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Talent Management - 22 December 2009

As the year comes to a close, it’s astonishing to think that at the beginning of 2009 Susan Boyle was a total unknown. But now her debut album has become the fastest-selling CD of all time in the UK and the biggest-selling album of the year in the US, with 2 million copies sold already.

Susan’s experience over the past twelve months encapsulates what talent management is all about. In particular, there are five points to keep in mind.

Be a talent manager: When Susan first walked on stage, her plain appearance was the antithesis of what opera stars are like. Everyone doubted her. People sniggered. But when she sang, they rose to their feet. She had the confidence to overcome the sceptical audience. Many employees lack that confidence, so their talents remain hidden if you don’t encourage and inspire them. Always look for talented people and talent in people.

Have honest performance conversations: The judges on Britain’s Got Talent are notorious for providing ruthless feedback – from the heart. All of it helps the contestants in some way. But Australian managers have one of the highest rates of avoidance leadership in the western world. So, be tough, but not offensive. Be frank, but not a tyrant.

Maintain a two-way dialogue: The day after the final episode, Susan was hospitalised in a psychiatric clinic for five days due to her erratic behaviour. The show’s producers didn’t pick up on any troubling signs beforehand. But then again, they didn’t ask. They didn’t consider how she’d deal with a loss, feelings of exhaustion, and the media attention. And that’s the problem. Always ask. Effective talent management isn’t a monologue.

Use their strengths to serve: Susan’s strength is her voice. She’s used it to serve the 100 million people who’ve viewed her videos on the internet. She’s used it to serve the record numbers who tuned in to watch her performances on television. And likewise, identify your employees’ strengths, and find a way to put these to use at work to serve others.

Create opportunities: Susan was fortunate that such a talent show existed. Without it, she mightn’t have gotten a big break. Your task as a talent manager is to create similar opportunities. Talented employees get bored easily, so they need regular opportunities to remain stimulated at work. Alas, most managers just wait for opportunities to arise, rather than proactively trying to generate them, leaving employees feeling lost.

A lesser known fact about Susan Boyle is that she was slightly brain damaged at birth. She says it best when she describes her hurdles: “I want to turn my disability into ability.”

 

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