Should you tell them?

Over the weekend while attending a Cabernet tasting event*, I was talking with a friend and somehow  (yes I know — this suggests I have no life OR maybe I’m just really excited about Talent Management) the topic of “top talent transparency” came up.  Of course we didn’t use those words, but it was the topic nonetheless.

When we talk about “top talent” we tend to agonize along the following lines

  • If I tell someone that they are on “the list” will their ego make me regret it?
  • What about those who are not on “the list” will they be negatively impacted?

I’m going to risk it all with an opinion here, feel free to disagree (in comments or otherwise).  I believe you should be willing to disclose this information to individuals.  Why?  Well, because they are going to find out anyway, so pretending to hide it will not solve your problems.  By sharing this information you can have a better chance of actually getting what you want from those individuals who you consider your top talent.  In otherwords, by letting them know you consider them top talent you have a better opportunity to help them understand why, and as a result they can focus on the behaviors that make them critical to your organization. 

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my mother in the second grade, after I was tested for the MGM program.  The conversation went something like this:

Meg: How did I do?

Mom: I can’t tell you

Meg: Why? I had to take a test today instead of getting to watch a film in the library with the rest of my class, what do you mean you wont tell me how I did?

Mom: I’m told not to tell you because they are worried that by knowing the results it might cause you to act differently.

Meg: Huh?!

Yes, there are risks with transparency but at least those you can actively manage.


* For those interested the category was 2003 California Cabs and the winners were Signorello Valley and Long Vineyards

5 thoughts on “Should you tell them?

  1. I second the vote for transparency…people want to know where they stand, and will work to find out. Not knowing increases the probability of top talent turnover. (“Company B seems to want me, and I don’t know what’s up with Company A. Looks like Company B is the winner.”)

    I’m also a fan of Signorello. Sounds like a good weekend!

  2. I recently read “Building Tomorrow’s Talent” and they point out the need to have our act together when informing top talent and/or high potentials so as to avoid the problems of “big heads”, “left outs”, etc. This is of course, what leadership is all about – adequate preparation to deal with what you can’t hide from, which in turn can benefit from coaching support. Preparation includes having consistent, documented, definitions, policies, and processes (which can cover the fact that measurement includes managerial judgment.) This can include a description for how people are removed from “the list,” say, for behaving inappropriately as a result from having an oversized ego for instance. In addition, folks not on “the list” should have development opportunities as well, even if they are different. Fairness does not have to mean sameness.

  3. I think a lot of the issue of should you tell vs. should you not, fairness vs. sameness, what to do with the “left outs,” etc. can be resolved by acknowledging the many different types of potential that can exist within an organization. For example, if you are fresh out of grad school and starting a first real job, whether you are tagged as high potential or not is going to have a huge impact on job satisfaction and how long you see yourself with the company.

    But what if you could be tagged as either having SME potential, program leadership (vs people leadership) potential, or potential to move to a particular management level within the company (say, Director level but perhaps not CEO). That is more useful information for the company to have on hand, and also gives you a more realistic while still motivating view of how your potential career trajectory is perceived.

    My experience tells me that most people have a pretty good grasp of where their talents and interests lie, anyhow, and so where they are slated won’t be of great surprise. In this regard, it’s actually the yes/no dichotomies that create the problems of ego/disillusionment that makes us afraid to tell.

  4. @Mike, very good point. Interesting at how our desire to neatly classify people makes everything else more complicated.

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