to become CEO of a robotics company at age 24. The person who hired Jordi was Chris Anderson, the founder and former editor of Wired magazine. He found Jordi through an online robotics community where Jordi was an active member. There, Chris could see his work, see public feedback from others, and could even collaborate with him all before ever speaking with him.

In Chris’ book “Makers”, he pointed out how he never would have found such talent if he looked in the traditional places.

“Why wouldn’t you start a company with people with whom you were already working well, who had already proven their mettle? It seems so much riskier to take a flier on someone you don’t know, just because that person has a degree from a good school.

This is the Long Tail of talent. The web allows people to to show what they can do, regardless of their education and credentials. It allows groups to form and work together easily...”

The reason Chris didn’t need to limit himself and rely on MIT or Berkeley to find talent for him is that Jordi (and all of us) now have platforms where we can make our work visible and discoverable and, importantly, where other experts can provide feedback on it. Through his contributions in the online community, Jordi was able to let his work speak for itself without the need for a broker.

A better way to develop talent 

Inside firms, we can do the same thing: creating environments where people can make their work visible and discoverable.

The idea of a group of managers sitting in a room and deciding who has potential or who’s talented is grossly flawed. It’s based on relationships and similarities more than merit. And, as the studies above show, there’s no evidence that any positive results (if they’re even tracked) are anything but self-fulfilling prophecies.

Think of the kids in that 1966 study. Picture the lucky random few who, when deemed “high-potential”, excelled. And picture the remaining 80% who, through no fault of their own, never got the “more supportive behaviors that boosted the students’ confidence and enhanced their learning and development”.

That’s what we’re doing at work. It’s bad for individuals and it’s bad for business.

And it's time for smart managers to stop doing stupid things. Stop labeling a few people as having potential, developing them, and telling the rest not to bother. Instead, start viewing 100% of the people as having potential. (The randomness in the studies proves that’s largely true.) And start viewing your job as creating environments where anyone can contribute and learn, where anyone can become talented, and where anyone realize their potential.

A better way to identify and develop talented people

Identifying talent One of the biggest tragedies of modern management is our approach to finding and developing talented people.

For recruiting, we use top schools and other brokers to identify the talent for us. For people already inside the firm, we construct elaborate talent management systems and leadership development programs. These methods, which focus on the few and neglect the many, are extraordinarily ineffective and, worse, they're actively harming firms and their people.

There’s a better way.

What do you expect?

We tend to treat talent as something innate, something a rare few possess. We create all sorts of filters to spot those with high potential and then do special things to retain and develop those people. Identifying potential in others seems one of the basic responsibilities of management.

Everybody does it - schools, the military, corporations. But studies have shown “potential” isn’t as innate as we think. And, in “Give and Take” , Adam Grant summarizes some surprising research.

The classic study, in 1966, was done in schools. Teachers were given names of students who “had shown the potential for intellectual blooming”. Unbeknownst to the teachers, the experimenters had chosen the students randomly. And, yet, the “bloomers” did indeed score better over time on IQ tests in the following years - by an average of 15 points in the first year and 10 points in the second grade.

Why?

“Teachers’ beliefs created self-fulfilling prophecies. When teachers believed their student were bloomers, they...engaged in more supportive behaviors that boosted the students’ confidence and enhanced their learning and development. Teachers communicated more warmly to the bloomers, gave them more challenging assignments, called on them more often, and provided them with more feedback.”

In the 1980s, researchers discovered similar effects in the Israeli Defense Forces when trainees were randomly selected as “high-potential”. In 2000, in a meta-review of 17 studies in industries from banking to retail sales to manufacturing, researchers again found the same effects:

“Overall, when managers were randomly assigned to see employees as bloomers, employees bloomed.”

A better way to find talented people

In a previous post, I told the story of Jordi Munoz who, who grew up in Tijuana and, despite lacking a college degree or other traditional credentials, went on to become CEO of a robotics company at age 24. The person who hired Jordi was Chris Anderson, the founder and former editor of Wired magazine. He found Jordi through an online robotics community where Jordi was an active member. There, Chris could see his work, see public feedback from others, and could even collaborate with him all before ever speaking with him.

In Chris’ book “Makers”, he pointed out how he never would have found such talent if he looked in the traditional places.

