Two men sitting on sidelines of basketball courtEver since the great Jack Welch came up with his vitality curve, which suggests that the top 20 percent of performers should be nurtured and encouraged and the bottom 10 percent should be fired, the average mid-ranking performer in an organization has fallen between the cracks and effectively been neglected and forgotten in terms of HR strategy.

While the top performing A-Players are showered with bonus payments, shares and promotions, and the bottom performing C-Players are cast aside, average performing B-Players make do with the remainder of the cash that hasn’t been spent on pampering high performers or paying off lower performers.

This may all sound like quite an elitist and grim view of the modern organization from the mass employee perspective, but at least from the company perspective this approach will yield superior performance, won’t it? Or at least that is what practitioners of this kind of approach thought it would do, until this theory was recently debunked by KPMG in their recent global survey/white paper, “War For Talent – time to change direction.” The company found that, somewhat embarrassingly for employers who had a HR policy based around pampering high potentials, this practice was all employers were doing, i.e. pampering. It did not lead to enhanced organizational performance and shareholder value; it led to quite the opposite actually. In its 15 year longitudinal study, not only did KPMG find little evidence that high performer focused talent strategies contributed to improved business performance, actually just 25 percent of these high performer focused organizations can be said to be performing well, and one-third has disappeared entirely. Half of the survey respondents actually believe that a high performer focused strategy, which neglects the masses, actually puts the business at risk.

The main conclusions that were drawn from this survey (and which I am inclined to agree with, having seen the demotivating effects of high-performer focused HR strategies on the average performing majority), was that talent management teams need to start developing more holistic strategies that incorporate the needs of the many and not just the elite few, especially as most modern surveys indicate that the vast majority of the workforce is disengaged.

There is no doubting the fact that this would be a pretty bold ambition for any HR professional and you need a lot of courage to walk up to your CEO and tell him/her that everything they know about talent management and high-potential pampering is wrong. They are likely to find it hard to swallow, particularly as they themselves are likely to have benefited from a high-potential program them. It would be like asking turkeys to vote for Thanksgiving.

But, there is compelling evidence to suggest that encouraging CEOs and leadership to invest in a more holistic talent management and development process, that de-emphasizes high potential pampering and transfers that elite performer budget to broader organizational people development initiatives, will yield greater profit and shareholder returns.

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