Is het talentmanagement of competentiemanagement?

In de reeks ‘kort-door-de-bocht-analyses’ 🙂

Het gebruik van de term ‘talentmanagement’ in een professionele context stoort me behoorlijk. Voor mij is talent immers

  1. een aangeboren ‘voorsprong’ in een bepaalde competentie; of
  2. een natuurlijke flair of gemak (easiness) bij het gebruik van een bepaalde competentie.

Een aangeboren ‘voorsprong’ in een bepaalde competentie betekent echter niet noodzakelijk dat de persoon die voorsprong benut of die competentie überhaupt maar aanwendt.  Ik ken mensen met een uitgesproken aanleg voor ritme maar niet actief met muziek bezig zijn. Afhankelijk van de persoonlijkheid kan in bepaalde gevallen talent zelfs een averechts effect hebben. Na een snelle, vlotte start in het aanleren van de competentie ontbreekt het doorzettingsvermogen om de competentie volwaardig verder uit te bouwen. Wie herkent niet de kinderen uit zijn vriendenkring die met groot gemak en beperkte inspanning de lagere en middelbare school passeren om het dan op de universiteit moeilijk krijgen?

De woordkeuze ‘voorsprong’ is daarom ook bewust gekozen. Het is niet omdat je geen talent hebt, je de competentie niet kan aanleren. Alleen kan het leertraject meer tijd in beslag nemen en zal men in vele gevallen niet het allerhoogste niveau kunnen bereiken. Maar dat hoeft ook niet steeds de betrachting te zijn. Opnieuw is het muzikale leerproces hiervoor heel illustratief (zie bijvoorbeeld ‘Een denkoefening: muzikaal talent en toewijding’).

Met andere woorden, talenten zijn een restrictieve subset van iemands competentieportfolio. Meer zelfs, bij bepaalde personen maakt hun talent zelfs geen onderdeel uit van hun actief competentieportfolio.

Daarom is het mijns inziens correcter te spreken over competentiemanagement. Het gaat om de skills, attitude en motivatie.

Everyone a trend watcher: a call for some more individual alertness

We all know Charles Darwin’s observation: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Yet I see a lot of inactivity around me; except in you would consider complaining, whining, finger-pointing, blaming others, … also activities.

In this short reflection, I want to make a case for a “sense and respond” attitude. With a little more pro-activity and in many cases a sequence of small steps one can realize bigger changes than one would expect.

Too often people react to change from a defensive point of view: before we were protected by …, shielded of …. , we had automatically the right to … Put another way; they consider themselves a victim of change caused by the organization, society or economics, or whatever. They fell asleep in a comfort zone not able to leave it before it’s (almost) too late.  There is the illustrative anecdote of the boiled frog. Placing a frog in boiling water, it will jump out immediately. If you place him in cold water, he perceives the environment as enjoyable and when you than slowly heat the water, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

In our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, things do not get necessarily easier but when the “going gets tough, the tough gets going” as Billy Ocean once sang. Within the boundaries of a range of limitations or difficulties, the creatives get even more creative.

In our uncertain, complex and continuous changing environment, we need to be alert and aware of the changes around us. One needs to be open and alert to detect changes before one can become aware of the changes and to understand their potential impact. Only then one can act. It’s a process of ceaselessly sensing and responding. However, there is a reactive and a proactive way of responding. In the reactive variant, one experiences the change and then react accordingly. In the pro-active approach, one is trying to detect the changes ahead and pro-actively act on them. This is what trend watching is all about, capturing in our environment faint signals and patterns and act upon before they become strong. These can be applied for any political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental signals or changes.

Some consider trend watching sexy, other consider it a waste of time chasing some new hypes, hypes which will be soon be replaced by other ones. Still other thinks is a meaningless attempt of foretelling, which it is clearly not.  Consider trend watching a basic skill everyone needs to have or to develop. In our VUCA world it is an essential part of our survival kit: sensing our environment in order to respond/react/anticipate/whatever/… in time to changes in our environment, be it changes in our relationship, our work place, our business, our society, or the world. For the time being, we can leave out the universe ;-).

