Talent assessment – don’t make the X-factor mistake

Talent assessment is the cornerstone in any talent management program. The idea is – to power phrase Jim Collins – “to get the right people on the bus and put them in the right seats”. Well, before you can do that, you need to figure out who the right people is. Right? That is essentially what talent assessment is.

Trouble is, how do you do that in the most valid, fun, developing and relevant way? A parallel could be looking at how it is done in other areas. The popular TV show X-factor may give some learning points about talent assessment.

The X-factor model:

The format of X-factor is quite the same as many other show such as American Idol, Pop Idol, So You Think You Can Dance etc. etc. etc. The concept is pretty much the same.

  • There is a group of hopeful talents (and many not so talented individual)
  • They try to get nominated to a prestigious and potentially rewarding talent program
  • A panel of experts assess their performance
  • They are chosen from their performance on stage and their potential to win the competition
  • There is a huge focus on the once who are chosen
  • There will be a big investment in the ones who are selected
  • The talents who go though the program are richly rewarded

 For those of who have watched any of the X-factor programs will probably find it entertaining. Often the entertainment criteria is more important than anything else. For instance, it is fun to watch Simon Cowell insult the potential talents performance.

 The decision if the potential talents are in or out is very public and often made more exciting by letting the public vote and withholding the ballot result for as long as possible.

 Talent assessment in organisations is very different
In organisations, talent assessment has been an important element of talent programs for many years. Indeed these centers were the very cornerstone of talent assessment in the 60s and 70s. They were justified by big research projects from AT&T, IBM and others which showed that they mattered. In the 90s talent assessment centers came under a lot of pressure due to research questioning their validity and their high cost.

Talent assessment must be improved and new efforts have been made which puts a greater emphasis on new formats of conducting these assessment days. But many fall the risk of falling into the X-factor trap.

The main differences between the context of X-factor and talent assessment centers are important:

  • Care must be taken to ensure that it is done in such a way that the potential talents who are not selected want to remain with the company.
  • It is more difficult to assess how an employee will perform in a business context managing people that how music performers may perform on another stage. More innovative assessment techniques are necessary and more talent intelligence is needed.
  • Ethic considerations are far greater for a company – what and how you assess requires careful considerations.
  • The entertainment value adds almost no value in talent assessment in organisations whereas it is hugely important to a TV station
  • Talent assessment centres in organisations have two purposes of equal importance; selection and development. The development part for all potential talents is hugely valuable for organisations where this is unimportant in X-factor.

Talent management matters in all times – also during the difficult ones. Although it is important it is still not done well. Talent assessment is important and difficult to do right – don’t make the X-factor mistakes!

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