It's OK to be OK: A View on Talent Management


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It is OK to be OK at things.

This may sound mundane, or even a little silly, but let me explain a little: the modern world, particularly within corporate spheres, is set up to promote relentless self improvement and this is often founded upon perceived 'development points'. Celebrity 'role models' and self-help guides add further weight to this self-improvement culture which I think can be extremely detrimental. If you spend your life trying to improve upon 'development points' then you are constantly chasing a shadow, a moving target. I know because I have fallen into the same trap at times, a trap where you stop thinking about what you are good at and become overwhelmingly focused on becoming better.

I'm not saying self improvement is a bad thing, but if its all you focus on, you can never be 'present' and life becomes a transient practice of deference i.e. you are 'deferring' the 'good times' until you have 'developed enough' to reach that next promotion or the next goal after which there will be 'good times'; when actually you should be enjoying the journey itself and developing and progressing because of it not despite it.

When I say that it's OK to be OK I don't mean that it is OK to do an OK job. Far from it; do the best job you can do is to your utmost ability but focus on your strengths. You can't be amazing at everything, you will be OK or bad at some things, so find a job which fits your strength profile and enjoy the journey progressing in it.

This conversation becomes particularly interesting when you view this through a talent management lens. Talent retention is a massive issue for many companies today and I think the "OK to be OK" discussion can help us to understand why. I believe there are 'critical retention points' in the development curves of individuals because, once career progression slows down a little, the relentless focus on 'development points' becomes a battle rather than an action plan.

A couple of hand drawn graphs which illustrate this:

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To create the idealised 'continual S curve' there needs to be specific action plans in place for at least 4 distinct phases: acceleration, trajectory, deceleration and plateau. Each of these phases requires a different approach to talent management. For example - I think the relentless focus on 'development points' only works in the former 2 phases; after this a different approach is required otherwise we will see (and are seeing) a huge, and unnecessary, outflux of talent from organisations because the focus on 'development points' is no longer counter balanced by career progression or a feeling of 'doing well'. 

Social Intrapreneurship programmes are a key way to address these critical retention points as it's proven that there is a direct correlation between the highest performers in a business and a heightened need to 'do good' and 'do well'. We should be harnessing this need in a way that not only develops and retains top performers but also delivers a profitable initiative for the business.

In a world which is suffering from a chronic lack of leadership let's focus on developing natural leaders by looking to people's strengths and managing them accordingly, by giving them the room to grow and flourish, and managing development points against the phases of the 'continual s curve'. If we're asking people to 'develop' by forgetting who they are, or at least what makes them strong, then how can we hope to create effective leaders.

Sometimes it's important to think about who you're becoming by achieving your goals- as well as achieving them. There will be some things that you will only be 'OK' at, but don't beat yourself up about it as being OK at some things is OK.

Tim Heard is a One Young World Ambassador from the United Kingdom. Together, he and fellow Ambassador David Spears co-founded of the Circle of Young Intrapreneurs. This blog was originally published on LinkedIn