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Talent Management and Employee Engagement

For over fifty years, it has been clear that individual employees are motivated by very different needs and goals, and that it is management’s responsibility to tap into these differences to make best use of the diversity of talent on offer (McGregor 1960 Theory Y, Miles 1965 Human Resources model). Conditions must be set up for employees to meet their own goals at the same time as achieving those of the organisation.

In the 1970s, research on organisational entry found that there are generally two matching processes occurring: individual talent with organisational talent requirements, and individual needs with organisational climate (Wanous 1977). Whereas most organisations strongly emphasise the former, matching individual needs with the characteristics of the job is typically underemphasised. Conversely, individuals are more focused on the match with their personal needs and goals than on talent matching, so a poor match inevitably results in a lack of job satisfaction and problems with tardiness, absenteeism, and turnover.

The problem with implementing this thinking in practice was that there was no suitable tool available for assessing individual needs and goals to match them up with jobs and organisational cultures. Competency frameworks looked like a good idea in the 1980s, but by 1996 the International Competency Conference was reporting growing concern that this was not producing the expected results.

Something was clearly missing, and it was not long before business gurus were casting their minds back to the simple truth of Vroom’s (1964) equation performance = ability x motivation. As Warren Bennis put it, “The major challenge for leaders in the 21st century will be how to release the brainpower of their organisations”. Talent management specialists Getfeedback summarise: “Intrinsic motivation is a largely unrepresented area of assessment, but is an absolute must for accurate talent assessment”.

Studies of employee engagement regularly report a high correlation with organizational success in situations where employees are encouraged to perform at their best (‘Engaging for Success’ 2009), and there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that development initiatives have a significant impact on commitment, engagement, retention, and generally making best use of talented employees. The elemental questionnaire can play a major part in these initiatives, and makes it easy to assess the fundamental needs and goals that drive individuals to give their best performance. But it’s not just about paying attention to staff in the hope of gaining these benefits – from the recruitment stage onwards, the analysis of individuals’ intrinsic motivation is a crucial factor in ensuring that competence is converted into effective performance in the job.

MacLeod, D., & Clarke, N. (2009). Engaging for success: Enhancing performance through employee engagement. A report to Government.

McGregor, D. (1960). The human side of enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Miles, R. E. (1965). Human relations of human resources? Harvard Business Review, 43(4), 148-163.

Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and Motivation. New York: Wiley.

Wanous, J. P. (1977). Organizational entry: The individual’s viewpoint. In J. R. Hackman, E. E. Lawler, & L. W. Porter, Perspectives on behaviour in organizations (pp. 126-135). New York: McGraw-Hill.