Ask the OD Doctors: Talents - To Tell Or Not To Tell?
Questions answered by Dr. Lily Cheng
Founder and Chief OD Catalyst
The age-old question that I have been asked: Should we tell high potentials that he/she is a talent?
I will first explore 3 potential responses to this question: "yes", “no”, and “maybe".
We want to tell them that they are talents in the organisation, in case these high potentials are thinking of leaving or think that they are not valued. In such instances, most talents find that it is helpful to know they are being developed with extended responsibilities and tougher work assignments. On their part, they must then be willing to be scrutinised and to accept feedback on their development progress. However, I must emphasise that communication to these high potentials is critical as we do not want them to think that they are now the elite and deserve special treatment.
As a leader, you need to sense and make your judgement call regarding the high potentials in question, before approaching them. If you feel that a certain person is becoming disengaged and that you might lose him, you might want to tell him that he is being valued as a talent; so as to motivate him and “salvage" the situation. “Maybe" also means that you may have to observe for a little longer before deciding whether to disclose or not, and whether it facilitates or halts that person’s development. There is a predictable set of problems with such disclosure, and you have to then be prepared for the implications.
When there is a tendency for the other party to expect special treatment or promotion after your disclosure, this is where I would add caution to your communication. We do not want our talents to end up having false expectations or promises when in fact, we are merely alerting them of their position in the pool of talents. We could run the risk of de-motivating these individuals when they do not get the promotion expected. I have seen cases where high potentials were informed of the organisation’s intentions for them, only to have the skill set requirements change due to a restructuring; which then ended up in disappointment.
So is there a right answer?
In my many years of experience, I encourage leaders to disclose - as transparency is still a differentiator in employee engagement. It is about the competency of managing the communication and therefore, it is essential that leaders have the skills to conduct such conversations. The risk of losing valuable and talented employees is not a yes/no/maybe debate, as the right skill sets enable leaders to increase employee engagement and employee retention, give timely feedback, provide targeted development, promote a culture of high performance, and enhance employee exposure.