Managing Talent: A Critical Appreciation

Cover of Managing Talent: A Critical Appreciation


Table of contents

(12 chapters)


Pages i-xvi
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The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once claimed that ‘what can be said at all, can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’. When the term talent transformed from being a rigid term referring to a specific object, e.g. a coin, in the actual world into an empty signifier referring to multiple objects, e.g. individuality or gifts, in a possible world then talent became something that we could not talk about in a clear and unambiguous way; something that talent management then should have been silent about. The reason is that such an unambiguous and accidental use of the term has led to an arbitrary understanding of talent and subjective bias in talent identification, recruitment, and selection systems and to talent management becoming dysfunctional. Moreover, it has also led to an absence of work identity in talent management that inhibits the individual talent and the talent manager in identifying and talking clearly about the qualification and competencies of the individual as they pertain to the job requirements. This could further enhance subjective bias and reinforce the arbitrary understanding of talent and, in the end, lead to insufficient and ineffective talent management processes.


A core assumption of exclusive talent management is that some employees have more talent than others. Performance data and talent reviews provide some support for this assumption yet there are grounds thinking that a proportion of talent identification is false; average people can be included, talented people can excluded. In an exploration of how talent recognition is exposed to risk, this chapter considers two approaches to talent that are seldom treated together. First, the social construction of talent is developed in ways that highlight the dangers that inevitably arise in talent recognition processes. A social constructionist treatment raises the prospect of ‘empty’ talent pools and the chapter explores the ethical and moral issues arising and questions whether it matters that talent pools might be empty. Second, talent is considered as an innate characteristic of people highlighting that talents are not static and continue evolving up to a point. As such, and if so, it is right that organizations should look periodically for talent across their employee base. The chapter highlights areas for further research into the existence of ‘the talented’ in business contexts and in particular the question of how much talent pools actually contain people with above average talent. The practical implications of appreciating both social and natural bases of talent are considered.


There is little doubt that practitioners and academics care about talent management (TM). The significant impact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has on the work environment, combined with a set of broader socioeconomic, geopolitical, and demographic changes, emphasize the importance of managing talent extremely well. However, it seems that practitioners and managers are still seeking answers to the practical issues in handling TM and the chapter questions how much academic research is addressing this concern. In particular, this chapter offers a critical reflection on the relevance (visibility and impact) of TM research. Although the field has evolved significantly, practical implications for stakeholders remain unanswered. In other words, the Academic-Practitioner Gap in TM remains wide. Current TM research is lost in and before translation. In order to overcome these issues, scholars will require hard self-examination, and engagement with practitioners. The future of TM will be brighter and its role more effective when stakeholders work more closely to chart a consistent pathway forward.


In this chapter, Barbara Zesik draws on her experience as an HR Director in international businesses and on her empirical research with actors in talent situations across multiple industry sectors to explore the tensions between the rhetoric and reality of life in talent pools. Focussing on the relatively under-researched social and political aspects of managing talent and using seldom heard voices from people in talent programmes she illustrates how talent identification and management ‘really works’ and offers suggestions for better practice.

Managerial anxiety as a key obstacle to managerial capability, effectiveness and meaningful talent management is explored and organisational failures, such as the lack of development for managers and the persistent use of lag-measures, such as performance ratings, in talent assessment are analysed. Empirical research, conducted applying a social constructivist perspective, is relevant to academics and practitioners alike by offering a less theoretical, and perhaps more realistic perspective of talent management practices in organisations for academics and a more pragmatic, approachable and relatable viewpoint for practitioners.


In this chapter Suzanne Ross draws on her experience previously as a talent manager and now as a leadership consultant, Executive Coach and Senior Lecturer in Executive Education, and applies her research on leadership derailment to talent management. As organizations continue to invest in leadership development, research suggests up to 50 per cent of leaders derail or fail in their role. The derailment literature is, to-date, disconnected from TM although central to the definition of leadership derailment is that derailed leaders were previously successful and had potential. The chapter explores the concept of derailment, how it is defined, its scale and scope and some of the causes of derailment including a lack of organizational support during leadership transitions. The notion of the ‘accidental manager’ is used to provide an example of where literature on TM and derailment converge as a key derailer characteristic is having an overly functional orientation. This maps to the accidental manager concept and to the challenges that TM practitioners face in developing career pathways for expert/specialists beyond managerial roles. Suzanne argues that talent identification should take more account of derailment characteristics and suggests there may be gender differences in how these are perceived and in the consequences that arise when they are present. The chapter contributes to a greater understanding of how the concept of derailment can be integrated within talent management research and practice.


