Talent shows dominate the television schedules with celebrities and ordinary members of the public taking part. We have just finished the X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing and have now started Dancing on Ice and Masterchef. They claim they give people an opportunity to show and realise their talent so I wondered how they actually compared to some of the essentials identified by Capgemini for a successful Talent Management scheme and whether there was anything to learn from the process.

1)      Leaders Developing Leaders

An essential aspect to Talent Management is leaders wanting to develop their future leaders and recognising talent and nurturing and supporting it. The X-Factor argues that it does just this by providing participants with mentors to offer their expert knowledge and experience… and who wouldn’t want to learn from Gary Barlow?  Their other role is to judge and assess the constants. This dual role is a difficult enough balance to achieve but they have a third role of providing the public with entertainment. For me, the judges third role, ‘to be entertaining’ devalues the integrity of the mentoring and does not compare favourably with well structured talent management schemes. The role of leaders in talent management schemes is to develop individuals in line with the organisation’s workforce plan and strategy. A leader’s role can be at the forefront by mentoring talent or can be focused on creating the strategic levers to enable the development of talent, but the focus is not about the leaders themselves.

 2)      Understanding Talent Management as a Long Strategic Term Investment

Talent management is not a ‘quick fix’ and to gain competitive edge requires a vision of long term success for the individual. The heartening reality show of 2011 was ‘The Choir’ and of course the Military Wives, which managed to highlight an isolated section of society coming together through participation in a choir. Gareth Malone invested his time over many weeks to bring this choir together as we saw him driving up and down the motorway and voicing his frustration at the low levels of confidence of the military wives and empathising with their anxieties. His vision, commitment and investment enabled the wives to reach a potential no one fore saw as they became the Christmas number 1. The critical part of The Choir was that it had a long term aim from the beginning to bring a community together through music and in doing so provided individuals with confidence and a community presence. This has resonance with good talent management schemes. A related example is how an engineering organisation sponsored school children from deprived areas to take up engineering. The organisation’s vision was to develop its talent pool and it has recognised that to gain the competitive edge then a quick fix will not work and a long term investment is needed. This example demonstrates that talent management schemes can be an investment to support the talent pipeline beyond the immediate organisation. In addition, the organisation was able to merge talent management with their corporate social responsibility agenda. They recognised that they could combine their need for more engineering skills while high areas of deprivation and youth unemployment could benefit by their positive intervention.

 3)      Fair assessment and transparent processes

This is the area that most talent shows come truly unstuck as the assessment is often biased with minimal transparency as to what is valued. The title of the ‘X Factor’ blatantly states that talent is intangible and cannot be objectively assessed and so any judging is purely based on taste. The judging is a combination of the audience, a non-expert panel and the judges with the audience frequently saving the popular but less talented contestants. Such an approach can create demotivation and a sense that effort is not appropriately rewarded amongst participants. The oddest assessment though, is within Masterchef, whereby two people assess the food and it is entirely based on their taste. This process is very narrow and has no balancing mechanism, although thankfully the winner is not chosen by the viewers votes. If either judging mechanism was used within talent management schemes it would either be a popularity contest chosen by an ill informed audience or left to a few with their natural bias. This would undoubtedly lead to distrust and an increase in employment tribunals.

It is perhaps the Apprentice though which so often seems to favour the belligerent contestant that seems to have a transparent assessment. It is simple, make a profit. If this was the only point to a talent management scheme then the Apprentice would be recruiting the best person. However, once the group have performed the task and the losing group are in the boardroom, the judging is based on the narrow ‘Masterchef’ approach except with Alan Sugar judging. Those who go through to the next round tend to be the ones who shout the loudest.

Successful assessment needs a combined approach of a large and varied expert panel. The assessment must be against pre-defined competencies and organisational requirements and crucially, not on someone’s bias and this must all be calibrated. Successful talent management is about understanding where the talent is and how to develop it and not a popularity contest or the definition of excellence based on singular opinions.

 4)      Individual Proven Track Record

Within organisations talent management schemes requires talent to be evident over a proven track record which is not a requirement for talent shows and is rarely evident. This is the essential divide between entertainment and talent management. The entertainment comes from the discovery of amateurs performing above expectation and equally the tension of people tragically performing below expectation. Talent management schemes differ as they need to understand someone’s potential, how to maximise it and how to ensure it transfers into business as usual to support the long term ambitions of an organisation.  

Is there anything to be learnt from talent shows that can lend itself to talent management schemes? There are talent shows like ‘The Choir’ that have removed the competitive element and focused on long term community needs that have genuinely enabled talent to grow. For my personal dislike of the X-Factor it is hard to ignore how a mentor like Gary Barlow would not have a positive impact to someone who wants to break into popular music. Finally, it is true that some shows create the next level of talent but overall I think that it is based more on luck than judgement. For talent management schemes to succeed they must be fair, transparent, support the organisation’s vision and be maintained by the commitment and integrity of the leadership.