Earth to Talent Management 'Experts': Take Closer Look at Workforce

By Pamela Babcock Mar 6, 2009
NEW YORK—To get talent management right, HR should cast aside preconceived notions about what talent is or what it should look like and try seeing it as an alien might if it was beamed down to Earth, an expert said at a recent conference.

That’s because “educated incapacity” or knowing so much about what you know that you’re the last to know something, often gets in the way.

“We all suffer from this and it’s not a condemnation,” Edie Weiner, president of New York consultancy Weiner, Edrich, Brown Inc., told attendees at The Conference Board’s Feb. 26 talent management conference. “We focus on things we’re taught to focus on and are paid to focus on, and everything else becomes blurry. But if we shifted our focus, it would be there.

“We would not as futurists go to a doctor to find out about the future of health care or a banker to find out about the future of banking,” added Weiner, who is known for her out-of-the-box thinking about trends affecting business. “Everything you know is also baggage, and it’s very hard to determine for the rest of the journey which baggage you need and what you can let go.”

To illustrate the idea that an unbiased perspective can lead to another reality, Weiner described a cartoon she saw more than 30 years ago. In it, two aliens were sent to Earth to observe and report back on it to their native planet.

After two weeks, the aliens concluded Earth was inhabited by four-wheeled vehicles called automobiles and that “each owned at least one two-legged slave called a human,” Weiner said. Every morning, a loud noise went off to wake the human so he could take the car to a social club—that is, a parking lot—where the auto “hung out all day with other cars while the human went into a building to work to support it,” Weiner said.

Weiner asked attendees to envision today’s workforce, then said most probably pictured people 25 to 55 years old and not “very young people” or much older people. She said talent management experts should alter their perspective on both.

“In the next decade, one in every nine Baby Boomers will live to be 100 years old,” Weiner said. “Why can’t we hire someone at the age of 65 who has so many good years left?”

Likewise, Weiner called it “criminal” to make a four-year-college degree a job requirement since many potentially high-achieving high school students never go on to college because they can’t afford it and drop out of high school instead.

“We have screwed this up and thrown out on the streets so many talented people,” Weiner said.

In closing, Weiner told attendees that “the ability for the mind to be agile is critical at a time when the economy is shaken up. If you want talent to perform for you in the 21st century, you need to be flexible and fungible.”

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.


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