The war for talent used to be a hot topic - until the financial crisis made the war for liquidity hotter. We may be on the edge of another crisis now, but we’re also at the start of a new cycle of talent wars. So how can you win this time?*
Carol Dweck’s work may offer the revolutionary breakthrough to winning the talent war. For talent itself is not about how intelligent or capable a person appears to be, but how fixed they think their abilities are.
The fixed mindset
A great education, rapid career progression and impressive bearing in interviews are clear signals of real talent. A great business school convinces organisations to pay over the odds ‘because that kind of education doesn’t come cheaply’. Premiums are paid for great work, even if another company has already reaped the benefits of that. And as to whether this person fits our organisation - well, talent trumps culture! Doesn’t it?
Many talented people on paper will have a deeply debilitating affliction though: they believe they were born with a fixed amount of intelligence and capability and while the quality of the latter can be maximised, it’s limited by the quantity of the former. They have ‘fixed mindsets.’
The problem with ‘fixies’ is that they spend their lives driven by the need to prove their innate stock of talent is exceptional. They obsessively seek explicit recognition of this and avoid anything that might risk exposing its limits (and challenging their identities).
Winners on paper therefore are often not those who always find a way through, but those who avoid getting into risky environments in the first place. If it looks like it could go wrong they’ll pass the risk onto another group. Fortunately, that group embraces such challenges.
The growth mindset
The ‘other’ group are those with a ‘growth mindset’ who see their abilities as open to cultivation, unlimited by birth constraints. Even their level of intelligence can be increased.
At first glance this may appear to go against much of what we know - fortunately, much of what we know is wrong. People often point to IQ tests as ‘proof’ that intelligence is fixed, without being aware that IQ tests were invented to measure how well schools were growing the intelligence of French schoolchildren. IQ tests were a measure of growth - checking how well schools were performing - not one-off indicators of a child’s capabilities.
‘Growthers’ don’t cheery pick what they’ll do to protect a fragile self-image. They take on challenges that force them to become better, learn from failure, become resilient. They often do this because they were not born in the ‘right’ place as the ‘right’ kind pf person, so didn’t have the options others - the talented ones - had. But over time their mindsets are making such niceties redundant.
For ‘growthers’ do more in their next role than they did in the last, because they’re still learning. If talent management focuses on this future potential, rather than paying for past performance, not only will costs decrease but the talent pool widens exponentially. You’re searching in places your rivals aren’t, and your demand will not outstrip supply.
In the war for talent seek out and pay for those whose best work is ahead of them, not behind.
*Advice on winning in times of crises doesn’t come free!
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"It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble; it's what you think you know for sure that just ain't so"
- Mark Twain