In music you see many musicians complaining how the music business industry changed for worse (e.g. Spotify, illegal downloading of music, etc.) while others see and use the new possibilities to their full potential to get their thing done. Top of my mind is for instance Janek Gwizdala (, an English jazz bassist living in Los Angeles producing Internet online bass courses, vlogging, and organizing himself a solo world tour. Or Bob Reynolds (, a Grammy Award-winning jazz tenor saxophonist currently touring with Snarky Puppy but also vlogging and organizing online music teaching. Two examples of entrepreneurship, brilliant online marketing and creating communities of like-minded people to support them.

In HR we see for instance managers raising their eyebrows when the topic of the new expectations of generation Y/Z is put on the table. Other try to understand their expectations and act on it.

Everyone is talking about the need for agile organizations and business processes. However, in many cases it’s no more than just a lip-service. Let’s take the responsibility to start with ourselves and be in the first place alert and agile on an individual level.

When the going gets tough
The tough get going, tough, tough, huh, huh, huh
When the going gets tough, the tough get ready

From a song by Billy Ocean


What’s your Curiosity Quotient?

Change is the only constant in our life. The pace of change is ever increasing. We are living in an “age of complexity”.

You’ve probably heard these phrases many times. But one can only assent to them. Change is part of our life. Change is part of our society. Change is part of economics. Change is part of nature. No one else formulated it better than Charles Darwin: “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change”. One could talk about that as AFQ or Adaptive Fitness Quotient: the degree to which someone is capable of adapting to continuous change in a proactive, flexible and continuous way.

In business talk, this becomes for instance “Curiosity is as important as intelligence”.  Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes in a blog on the Harvard Business Review website about the rapid pace of technological changes, and the complexity it generates. However, for him the question “Is this era more complex?” is not relevant. Instead he asks himself the question “Why are some people more able to manage complexity?” Although complexity is context-dependent, it is also determined by a person’s disposition.

He sees three key qualities that enhance our ability to manage complexity. IQ, EQ and CQ.

What IQ stands for is clear. EQ stands for emotional quotient and concerns our ability to perceive, control, and express emotions. EQ is a key ingredient of interpersonal skills. Most employers and customers are not only looking for technical expertise, but for soft skills as well. CQ stands for curiosity quotient and concerns having a hungry mind. People with higher CQ are more open to new ideas, new experiences and new knowledge. CQ it is just as important when it comes to managing complexity and coping with change. CQ leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time. Although IQ is hard to coach, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic concludes with the observation that EQ and CQ can be developed. As a marginal note, EQ and CQ have a positive effect on stress mastering and avoiding burn-outs.

In fact, the term curiosity quotient is put forth by Thomas L. Friedman – author of the book The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century – as part of an illustrative formula CQ + PQ > IQ to explain how motivated individuals can learn about a personally interesting subject, whether or not they possess a particularly high IQ.  In this metaphorical formula PQ stands for passion quotient. Thomas Friedman states that when curiosity is paired with passion in the exploration of a subject of interest, an individual may be able to acquire an amount of knowledge comparable that of a person who is exceptionally intelligent. In other words, curiosity and passion are key components for personal growth in a world where information is readily available to everyone and where global markets reward those who are self-motivated to learn.

Therefor it’s important to know one’s personal interests, passions and vision; both from private and professional perspectives. Some food for thought in that context could be the following questions:

  • Am I prepared to no longer look at my life in terms of what it is or was, but of what it can be? Do I no longer look at the organization in terms of what it is or was, but of what it can be?
  • Do I have my own vision of life? Does my team have a vision? Do I understand and support the vision of my organization?
  • Do you no longer consider yourself a victim of change caused by nature or society or economics, but an individual capable of proactively developing yourself, your team and your organization towards the corresponding visions?
  • Do you distribute your knowledge to support your colleagues’ learning?
  • How can I increase my competencies and self-confidence?
  • How can I increase my independence?

