Talent Management is on top of the HR agenda all over the world, but little is known about its effects on individual employees. One thing is for sure, however: Managers play a crucial part in making Talent Management initiatives succeed.
Over the last decade, Talent Management has gained increasingly more attention among practitioners. Identifying, developing and retaining employees with both high performance and high potential has become a critical challenge. Practices such as talent pools and talent programs, where key people are to get a faster career development, have become common. These initiatives are usually designed at the central level of the organization. However, it is easy to forget those who actually implement them: the line managers. They are the ones who nominate employees to high-potential programs, communicate the talent decisions, and – most importantly – manage the employees’ reactions. Actually, the behavior of the leaders closest to the employees can be the ”make or break” of Talent Management practices.
As a first example, managerial support is vital for talent programs to be effective. This was shown in a study by Kuvaas and Dysvik (2010) with 331 participants. The authors found that developmental interventions for employees, such as case exercises or job rotations, had an effect on job performance only for those who perceived their closest manager as supportive. In other words: a lack of support from line managers can make talent initiatives ineffective.
Why is this the case? One reason is that line managers are the ones presenting this kind of initiatives to employees, and hence have a major influence on how e.g. talent programs are perceived. However, the findings in Kuvaas and Dysvik’s study held up also when the initiatives were seen as attractive and relevant by the employees. It thus seems like engaged and supportive managers are necessary for effective talent programs regardless of program quality. Supportive leaders probably make their employees enter a talent initiative with confidence and in ”learning mode”.
As important as managers are for chosen talents, a perhaps even more central task is to manage the not chosen ones. If their reactions are not addressed, talent initiatives risk having negative side effects. In a large study by Marescaux and colleagues from 2013, employees not favored by talent initiatives showed a substantial drop in organizational commitment. This decrease was even larger than the corresponding increase observed among chosen talents.
This effect can be dampened, however, if managers make sure employees perceive the selection process as fair. This is called Perceived Procedural Justice in research, and it has been shown to substantially mitigate the negative effects of not being selected for e.g. a talent program. This is logical if you put yourself in the shoes of the employee: ”It’s a shame I didn’t make it into the program, but the process seemed fair. I know those who were chosen deserved it.”
But for this perceived justice to be achieved, line managers need to take time to explain the process to employees: what exact criteria are used, who are involved in the selection, etc. Unfortunately, many managers do not take this time. Some consider it unnecessary, others see it as a task for HR, others still find it uncomfortable to speak about processes that clearly single out a few employees. In all cases, not being clear about these initiatives is to ask for perceptions of injustice, since it can lead to rumors and suspicion among employees.
These were just two examples of the central role that line managers play in building successful Talent Management. Ambitious processes and programs are all good – but the quality of the leadership will determine how your employees react to them and, in the end, how effective they will be. Hopefully this issue will get more attention in future Talent Management practice.
Kajsa Asplund is a psychologist, doing her PhD at the Department of Management and Organization at SSE.