Review: Managing Talented People

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Title:“Managing Talented People”
Editor/Author: Alan Robertson and Graham Abbey
Publisher: Pearson Education
ISBN: 1843 04024 7
Price: £16.99
Reviewer: Rob Sheffield

I last met Alan Robertson at the end of the 1990’s. I was in the aerospace sector, and he was an independent consultant, helping on a range of our courses. I enjoyed the contact I had with Alan, and had the impression of someone genuinely interested in others, with the emotional maturity to engage in a properly-open conversation. “Managing Talented People”, co-written with Graham Abbey, is a thought-provoking read.

It has 4 main parts: “reflecting on talented people”, which includes an attempt at defining talent; “a theory on managing talented people”; “the practice of managing talented people”, and “managing talent in action”

These things do what they say on the label. That’s one of the things I liked about the book. It’s written in as simple and authentic a style as possible. Simple but not dull. In fact, it’s positively jaunty. Engaging, sometimes conversational, but keenly-focused as well. The authors share their research, using quotes and stories from individuals they’ve interviewed. This adds punch.

The blend of their own and others’ research, considered reflection, and clear implications makes a persuasive case. The book starts with a common exhortation: as a manager, a central part of your role is to develop talent. Most wouldn’t disagree with that. And yet, in practice, too many of us do this poorly. One of the key challenges is that talented people want different challenges, have different values, and want a different kind of manager. The examples they provide here are compelling. How does one gain a reputation as someone that talented people want as their manager?

There’s a multitude of ideas here, but no universal prescriptions. If you want the 7-step foolproof guide, because you’re short of time and the will to challenge yourself, don’t buy it.

It will make you reflect on the way you manage. It may make you feel uncomfortable, but in a good, niggling way, that gets under your skin because the message resonates.

For example, they describe how people immersed in the habit know that giving time to reflection is disproportionately valuable. With talented people, it’s easy and tempting to reduce attention, because “they’re doing well” A fatal error. They give an illustration of one manager who made himself available at the end of each day for 15 minutes. The manager didn’t talk much. “Mostly he listened, he ‘held the space’…” The talented person came to look forward to these sessions. He could ‘collect his thoughts’. It gave him space and time to think.

My main gripe with the book was its assertion that talent fades. Age withers talent. Or more precisely, hostile and political organisations tend to wear it down. Notice how the term talent is more often applied to the younger. As a youngish 40-year old, this grated, but, you can see their point, even if you can’t (like me), agree with it right now…

Who would benefit from reading this? Anyone interested in developing outstanding potential. Managers with a genuine interest in doing their job better, and human resource professionals.

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