Adaptive Fitness Quotient or Curiosity Quotient or whatever, we must learn how to aim at targets that move quicker and quicker, how to ski on avalanches of change that get bigger and bigger and how to surf on waves of change that get higher and higher. I don’t remember where I picked up this one, but one may find consolation in the following 😉

“Death is balance. Life is resistance to this balance.”



We are learning animals – learning by taking a plunge

When the famous Spanish cellist Pablo Casals was asked at the age of 95 why he still practiced six hours a day, he answered: “Because I think I’m making progress.” Toots Thielemans was still practicing at an age above 90. Wasn’t it Henry Ford who stated “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.“

I recently downloaded a series of podcast to listen in the car. Among them a series of interviews with some respected bass players on how they made their career. These bass players are all great musicians with different backgrounds, education, style and age. After listening to those interviews some common topics became very clear. One is how and when they learned and progressed the most as a musician.

Almost all said that the moments they learned and progressed the most were at times accepting a new “mission” far from their comfort zone (i.e. their actuals skills or style of music). It’s the kind of requests to which they enthusiastically replied ‘YES!’ and then realizing after some minutes ‘oh my god, this I will never be able to play/do’. However, those were the moments they start working very hard to learn and work on the missing skill(s). And perhaps the beginning was difficult and the first shows were perhaps somewhat disappointing; but after a while they managed and brought their skills up to the next level. Others worked so hard they were super prepared for the first gig. Only by aiming for a higher goal, by taking a next step that was beyond their current capabilities, by working (learning, studying, practicing, …) hard, and diving in the pool they progressed substantially. Each time again by working hard they were able to take that next leap.

Perhaps being not a musician this may seem to be a little far fletched from your daily business, but the underlying learning mechanisms are just the same. If you’re not outside your comfort zone, you won’t learn anything substantially new. Without the courage to take the leap, you miss out on important opportunities for advancement.

We have to recognize these opportunities and take advantage, take the plunge. One might discover that what one initially feared is not as bad as one thought and that at the end one will have learned a lot. If a certain change seems too big, we can try with smaller steps. By taking a smaller step, one is still moving forward, which is always better than staying still.

Whether a professional musician, an expert, a consultant, a knowledge worker, a doctor, etc. we all need to keep our skills up-to-date. Taking into account that our competence domains and environment take regularly forward leaps, we have to take regularly a plunge as well. But these are often the moments we progress the most.

Our employability, our ability to gain and maintain a desired job, no longer depends on what we already know, but on what we are able to learn. Our only security is our ability to learn and to adapt.



Some Subtitles to an HR Picture

Some time ago I included a visual “Just an HR Picture“. Time for some subtitles now.

First of all, I’d like to say I don’t like the denomination Human Resource. We are talking about PEOPLE, not about resources. At the end of the day it all boils down to people. Then, we have processes, systems, governance and even more important interactions and relationships.

The HR processes and systems range from inflow of new colleagues over engagement and performance to sometimes outflow and the internal and external governance. The objective is to make working at the company – within an economical context – as enriching and pleasant as possible. With enriching I mean that people should be able to grow according to their capabilities, their personal aspirations and the amount of energy they want to invest. Work is a mutual engagement: an engagement of the employee towards the company and an engagement of the company towards the employee. Working is not a free ride. It’s about creating added value, both for the company as for the employee.

Apart from enabling one’s growth, performance management, career and competence development and the compensation and benefit system are also there to create a consistent, transparent and fair context.

Speaking about compensation and benefits, let us not forget payroll and HR administration (meeting social, juridical, financial rules and obligations). This is real expert work.

We create results by interactions and relationships. For this, the values of the company are important guidelines. Open, transparent and honest communication is essential even in cases where the message is less pleasant. In this context it’s my personal belief that life and work are consistent and symbiotic, with work being a genuine part of life.

HR is the bass player of the band

Vrijdag zag ik een tweet ”HR is the bass player of the band” opduiken. Ik weet niet wat de achterliggende gedachte van de tweet was, het feit dat Michel De Coster – manager en bassist van De Mens – spreker was op het HR Congres 2013 van HR Magazine zal er wel iets mee te maken hebben. Als enthousiaste HR manager en gepassioneerde bass player geef ik er zelf graag de volgende invulling aan.

