Why Talent Development Must Be Turned Inside Out

Why Talent Development Must Be Turned Inside Out

For years surveys and publications worldwide have been proclaiming a staggering shortage of competent leaders.  The situation is even more discouraging when we consider all the shocking corporate scandals in recent years, set in motion by unethical leaders.  Yet there is also another problem that has been largely overlooked.  Though a wide array of “new” approaches have been proposed since the 1970s, nearly all the talent development methods in use today originated more than 50 years ago!

For the past several years, Dr. Mary E. Jacobsen and global O.D. expert, Karen Ward have been investigating talent development programs first-hand around the world in order to answer some fundamental questions:

  • Are organizational developers informed about what makes high potentials “tick”?
  • Do they understand why high potentials need a framework for cooperative work that differs from everyone else?
  • Do they grasp why these people are intense, complex, and driven?
  • Do program designers know that high potentials are often not motivated by the same perks as others?
  • Do they know what it takes for high potentials to thrive and succeed in today’s organizations?
  • Do they have accurate information about why top talent leaves their organizations?

In our experience, so long as outdated and wrongly-focused programs remain in place, the answer is “No”.

From Jacobsen’s (2007) perspective based on talent psychology—the study and application of psychology to organizational development and the workplace—current development programs have a gaping hole in the middle where a fundamental understanding of high potential people is missing.  Why is this so critical?  Simply because those who are misunderstood are the very people for whom the talent development programs exist.  As a rule, before 2007, when Dr. Mary Jacobsen (USA) and global O.D. expert Karen Ward (UK) introduced the concept of talent psychology to a handful of progressive organizational leaders, programs operated in the dark.  Organizations routinely carried on with little or no information about high-potential individuals, and most continue in that direction today.  This approach is like trying to teach someone to swim without ever having been in the water.

Fortunately, Jacobsen and Ward (2007) have successfully devised practical methods and tools that set this talent psychology in motion for cutting-edge organizations. They have integrated research findings with their many years of professional experience with high-ability people around the world.  The Jacobsen-Ward breakthrough model turns organizational development programs inside-out, placing talent psychology at the core.  This crucial shift is based on one simple reality—“Organizations cannot reasonably, practically, or ethically design development programs for top talent employees when they know next to nothing about their traits and needs (Jacobsen, 2007)”.

In further support of this revolutionary shift, since 2005 Jacobsen and Ward have been conducting a rigorous meta-analysis of scholarly literature in three primary areas of study—cognitive ability, leadership, and organizational development.  The result is an eye-opening convergence.  Parallels can be drawn between (a) gifted traits, and (b) traits of excellent leaders. This link is patently obvious in the comparison chart below, with undeniable implications for anyone involved in organizational talent development, CEOs included.

Traits typically found in

Gifted Adults

Traits of

Excellent Leaders

Exceptional cognitive ability

Natural potential for leadership

Easily absorbs new information and shifts mind set; learns faster and more thoroughly; retains more and applies what is learned

Large repertoire of skills; flexible; mind can simultaneously work on multiple tracks; manages numerous concerns at once

Highly perceptive; early problem–finder; determines solutions faster; rapidly and methodically analyzes options

Self–motivated & self-directed; envisions and models excellence; willing to do utmost to reach important goals

Thrives on uncertainty, complexity, and change; resilient; highly adaptable

Visionary; sees the “big picture”; anticipates and predicts trends; synthesizer; readily grasps “unseen” connections

Concerned about values, fairness, and ethics; enhanced capacity for principled reasoning

Action-oriented; able to turn ideals into practical steps to achieve goals; willing to take a stand

Out-of-the-box thinker; inventive; designs new strategies and products; creative producer

Heightened awareness and sensitivity; empathic; concerned about others and society

Influential bridge-builder; can arouse enthusiasm in others; inspiring; inclusive; brings people on-board

Authenticity is important; built-in “radar” detects pretense and deception

Influential bridge-builder; can arouse enthusiasm in others; inspiring; inclusive; brings people on-board

One Comment

  1. […] Now, ask yourself this question: If the entire premise upon which talent management and development programs are built is fundamentally wrong, could any of those approaches or strategies (from identification to acquisition to development to retention) be destined for anything other than failure? In other words, how can any TM or OD program work when the entire set of assumptions about talented people is biased and patently incorrect? For more information about about solutions to these questions, see Why Talent Development Must Be Turned Inside Out. […]