The Search for Talent as a Search for Talented Teams

I was reading Bob Sutton’s blog on his take on an article in the Economist about Human Resources view of “talent.” He makes the comment that “If you read this issue of The Economist, if you consider standard HR practices for recruiting, hiring, evaluating, and compensating employees, if you listen to most HR consulting firms, and if you look at how employee records are organized in enterprise software you will see that the – usually unspoken but pervasive – assumption is that a focus on people means a focus in hiring the most talented individuals. Indeed, talent is the word people like to use talk about good people, a word that conjures up images of superstar actors and athletes.” He further states that “Certainly, having talented individuals is important. But focusing on individuals alone – as the HR mindset seems to do, in an automatic mindless way without ever questioning the assumption – is a dangerous half-truth. It blinds managers and executives to a growing body of literature that shows performance is heavily dependent on having people who are experienced at working together and who work together for a long time.”

This dangerous half-truth is that for companies to be more successful they should be looking for talented teams of people not just the talented individual. As he says in discussing a number of studies “The implication of this research is pretty clear and shows the limits of modern HR practices, assumptions, and even the enterprise software systems that they use. If you are going to hire some “talent,” don’t focus on just landing that lone star – focus on hiring as much of his or her team, or network, as possible. You win the war for talent by bringing aboard talented sets of people, not talented solo acts.” He cites one study in particular that dealt with GE executives who had moved to other companies. The study found that executives who moved by themselves had a negative effect on the company they had moved to. However, executives who moved and brought a team with them, a group of people they were used to working with, had a positive effect on their new companies.

Sutton concludes with “…as the war for talent seems to be heating up again, companies that fight it right will spend less time looking for solo stars and more time looking for dynamic duos, teams, and networks of people that have worked together in the past and want to work together more in the future. And perhaps it is time for modern HR practices to catch-up with the evidence.”

I agree with his assessment. Perhaps you do as well. Look at your companies, look at the effects of teams versus the effect of the solo star. When you need to recruit you should start looking to hire teams that the “star” is used to working with in order to take best advantage of that “star” recruit.

Read his blog for a more complete discussion of this point.

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