In de meeste muziekgenres is het de rol van de bassist om de verbinding tussen enerzijds het ritme en anderzijds de harmonie/melodie te maken. De drummer bepaalt in de eerste instantie het ritme en de andere instrumenten (inclusief ‘de stem’) creëren meestal de harmonie/melodie. De rol van de bas is het ritme te versterken of aan te vullen zodat er een groove ontstaat en tegelijkertijd moet de bas de harmonie ondersteunen en eventueel aanvullen.

In het bedrijfsleven kunnen we ritme vergelijken met het operationele en de noodzaak om het momentum in de organisatieprocessen bestaande te houden. Harmonie en melodie vormen dan de strategie van het bedrijf, datgene wat men op iets langere termijn wenst te realiseren. Op basis van de bedrijfsstrategie realiseert HR die HR-gerelateerde elementen die nodig zijn om de strategie daadwerkelijk te kunnen realiseren (competence management, remuneration policy, sourcing, CSR, …) terwijl HR ook de operationele processen ondersteunt (payrol, functioneringsgesprekken, …). HR is the bass player of the band 🙂

Misschien nog een bijkomende vergelijking. Een passieve (niet-muzikant) luisteraar hoort vaak niet de bas in het geheel van de muziek. Totdat de bas wegvalt, dan pas merkt hij de impact van de bas in het geheel. Misschien is dat ook zo voor HR?  Lees in die context ook even “What about the future of HRM?”???????????????????????????????

What about the future of HRM?

Last year I spoke/wrote on the IT’s Crisis of Faith. One could state that Human Resource Management (HRM) has already been through that phase some time ago resulting in concepts such as HR business partnering and books like The HR Value Proposition of Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank.

But now a new discussion seems to be emerging with questions ranging from “Should we distribute HR into the business” up to “HRM soon to be obsolete? “[1].

It is of course a sound practice to evaluate regularly the added value of roles, processes and organizations; but why are HRM processes and policies so often badly accepted by line management?

Often heard reactions are for instance:

  • “Sorry, no time.”
  • “I do get the responsibility but not the authority.”
  • “I am not accountable for it.”
  • “I get no support.”

Last three issues can often be solved by organizational design corrections and clear agreements (e.g. with RACI responsibility assignment matrixes). It is the first reaction that worries me. “Sorry, no time” is often a symptom that the added value of the HR processes and policies are not well comprehended or – even worse – that the line departments and HR department have misaligned strategies.

Is this because line and HR department are working with different time horizons? Is this because line department works with human resources and HRM works with people?  Are there differences between left- and right brain preferences in line and HR departments? Are there other reasons?

At this time I don’t know.

However; one interesting view – although not earthshaking – is considering HRM practices as an ongoing communication between employer and employees and mapping the attributes of effective communication to HRM processes and policies [2]. As such for HRM practices to become efficient and effective they must be perceived as high in distinctiveness, consistency, and consensus. Based on message-based persuasion and social influence, the following nine features contribute to the distinctiveness, consistency, and consensus of HRM systems [2]:

  • distinctiveness by visibility, understandability, legitimacy and relevance;
  • consistency by instrumentality and validity;
  • consensus by fairness.

Add to that the three dimensions of justice

  • distributive;
  • procedural;
  • interactional;

and you have a complete picture.

For HRM processes and policies to comply with features such as consistency, fairness and justice a central HR department still brings added value. For instance common compensation and benefit policies are perceived swifter as honest and fair. At the same time a central HR department avoids sub- optimizing within the business, re-invention of the wheel all over again and inconsistencies between departments.

Additional focus points of a central HR department can be for instance (not limited):

  • social/juridical expertise;
  • external intelligence (with a people focus) and defining a direction from HRM point of view just like a CTO does from technological point of view (welcome to the CPO – chief people officer);
  • Corporate Social Responsibility.

At the same time it’s important that there exists a network of excellence within the business; especially for larger companies. HR business partnering is indeed essential.

This being said, a central HR department with dedicated focus may not impede customization in the business. It should facilitate fast solutions and avoid slowing things down. Of course, due to social or juridical implications things sometimes need time.