Current TM literature shows a lack of empirical research on the actual implementation of TM as a mediating step in the TM process, and on the role of the line managers in that stage. Bos, Thunnissen and Pardoen look into this ‘black box’ of TM and focus in their study on the role of line managers in the actual implementation of TM. In particular, the impact of the line manager’s leadership style on employee reactions to TM is investigated, as well as the constraints in the line manager’s role in executing TM. Their exploratory, quantitative study on the role of the line manager demonstrates that the line manager can support employees in deploying and developing their talents, and when they do so employees feel more empowered and committed to the job. Most line managers are willing to support their employees in developing and utilizing their talents, and that they think they have the capability of doing. However, the study shows that in many cases the line manager overestimates his/her actions regarding the mobilization of employee’s talents, and employees often have different perceptions of the line manager’s behaviour to TM than the line manager him/herself. The bigger the gap in perceptions, the more it has a negative effect on employees’ cognitive and affective reactions to TM. The authors call for more research on the role of the line manager in TM, and in particular on this gap in perceptions.


Talent management (TM) is widely seen as a key organizational challenge necessary to sustain competitive advantage. While academia has mostly focused on HRM practices associated with exclusive TM targeting organizational high performers at higher managerial levels, there are reasons why organizations should consider a more inclusive talent management (ITM) approach. They include the growing diversification of organizations and the global workforce caused by demographic changes and mobility across borders, overall talent scarcity and hard to predict market dynamics which all make future talent needs hard to anticipate. Issues such as employee perceptions of organizational justice and fairness are also important. Moreover, existing HRM orthodoxy concerned with investing in the company’s human resource and the wellbeing of employees pushes companies to invest in ITM as a path to a better working environment characterized by openness, trust and overall well-being. Few TM researchers, however, pay sufficient attention to the problems of organizational inequality and social segregation that exclusive TM might occasion and thus disregard how social exclusion and economic inequality continue to characterize many organizations. The ambition of this chapter therefore is to contribute to the development of an inclusive approach to TM. We add to the notion of ITM by bringing in literature on inclusive organizations which is absent from current theoretical development. Building on current conceptualizations in particular by Swailes et al. (2014) and Meyers and Woerkom (2014), we ask: How can literature on organizational inclusion contribute to developing more fair and equal organizations through inclusive TM practices?


This chapter address how critical feminist organization studies can shed light on the dominance of masculinist logics in TM theorizing in both theory and practice and open up opportunities to review TM systems that stress inclusion and equity. The exclusive approach is most worrisome given that contemporary events such as the prosecution of Harvey Weinstein the global ‘#metoo campaigns and the Sustainable Development Goals have highlighted the importance of equality agendas. We draw on transnationalism, intersectionality and postcolonialism approaches to illustrate how TM reinforces inequalities. Our contribution questions the elite logics, and the white Global North males that dominate both TM theorizing, and TM practitioners and denies many stakeholders voices and contributions to organization life. We also question the longevity of the elite mantra of MNCs’ HRM policy given that the Sustainable Development Goals are increasingly being advocated by the business community, and contradict entirely an organizational ethic premised on valuing the elite.


In October 2018, the Canadian federal government legalized the use of recreational cannabis with a goal to drastically diminish the black-market and the use of cannabis by minors. The attraction of talent to the new industry has been recognized as important to long-term industry success, but there exists a paradox in talent attraction. Key talent must first be screened by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Anyone with serious criminal charges in the past may not be cleared to work in the industry, blocking out experienced cannabis talent. Additionally, some potential talent may not be interested in working the legitimized industry although others may welcome the opportunity to work in it. HR managers have a rare opportunity to be trailblazers by establishing the norms for the industry. Their role should be established in the boardroom, but they will have to demonstrate their value through their ability to build talent in an industry made up largely of SMEs. We use a nested model of macro and micro TM perspectives to analyze the context of this industry. At the macro level we investigate how legalization, government regulation, legitimacy, and reputation affect TM within the micro level context. We suggest how HRM strategies related to attraction, development and retention can impact TM. The integration of the macro and micro level context of TM is paramount to the survival of the new legalized cannabis industry.


Pages 163-165
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Cover of Managing Talent: A Critical Appreciation
Publication date
Book series
Talent Management
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited