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War on Wasted Talent

Many have spoken and written about the War for Talent. I wrote an article Let’s stop the war for talent nearly 3 years ago. My thinking has evolved, but my message is largely the same. In fact, I shared at the EEON (Equal Employment Opportunity Network) lunchtime talk on 20th March that if organisations are serious about talent as a key driver of performance and growth, they need to focus on the War on Wasted Talent.


Just like the ABC documentary, War on Waste, we should not only look at creating new, bio-degradable materials (hiring new talent), we should also look at reducing our waste (talented people whose talents are under-utilised) in the first place.

So where might you find this wasted talent, you may ask.


The easy place to start is through the diversity lens. Whether it is gender, cultural, LGBTI, disability, age etc. If teams, especially leadership teams have a visible lack of diversity, there is likely to be talented people being overlooked – wasted.


Then there’s the less visible diversity lens. Think of personality, cognitive, leadership style or just certain qualities that are under-valued. Talented people get overlooked regularly for having these less desirable qualities such as being quiet, even though they are valuable (see Bias towards style over substance is keeping your real talent hidden).


Talent can be wasted due to the environment. People may appear to be under-performing or performing just as expected, but many would contribute so much more if the environment is right. Social scientists state that 70% of behaviours are explained by the environment, 30% by the individual. We intuitively know that some environments, some teams, some leaders enable us to be our best.


Leaders who can adapt to different needs of individuals are critical in this sense, to reduce the wasted talent (see Are you a leader that brings out the best from a mix of different people?). Leaders who are inclusive, have humility and welcome different ideas and feedback would have significantly less waste. Some leaders can crush people’s confidence or ability to contribute, wasting their talents (see 7 ways a manager can crush team members’ confidence and ability to speak up and contribute)


Talent and their great ideas can be wasted due to leaders and organisations being attached to the status quo, or because disagreement and conflict is avoided at all costs (see Unlocking business advantage from diversity and inclusion – the missing ingredients).


Organisations can waste talent without even realising, by intentionally or unintentionally forcing people to ‘fit’. Whether it’s the recruitment process where we look for ‘fit’ or unwritten rules that tells us what we should and shouldn’t do, people end up covering their real selves and their talents along with them (see How organisations and leaders crush diverse talent without realising).


Do you feel there is wasted talent in your organisation? Will you join the War on Wasted Talent?


Other relevant articles:

Fixing people who don’t fit

We all want leaders who listen. So why don't we have more quieter leaders?

The definition of what good leadership looks like needs an update

The problem with obsessing about cultural ‘fit’

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