As final remark, there is no such thing as a common blueprint for HRM. HRM is different in a company of 200 consultants from within a company with 200 workmen; HRM is different in a company with 100 employees from within an international company of 10.000 employees.

To conclude:

  • A central HR department still brings added value. It facilitates consistency, fairness, justice and avoids sub-optimizing within the business, re-invention of the wheel and inconsistencies between departments.
  • If you hear “Sorry, no time”; this is a red alert and time to check the alignment of the department strategies with the HR strategy and with the global company strategy.


[1] For instance:

[2] Understanding HRM–firm performance linkages: the role of the “strength” of the HRM system (David E. Bowen – Cheri Ostroff)

Positieve energie

Voor het tweede jaar op rij geven HR-professionals in het decembernummer van HRMagazine ( hun woord voor het komende jaar. Enkele woorden die voor 2013 worden aangehaald: fonkelaars, beweging, vertrouwen, crisiscreativiteit, leiderschap 3.0, continuïteit, veranderlijkheid, samen, loopbaanzekerheid, ondernemerschap, marges, onzekerheid, recept, durven, duurzaam HRM, kennis, …

Mijn woord voor 2013: positieve energie. En uiteraard voor de daaropvolgende jaren. In positieve energie zitten elementen zoals optimisme, respect, visie (of een zeker verlangen) en self-empowerment vervat. Dit in tegenstelling tot negatieve energie dewelke vaak ontstaat uit elementen zoals pessimisme, passiviteit, problemen bij andere leggen, weerstaand tegen verandering. Maar al te vaak worden problemen met een negatieve energie benaderd met als resultaat één grote klaagzang, impasse, kortetermijnoplossingen, ‘valse consensussen’, … Erger nog, negatieve energie durft al eens de positieve energie van anderen aan te tasten. Laat ons de opportuniteiten en problemen in 2013 met positieve energie benaderen.

Of om het met een geleend credo te zeggen: optimisten bereiken meer, pessimisten hebben meer gelijk. Of met mijn all-time favorite van Henry Ford: Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t; you’re right …

The manager as rope-walker

The past.

Vlerick Business School asked me some time ago to give a presentation for the students of the General Management program. The presentation should preferable contain some theory complemented by real live examples. So I started gathering some management models which I found useful in the past and supplemented them with how I used them in practice. When I finished the presentation I came to the conclusion that including all these models could hardly be captured by a common leitmotif. Some models are complementary, others do overlap and some contain even some inconsistent messages with respect to other ones. But all models have their specific application in specific situations. Furthermore; even if most models look simple, using them is not always straightforward. Most models require making assumptions and taking decisions based on incomplete information. So the leitmotif became a sort yin and yang one. Most often one cannot reach one’s goal by a straight movement but only by continuously adjusting one’s course; like one has to do when sailing against the wind or a balancing on a rope. So I came up with the title “The manager as rope-walker” (De manager als koorddanser). Management as a balancing act or the act of managing paradoxes: the difficult act of balancing and making choices between (most of the time) contradicting alternatives.

This week.

Jumping to this week, I had to review a book titled “De prestatiedoorbraak” of Paul van Schaik. I was pleasantly surprised by the framework the author used in his book; i.e. a division in an upper stream and a subsurface stream (boven- en onderstroom). Making a clear separation between the hard and the soft side of management – the upper and subsurface stream – two key management dimensions are clearly mapped. The upper stream acts on the measurable facts while the subsurface stream comprises all human factors. You could even describe the subsurface stream as the essential fuel of any modern organization. The subsurface stream ultimately determines what happens in the upper stream! The author elucidates the importance – and at the same time the difficulty – of finding a good balance between managing the upper stream and managing the subsurface stream. But this is a requisite if you optimally want to use the potential of your employees. It requires knowledge of human nature: every situation is different; each team behaves differently; every employee thinks otherwise. A correct assessment and flexibility of the manager is needed. Working on the upper steam is managing; the undercurrent requires leadership.

To paraphrase Hegel: thesis and antithesis achieve synthesis.