“Why wouldn’t you start a company with people with whom you were already working well, who had already proven their mettle? It seems so much riskier to take a flier on someone you don’t know, just because that person has a degree from a good school.

This is the Long Tail of talent. The web allows people to to show what they can do, regardless of their education and credentials. It allows groups to form and work together easily...”

The reason Chris didn’t need to limit himself and rely on MIT or Berkeley to find talent for him is that Jordi (and all of us) now have platforms where we can make our work visible and discoverable and, importantly, where other experts can provide feedback on it. Through his contributions in the online community, Jordi was able to let his work speak for itself without the need for a broker.

A better way to develop talent 

Inside firms, we can do the same thing: creating environments where people can make their work visible and discoverable.

The idea of a group of managers sitting in a room and deciding who has potential or who’s talented is grossly flawed. It’s based on relationships and similarities more than merit. And, as the studies above show, there’s no evidence that any positive results (if they’re even tracked) are anything but self-fulfilling prophecies.

Think of the kids in that 1966 study. Picture the lucky random few who, when deemed “high-potential”, excelled. And picture the remaining 80% who, through no fault of their own, never got the “more supportive behaviors that boosted the students’ confidence and enhanced their learning and development”.

That’s what we’re doing at work. It’s bad for individuals and it’s bad for business.

And it's time for smart managers to stop doing stupid things. Stop labeling a few people as having potential, developing them, and telling the rest not to bother. Instead, start viewing 100% of the people as having potential. (The randomness in the studies proves that’s largely true.) And start viewing your job as creating environments where anyone can contribute and learn, where anyone can become talented, and where anyone realize their potential.

The story of Jordi Muñoz, CEO

Jordi Muñoz Jordi Muñoz was born in Ensenada, Mexico, didn’t speak English well, didn’t go to college and, at 19 years old, was newly married with a baby on the way.

5 years later, he became the the CEO of a multi-million dollar robotics company founded by Chris Anderson, best-selling author, speaker, and former editor of Wired Magazine.

How did the editor of Wired ever find a 19 year-old robotics engineer from a high school in Tijuana? How did he know he would be the right person for the job?

Answers to those questions may mean a lot for how your firm finds talent - and how you find your next opportunity.

How does your firm find talented people?

For a long time, the most common way to find talented people was to go to prestigious places, typically famous universities or companies. Everyone knew that, so there was a “War for Talent” at such places. Investment banking analysts used to refer to MBA recruiting events as “shrimp wars” as firms tried to outdo each other with bigger buffets just to attract attention.

There may be fewer shrimp now, but firms are still relying on schools, brokers, and executive search firms to filter candidates. When firms use LinkedIn or monster.com, it’s still typically HR that’s doing the searching and acting as an intermediary. And if managers hire directly, they rely heavily on their personal networks, which are incredibly small compared to the pool of qualified candidates.

So you either have the wrong people looking or you’re looking in the wrong places.

A different way

Jordi, Linden Blue (co-owner of General Atomics), and Chris

Jordi and Chris didn’t use a broker or LinkedIn. Their was no one who connected them. Instead, they were connected by their interest in robotics, more specifically in drones.

Chris had become interested in drones (auto-piloted aircraft) as a hobby and started an online community called DIYdrones.com, a place where other hobbyists could share information and learn from each other. In “Makers”, he describes how he first noticed Jordi in that community based on the designs he was contributing. (“I made an autopilot for my RC [remote-controlled] helicopter with accelerometers extracted from the NunChuck of Nintendo Wii”.) Jordi would apologize for his poor English but other hobbyists cared more about his designs which they said were “excellent” and “cool”.

Chris was impressed with his contributions, corresponded with him, and then collaborated with him on some projects. When Chris later decided to start a company, he decided to ask Jordi to co-found it. And it was only then that he learned about his background.

“Why wouldn’t you start a company with people with whom you were already working well, who had already proven their mettle? It seems so much riskier to take a flier on someone you don’t know, just because that person has a degree from a good school.

This is the Long Tail of talent. The web allows people to to show what they can do, regardless of their education and credentials. It allows groups to form and work together easily...”

The story of Jordi Munoz is an excellent example of someone working out loud and shaping their reputation (or, in this case, creating one) via their contribution; of someone  leveraging an existing community to create new possibilities.

Go where they are. See what they do.

Where are you looking for talented people?

