Businesses used to be staffed by people called… people. Personnel managers worried about the personnel. Then came ‘human resources’ managers, with their amazing dictionary of jargon and arid phrases. And finally human beings ascended to the ultimate level. They became ‘talent’.
I don’t mean to sneer. I like people, really, I do. But there is a danger that in this great drive to encourage our ‘talent’ we will confuse ourselves and mislead employees. No-one is opposed to career and professional development. At a time when so many employers seem reluctant to recruit, businesses have to get more from the people they already have. But it’s no surprise that the relentlessly upbeat language of HR management has led to the labelling of all employees as talent.
Not everybody is wildly talented, as the England football team convincingly demonstrated in the Euro 2012 tournament.
To harp on about ‘talent’ in the workplace is a mistake. Not everyone will get to the top – it’s narrow up there. There isn’t room for everybody.
If employers want to have an honest and constructive relationship with their… people, they should not make false promises to them. They should offer training and development, and a career path. They should take pride in what they do, and encourage professionalism. But they should ration their use of the word ‘talent’. It isn’t the right term to describe everybody.
True talent management lies in spotting who has the greatest potential, and giving those people stretching and challenging roles. Everyone has a significant contribution to make to the business. They just have to be put into the right job for them.
A cynic”, Oscar Wilde said, “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. That aphorism could almost be applied to the English footballers who play in the premiership. In Poland and Ukraine this summer, our highly paid stars did the best they could. They come with a high price tag attached, but in terms of value tend to under-perform, at least at the highest level.
Why don’t football clubs apply good procurement principles to the players they buy? Any decent purchaser will consider the price and the long-term value of any asset they are seeking to acquire. They won’t be taken in by hype, or dazzled by exaggerated reputations. They will consider the shelf life and other less tangible factors – in the case of a footballer it would be the twin concerns of aptitude and attitude.
The return on capital in the football transfer market is pretty embarrassing. £35 million for Andy Carroll? £50 million for Fernando Torres? Talk about inflation. The purchasing of players needs to calm down and become more professional. It needs to focus on practical outcomes. So here’s a suggestion: why don’t football club chairmen, ‘directors of football’ and team managers all undertake CIPS purchasing courses. It might just make all the difference. World Cup glory in 2014 could start here.