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Think talent fountain – not talent pool

The talent retention problem  

An organisation can have the best vision, mission, strategy, values, or intentions but without talented people none of these can become reality. Organisations need highly engaged talent to execute strategy. However, talent retention seems to be a major concern for leaders today. A recent report indicated that talent development and retention were one of the top five challenges for CEO’s (DDI, 2015). Leaders seem to find it difficult to engage and retain talent. Talent retention issues in return influence operational performance negatively and ultimately cause poor financial or non-financial organisational performance. It is therefore important to understand ways to manage talent more effectively to ensure organisations have the sustained capacity and capability to deliver on its current and future strategic intent.

Two perspectives towards talent management

Talent is perceived in general as a few selected individuals of the right gender and race type who have shown good past performance and future potential, in accordance with the organisation’s core, critical, or scarce skills and the employment equity targets of the organisation. The general aim of this approach is to prepare talent pools to satisfy current and future talent needs of the organisation and to meet employment equity targets. The human resource department is normally responsible to manage or facilitate the talent management process and ensure enough talent is readily available to achieve organisational objectives and meet employment equity targets. It involves identifying organisational talent needs, discovering internal or external talent, establishing and developing talent pools, deploying talent at the right time, and applying extrinsic talent retention strategies. In other words, a few employees are selected, placed in talent pools, developed to close competency gaps, deployed when ready, and retained using extrinsic rewards. Psychometric assessments are used to select talented individuals and to identify individual development gaps. Talent development initiatives thereafter aim to close those development gaps. Extrinsic motivational rewards are then used to motivate and retain talented employees. Talent retention strategies therefore focus primarily on protecting talent at all cost.

The talent pool perspective can be effective in the short term, however in the long term it could produce negative consequences such as selfish employee motives, division among employees, talent wars between companies, and disengaged employees. For example, the application of extrinsic rewards as talent retention strategy can fuel selfish motives because it is based on monetary, positional power, and or other extrinsic rewards. It therefore bargains on the greediness of humankind to perform better, produce more results, or to remain employed with the company. Furthermore, if talent development is only provided to a few selected employees it might cultivate ineffective behaviours such as envy, exclusion, and insecurity and create division among different races, genders, cultures, generations, and even salary bands within an organisation. Talented employees might also become selfish and see the organisation as a source to fulfil selfish ambitions. In case the organisation cannot satisfy their selfish ambitions anymore, talented employees will leave. This could make it more difficult to engage and keep talented employees because the sole purpose of talent management is based on survival of the fittest instead of the power of focussed individual purpose. Leaders might need to apply a different approach to talent management to resolve the current talent retention issue over the long term.

Another approach towards talent management might be to perceive all people as talented. This can be called the talent fountain perspective. From this perspective, each person has a type of inherent talent available that could be activated to achieve both individual and organisational objectives. The main philosophy of this perspective is that the organisation does not recruit employees if an individual’s purpose, passion, and talents do not align with the purpose and objectives of the organisation. After recruitment, the responsibility and onus is placed on individuals to align their talent with positional or organisational objectives. In other words, employees are given the responsibility and opportunity to activate their individual talent within a set framework. Although the talent management process is similar to that of the talent pool perspective, the approach however differs. For example, employees may be given the opportunity to craft their own jobs in accordance with their perceived competence, attributes, passion, purpose, and talents that supports organisational objectives. Psychometric assessments are used to create awareness and to align individual strengths to positional requirements. Talent development is self-directed, based on strengths, purpose, and passion, and includes all employees. Talent retention becomes automated because employees are driven by intrinsic purpose not extrinsic reward. Employees stay with the company because they have the opportunity to activate their individual purpose, passion, and talent and serve the company unconditionally and voluntarily. Such an approach might produce more engaged employees, lower employee turnover ratios, and create more collaboration among employees from different races, genders, cultures or even generations. It will furthermore cultivate behaviours such as respect, care, trust, service, collaboration, accountability, self-discipline, and commitment. Talent pools are therefore replaced by talent fountains.

A summary of the two perspectives are provided in the table below.

Dimension Talent pool perspective Talent fountain perspective
Purpose Prepare talent Activate talent
Focus Organisational objectives Individual and organisational objectives
Custodian HR department Employee
Stimulation Extrinsic rewards (power/ money) Intrinsic rewards (purpose)
Retention strategy Strategies to protect talent Strategies to release talent
Behavioural outcomes Cultivate greed, fear, division, envy, insecurity. Cultivate respect, care, trust, collaboration, service, accountability,
Employee perspective “The organisation serves me and I serve myself” “The organisation serves me and I serve the organisation”

The talent fountain perspective might be more effective to resolve the current talent retention problem in organisations because talent retention becomes an automated process. Employees motivate themselves by means of job crafting, self-directed development, and aligning their purpose and passion with the company’s objectives.

In conclusion

Talent retention remains a challenge for business leaders and human capital practitioners. This in return influences operational performance negatively because organisations do not have the required capacity and capability to deliver on strategy, which ultimately causes negative financial and non-financial organisational outcomes. The general approach towards talent management is to create talent pools by identifying and selecting few employees with good past performance and future potential to achieve future organisational objectives. This approach however may make talent retention and employee engagement difficult because it is motivated by extrinsic rewards; include only a few selected employees; and is driven by the human resource department. Another talent management approach might be more effective to retain talent namely the talent fountain perspective.  This approach perceives all employees as talented and focuses on creating talent fountains by aligning individual purpose, passion, and talent collectively to achieve individual and organisational objectives. It focusses on achieving both the goals of individuals and the organisation, which are motivated by intrinsic rewards and cultivate behaviours such as respect, care, trust, service, collaboration, accountability, self-discipline, and commitment.  Talent retention from this perspective is automated because employees have a purpose to remain with the company.

Development Dimensions International (DDI). (2015). Ready-Now Leaders: 25 Findings to Meet Tomorrow’s Business Challenges. Retrieved from

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