In large companies, there’s a lot of talk about the need to attract and retain the best and the brightest. But, for the most part, the “Talent War” is a lot of sound and fury that doesn’t add up to much. The system is optimized for filling slots, not for quality of the match between the person and the job. (For many positions, excellent people are already employees of the firm but the system for filling jobs has no good way to find them.) The use of brokers combined with an outmoded, woefully simplistic interview process leads to mediocrity.

If you’re a firm, you need to go to where there are people already doing the kinds of work you’re looking for. Internally, that means role-based communities of practice. Externally, it means groups like DIYdrones or professional on-line communities. If those environments don’t exist, then you need to create them.

If you’re an individual, you need to find communities you care about and contribute. For whatever role you have at your company (or want to have), there are internal or external communities where you can contribute, shape your reputation, and build a purposeful network. Just like Jordi did.

The story of Jordi Muñoz, CEO

Jordi Muñoz Jordi Muñoz was born in Ensenada, Mexico, didn’t speak English well, didn’t go to college and, at 19 years old, was newly married with a baby on the way.

5 years later, he became the the CEO of a multi-million dollar robotics company founded by Chris Anderson, best-selling author, speaker, and former editor of Wired Magazine.

How did the editor of Wired ever find a 19 year-old robotics engineer from a high school in Tijuana? How did he know he would be the right person for the job?

Answers to those questions may mean a lot for how your firm finds talent - and how you find your next opportunity.

How does your firm find talented people?

For a long time, the most common way to find talented people was to go to prestigious places, typically famous universities or companies. Everyone knew that, so there was a “War for Talent” at such places. Investment banking analysts used to refer to MBA recruiting events as “shrimp wars” as firms tried to outdo each other with bigger buffets just to attract attention.

There may be fewer shrimp now, but firms are still relying on schools, brokers, and executive search firms to filter candidates. When firms use LinkedIn or monster.com, it’s still typically HR that’s doing the searching and acting as an intermediary. And if managers hire directly, they rely heavily on their personal networks, which are incredibly small compared to the pool of qualified candidates.

So you either have the wrong people looking or you’re looking in the wrong places.

A different way

Jordi, Linden Blue (co-owner of General Atomics), and Chris

Jordi and Chris didn’t use a broker or LinkedIn. Their was no one who connected them. Instead, they were connected by their interest in robotics, more specifically in drones.

Chris had become interested in drones (auto-piloted aircraft) as a hobby and started an online community called DIYdrones.com, a place where other hobbyists could share information and learn from each other. In “Makers”, he describes how he first noticed Jordi in that community based on the designs he was contributing. (“I made an autopilot for my RC [remote-controlled] helicopter with accelerometers extracted from the NunChuck of Nintendo Wii”.) Jordi would apologize for his poor English but other hobbyists cared more about his designs which they said were “excellent” and “cool”.

Chris was impressed with his contributions, corresponded with him, and then collaborated with him on some projects. When Chris later decided to start a company, he decided to ask Jordi to co-found it. And it was only then that he learned about his background.

“Why wouldn’t you start a company with people with whom you were already working well, who had already proven their mettle? It seems so much riskier to take a flier on someone you don’t know, just because that person has a degree from a good school.

This is the Long Tail of talent. The web allows people to to show what they can do, regardless of their education and credentials. It allows groups to form and work together easily...”

The story of Jordi Munoz is an excellent example of someone working out loud and shaping their reputation (or, in this case, creating one) via their contribution; of someone  leveraging an existing community to create new possibilities.

Go where they are. See what they do.

Where are you looking for talented people?

In large companies, there’s a lot of talk about the need to attract and retain the best and the brightest. But, for the most part, the “Talent War” is a lot of sound and fury that doesn’t add up to much. The system is optimized for filling slots, not for quality of the match between the person and the job. (For many positions, excellent people are already employees of the firm but the system for filling jobs has no good way to find them.) The use of brokers combined with an outmoded, woefully simplistic interview process leads to mediocrity.

If you’re a firm, you need to go to where there are people already doing the kinds of work you’re looking for. Internally, that means role-based communities of practice. Externally, it means groups like DIYdrones or professional on-line communities. If those environments don’t exist, then you need to create them.

If you’re an individual, you need to find communities you care about and contribute. For whatever role you have at your company (or want to have), there are internal or external communities where you can contribute, shape your reputation, and build a purposeful network. Just like Jordi did.