Law Enforcement Jobs:
Talent and Its Enemies
Founder, Action Resumes—Pentagon
Talent—it’s a problem
If there is one thing I’ve learned in doing the work I do, it’s this:
Most people are bigger than the jobs they do.
Very few jobs engage the best of us on a regular basis. Other than those charmed
moments when an unusual problem arises that we engage and figure out how to
solve, a lot of our potential contribution gets left at our desks—unmade, unseen
and unacknowledged. People are bigger than the jobs they do, yet employers seem
to care more about the jobs than the people who do them. No company or economy
can sustain this attitude indefinitely.
It should hardly be surprising, then, that over 71% of American workers describe
themselves as feeling un-engaged in their jobs. That’s the figure reported by
the Gallup organization in its most recent survey of worker attitudes. This
finding contains an implicit critique of how we are seeing—or not seeing—each
other in the workplace.
The amazing fact is: all that most employers know about their employees is
whether they can do the jobs they were hired to do. Everything else about their
talent and skill sets is regarded as irrelevant and not worth being concerned
This attitude is the logical result of the fact that organizations conduct the
hiring process from the outside, in. Why? Because most employers hire to
. Ironically, this way of
assigning talent to tasks leads employers to short-change
Because of its resulting blow to worker morale, this dynamic insults employees,
who feel unseen and unappreciated by their employers—a situation that leads them
to feel un-engaged at their desks and in their jobs.
This growing dissatisfaction with the hiring process is unmistakable.
Harvard Business Review
published three cover stories in its Summer 2015
issue. Each of them argued the same point: “
Let’s Blow Up HR!
” Almost no
one who participates in the hiring process seems happy with it.
Talent and its enemies
Some things are irreducible. Talent is one of them. Subjecting something so
personal to Big Data and Data Analytics misses the point. Talent is what
created Data Analytics
. Talent is not a printout sitting in the trunk,
being driven somewhere so it can be “managed” when it gets there. No—
is what drives the whole enterprise
Over the last few months I’ve been exploring an arena that HR trendsetters call
“talent management.” Until recently, HR was “human capital management.” Before
that, it was about “human resources” management. And before that, it was just
called “personnel.” Recently, some consulting firms have been using the phrase,
Talent Management, which sounds like it’s personal, individually focused, and
very, very Talented. Except that it isn’t.
Talent Management firms propose to manage Talent as though it’s an abstract
resource that can be inventoried and managed via software. This approach
overlooks one fundamental fact: Talent can only be found in one place—in
individual human beings.
Talent doesn’t exist outside the individual persons in whom it has taken up
residence. Talent is both a mystery and a living force—apparently genetic in its
origins, spiritual in its implications, human in its expressions.
There is no algorithm for talent.
And there’s no warehouse where Talent gets “managed” like cartons of engine
parts in a warehouse. Talent isn’t a commodity. It’s also not a collective
“resource.” It can’t be managed collectively. It lives in individuals and it
must be managed in individuals. For employers, that’s a problem.
Organizations don’t like to deal with individuals, whether we’re talented or
not. As individuals, we’re too messy, inefficient and unpredictable to deal
with. We don’t fit inside a neatly drawn org-chart. We don’t follow our official
job descriptions. We’re not cookie-cut to order. And we’re certainly not all the
same. We’re just—too—individual.
Organizations tend not to like this about us.
Many organizations like to talk about how, “We respect our people”—but when it
comes down to it they’ll almost always place their chips on efficiency and
predictability. That feels like a safer bet, even if it keeps repeating the same
inputs and outputs, which keep getting the same results.
Talent, on the other hand, is unpredictable. It’s liable to think of and try to
do—well, almost anything. It may want to stop doing its job for a few hours and
start inventing things. Organizations and their managers often respond with
alarm. “We can’t have that.” No self-respecting organization is going to stop
what it’s doing just to pay attention to the individual talent of its employees.
That feels “inefficient.” Even vaguely “unprofessional.” And it just smells like
trouble. Managers won’t tolerate this.
Talent seems inefficient because it tends to operate by its own rules and its
own will and wits. It doesn’t need or want instructions about what to do or how
to get it done. It doesn’t need instructions. It’s Talent, and that’s what
Talent does. It breaks rules in order to create something the rules never
thought about. Rules can’t make this leap of imagination. Rules are bound
by—rules. However, Talent
make this leap. And it wants to. And
it does. And there’s the rub.
Too much Talent rubs some managers the wrong way. They get frightened by it,
thinking that all this Talent is ganging up on them, that Talent wants to take
their jobs, or compete with them for promotions these managers have been
preparing to apply for. To many managers, Talent looks like a threat, not a
gift. No wonder they want to Manage it—which is to say, they want to
But the thing about Talent is that it can be coached, but it can’t be
controlled. Talent doesn’t follow the rules. Talent writes new rules. As Picasso
said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” That’s
the game Talent wants to play.
Most organizations are extremely reluctant to let employees play that game.
After all, what’s the point of having authority as a manager unless you use it?
And what better use of authority can there be than controlling what your
underlings can and cannot do?
But there’s this startling piece of wisdom by Harriet Rubin, “Freedom is
actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom
is about what you can unleash.”
has assisted some 5,300 people in advancing their
professional lives. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.