Talent management—how do we manage those who know more than we do?

In their chapter in Human Resource Management: A Nordic Perspective, Roland Persson, Professor of Psychology at Jönköping University, and Vezir Aktas, Assistant Professor of Social Psychology at Jönköping University, address what can be seen as the most important resource for a company or organisation: extreme talent.

Titled “Those Who Know More than You: Talent Management in the Google Era,” the chapter describes a complex and somewhat stigmatised area of the Swedish labour market.

Roland Persson, who has researched high-performing individuals, argues that it is perhaps more important now than ever before to make the most of these creative, highly intelligent individuals, to stimulate them and allow them to reach their full potential. In this way, they can contribute to Swedish society and not disappear out into the world.

But the issue is not so easy to discuss. Investing in a special talent is not as obvious and accepted in the workplace as it is on a football team.

“I would think the explanation is historical. In Germany, all types of talent are still valued, and such was also the case in Sweden before the war. But during the postwar years, society’s values changed radically. To an increasing extent, influenced by the political currents of the day, intellectual abilities came to be disdained.

Unfortunately, this legacy lives on, as I have shown in other research. The same legacy is shared in other parts of Scandinavia and, surprisingly, in many countries in continental Europe. Throughout the German-speaking area, all types of knowledge and skills are still highly regarded.

The question is how long will this be the case? Even there, a change towards anti-intellectualism has begun, through drawing away from former educational ideals. The debate is raging. In Sweden, the classical educational ideals, and thus the understanding and appreciation of intellectual talent, have unfortunately been dead for many years,” argues Persson.

Differences among countries

Talent management—that is, an explicit strategy within the company for managing these people—has been more common in the United States, where there is more experience and more research in the field. The differences between American and European culture make it risky, however, to directly apply advice from one context to the other. But even Swedish companies would benefit from having a talent-management strategy.

“The research very clearly shows that a well-thought-out TM strategy is reflected in a company’s positive development and growth. Researchers therefore usually emphasize how unwise it is for a company not to be familiar with talent management or not to intend to implement such a strategy, given the current development of society.

Knowledge is becoming increasingly important and those who know most and perform best in those areas that, in one way or another, produce or support innovation, are those who employers want to hire. One can dramatically say that without TM, a company will have no talent and hardly any success in the ever-growing knowledge economy.”

In his chapter, Persson writes about how these creative, highly intelligent individuals can behave in ways that can seem odd; they can be weeded out in the job interview because they did not do what the interviewer expected. Some researchers even describe them as “scary” jobseekers. But he thinks that an employer has much to gain by hiring such a person.

“Take a chance. Though I suspect that few actually dare to. There are no guarantees that a hire will be successful. An employee who behaves as expected when hired may, for various reasons, radically change later on. And those who may seem odd in the job interview can prove to be the company’s greatest asset, if you dare to take a chance on them!”

An inclusive strategy

It is a balancing act between lifting the talented even higher while not making the gap between employees so large that it creates dissatisfaction and a sense of inequity in the workplace. Therefore, it is important that a talent-management strategy is formed based on the culture and approach we have here in Sweden.

“A TM strategy can risk becoming a strategy solely for single individuals in an organisation. This would be an overall liability because it would, in a number of ways, increase the differences in employment conditions between different groups in an organisation, hence increasing tension and discomfort. This is how American TM works. The European version often looks different, due both to values and legislation.”

A typical European TM strategy involves everyone in a company, regardless if one is a manager, administrator or truck driver. The strategy for different categories of employees naturally looks different depending on the work assignment, but all employees in the company have a development path that in some way leads one ahead in the organisation. American TM is exclusive, while the European is inclusive.”

Content updated 2018-12-18