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Muddling through – managing our talents PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Brunnen   
Tuesday, 08 May 2012 11:39

Our language is rich in the phraseology of ‘hanging on’ and hoping for better times.  No matter how highly we regard our confidence, self-direction and motivation, most of the time we ‘muddle through’.

In this time of relative austerity we hear the haunting strains of Pink Floyd reminding us that ‘hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’, and yet we rage against our inability to face up to realities, to address issues, to drive whole herds of elephants out of our rooms and offices.

Executive pay, bonuses and performance are once again under the spotlight and, across nations and worldwide, investors (shareholders and citizens) are moved to mutter ‘something must be done’.  But what, exactly?  In business and large organisations the full scale of the ‘talent management’ iceberg remains submerged, only to be discovered when crunch, crash or crisis forces issues to the surface.

Talent Management 2 - Prof. Coulson-ThomasSo, in in the middle of the current muddle, as managements are intensely focused on steering their ships through economically troubled waters, it is perhaps not surprising that Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas chooses, in his latest report ‘Talent Management 2’, to devote time to new navigational aids.

In his report he maps out the problems and one cannot help but feel that, for all his independent research, the personal experience of corporate life is the dominant driver.  Readers will find themselves nodding in recognition of their own puzzling pathways through the corporate jungle.  The journey towards finding something that you can do really well is massively influenced by whether you are allowed and encouraged to do it – and so often in business great achievements are made ‘in spite of the management’.

We each live in multi-faceted worlds and it is in the management mix of objectives and priorities that we all need a caring environment.  But so often in the high-pressure world of business the brutal truth is that leadership behaviour loses sight of the need to nurture talent – not least because it has always seemed to be so darned difficult to keep track of anyone’s performance across multiple fronts.

Talent Management may, of course, seem more of an issue in big businesses and in large organisations.  With executives ‘run ragged’ and expectations running high (especially when the agenda demands ‘transformation’) the misdirection of talent comes close to short-sighted abuses of power.

And it is, in the complexity of corporate caring, that we now, says the professor, have a choice.  We can carry on reducing responsibilities to commoditized roles easily measured (and shouting at the natives) or we can harness the power of new systems to respect and nurture the talents that our businesses so clearly need.  Even the so-called ‘high flyers’ – those recruited for their apparently gifted abilities – often disappoint because, trapped in some departmentalized silo, they find themselves without the support systems that allow their inputs to a bigger picture.

This is where corporate leaders need to understand the ‘critical success factors’ and the environments that have allowed those to flourish.  There is no shortage of clues - it is remarkable how willing the achievers in this world are more than happy to share their experience.

To those who are getting in the way of knowledge transfer, ignoring the value of checking (maybe across different countries and sectors) how others have addressed the issues, the message is simply ‘get into the way of learning’ and seek out the tools and systems that can make better sense than boardroom bullying.

Talent Management 2 sets out these issues in ways that senior executives will recognize.  Whether the tag, ‘Talent Management’, will go the way of other management fads, whether or not it attracts a bandwagon of instant experts to feed on corporate angst, the issues of how best to deploy scarce and creative resources is something that every large organisation (and those who aim to become larger) must address.  The good news lies in the recognition of the problem and the resolve to find better ways of dealing with it – rather than ‘brushing it under carpet’.

Somewhere in the contemplation of this report, readers will make connections – connections well beyond the title’s patch of concern.  It will underline how the powers of creative methodologies humanly applied are impacting on all our lives and all our struggles.  That these new approaches are now available to manage our multi-tasking complexities is, in many ways one of the great bonuses of the digitization of almost everything.

The Professor may not entirely agree but in a world of deficits (Economic, Housing, Bank lending, Environmental, Energy, Transport, Education, Social Care, etc.) the mother of all deficits, the Digital, may (on affordability grounds) be less constraining for the biggest businesses and organisations.  ‘High-flyers’ should know this, should not be delimited by management ignorance and should ensure that the injection of fresh thinking and realism cannot be ignored.

We are all investors. We all have a responsibility to see our investments properly managed – and that cannot simply be exclusively remaindered to the Human Resources Department.

Otherwise we will all end up singing along with Pink Floyd’s anthem to lost opportunities, ‘The time is gone, the song is over, I thought I’d something more to say’.



Readers of this editorial also viewed 'Managing Change and Changing the Management'

Prof. Coulson-Thomas is an international consultant who has helped over 100 boards to improve board and corporate performance. He can be contacted via  Reports covering his investigations are available from

Talent Management 2 (a 184 page A4 size report) sets out a practical and affordable route to building high performance organisations and quickly achieving multiple objectives.  The approach it recommends can avoid traditional trade-offs and benefits people and organisations.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 May 2012 12:11

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