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From these chains set me free. (or Escape from the Organisational Alcatraz)

From these chains set me free. (or Escape from the Organisational Alcatraz)

In amongst the good people of my organisation (Apter Development LLP) we like to talk about Talent Liberation – not talent management, process, strategy, system etc., but LIBERATION. This is about ‘springing’ the potential of people within the organisation. The other stuff, talent management, process, etc is important, but not at the heart of creating a highly motivated and able staff prepared to commit to the organisation. Too many people are taken hostage within cultures and structures that inhibit and distort their potential.

For us the idea of ‘liberation’ challenges the prevailing paternalistic, patronising and often still authoritarian approach which is a curious legacy of 19th Century religion and manufacturing processes.  Liberation is in tune with broader social trends in which increasingly people resist a work experience which does not accord with their wider social values and their personality. Liberation also echoes the increasing need for greater self-reliance in order to thrive in a fast-changing world. *

So, what exactly is Liberation? In this context it is not about doing what you want - although a little more autonomy is required. It is about freedom to be who you might be to the temporary benefit of yourself and the organisation. ‘Temporary’ because both individual and organisation are in a constant state of transition and evolution and in all but the smallest number of cases the relationship cannot last a working lifetime and may indeed be relatively short lived. ‘Benefit’ highlights the mutuality inherent in the employment proposition “if the company can engage all that you offer then you will gain in terms of fulfilment and ongoing employability”.

This ‘invitation’ to full participation, is at the core of talent liberation. Through it people will not only be able to refine existing talents and strengths but recover and discover new ones. We call this the ‘regeneration curve’ and seems to a be ‘life experience’ that many people may travel through.

How do you promote this? In our experience you don’t get there through the process, strategy and system of formal talent management.  You get there by engaging with individuals as individuals. It will require repositioning the pieces in the talent management dance. Individuals need to both closely connect their identity with a particular organisation whilst retaining a sense of disassociation, so they will instinctively know when the dance has to stop. Organisations need to ensure what my old friend the psychologist Michael Apter would call 'Motivational Richness'. The days of the carrot and stick as the levers of motivation are long gone. The donkey ate both and sadly died. Organisations, if they want to liberate talent need to think much more broadly about what their peoples 'work experience' is like – what does it 'afford' the whole self of identity and therefore what behaviours and contributions does it elicit?  And the mode of this dance is essentially 'conversational' - with all the one-off improvisational sense that this implies.

My friend and colleague Dr Maggi Evans in her doctoral research emphasised the importance of what she calls ‘catalytic conversations’ which can take place formally or informally between an individual and a line manager, coach or mentor.  This seems to be a naturally arising but not a typical feature of management. Maggi’s research highlights that where this occurs, the impact is profound.  People see new possibilities for themselves, they are energised and engaged in new directions which strengthen their performance and their commitment to the organisation.  Catalytic conversations enable the refine, recover and regenerate process. The 'permission' required for such conversations lies more with culture, leadership behaviour and mindset than anything that structure, system and process might drive, the latter being a necessary servant of the former.

*I am sadly and very aware that for a section of society surviving through taking more ownership of career and life path is a ‘false offer’ and begs some serious questions for certain parts of the population.

 

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