Project Management

“Hey, How Did You Get That Weird Scar On Your Forehead?”

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Modelling Business Decisions and their Consequences

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When discussing attracting and managing talent (ProjectManagement.com’s theme for June), the obvious take would be that (a) talent is a good thing to have on a Project Team, and (b) we should be doing all we can do to attract it. Of course, me being me, I’ve got to take exception to these assertions, and I wish to do so by using the example of the character Harry Potter. In the series of books by J.K. Rowling, Harry, of course, is extremely talented in the magical world, but is generally not recognized as such by his muggle family, the Dursleys, nor (at first) by the other students in his class.

Meanwhile, Back In The Project Management World…

First off, what definition should we use for “talent?” Truly advanced Project Managers deliver their projects on-time, on-budget. Non-talented PMs have excuses, or blame deflection strategies. If this isn’t the litmus test being employed, then what’s being attracted or retained may not be very talented at all.

Next, the introduction of highly talented personnel into the Project Team carries with it the possibility of disrupting the team’s cohesion, and therefore its ability to perform. How can you know if the desperately attracted “talent” will add to, rather than detract from, the Team’s performance? I actually address this question at length in my third book, The Unavoidable Hierarchy, (Routledge, 2016) but a (much) shorter answer relates to the archetype to which the “talent” belongs. GTIM Nation regulars know of my tendency to use Michael Maccoby’s archetypes from The Gamesman (Simon and Schuster, 1976), but for this analysis I’m going to use a few of my own. My idea is that, when evaluating talent, what’s also important is to get a sense of what other aspects of the persona can make the evaluate-ee a real contributor, or potential poison, and simply outing the Jungle Fighter types (from Maccoby) isn’t sufficient. Consider one definition of the term “talent,” that of the genuine value added to the team by the individual, separate from what others think of her, or even what she thinks of herself. Whether it’s intelligence, an ability to connect with customers, familiarity with mathematical concepts, or raw speed in a sprint (if you happen to own a sports franchise), this contribution to the teams’ objectives offers a usable definition of the term “talent.” Now, what about those other things, like what others think of her, or what she thinks of herself? These aspects of the persona are huge, and I can tell you why.

Let’s use as an example the individual who can effectively and quickly advance the team’s ability to accomplish their goals, but thinks very highly of themselves, and knows that others hold them in high esteem as well. Such an individual is an Alpha, a leader, more used to giving direction than receiving it. When Dumbledore meets a young Tom Riddle for the first time, he realizes that young Tom is gifted, but fails to appreciate the danger inherent in a powerful wizard who also thinks a great deal of himself. Bring this type of person on to your Project Team, and you may very well get to the finish line more expediently – but you may also see your technical agenda hijacked right out from beneath you, along with Team loyalty.

The Alpha’s near cousin, the Beta, may not be much better (in the common vernacular, “Beta” refers to a passive, effete member of the pack. This is incorrect. The passive, effete member is the “Omega.” The Beta is next in line to the leadership position, ready to assume it the moment the Alpha falters.). The Beta is talented – he brings a lot to the team – and those around think highly of him as well. He doesn’t think of himself as highly as the Alpha, but, again, he doesn’t think little of himself. He’s ready to take the lead role the moment the current PM falters. Bring this person on, but be aware that your actions may be receiving a level of scrutiny that you haven’t experienced previously.

In fact, the only highly talented archetype that’s completely safe to bring on board is the one whom others don’t recognize for their contributions, and are themselves at least somewhat humble about their role(s). Think Harry Potter himself, or Luke Skywalker. The term I appropriated for these types is “Cinderella,” but you get the idea. The ones who are actually very magical filled / imbued with the Force talented and capable of advancing the Project Team’s agenda, and yet, for whatever reasons, go unnoticed are rare, and, being rare, extremely valuable. Further complicating the issue is that they won’t have a distinguishing characteristic for quick identification, such as a lightning-shaped scar on their forehead.

So, of course, seek out talent, and try to add those possessing it to your team. But, if they don’t have a funky scar on their forehead, be aware of some of the baggage they tend to carry with them.

Posted on: June 22, 2020 11:09 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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I suppose this is why internship and apprenticeship programmes are important for a talent pipeline.

Talent is one of the hardest things to gauge. I've seen people who had loads of talent, but were not a great fit.

Thanks Michael.

So it's not just or even about talent. It's about the overall best combination of attributes needed for a specific role in the team? Since no one is perfect it then becomes a balancing act.

Personally I hope I never come across a "Tom Riddle" because I'm not sure I would recognise the type or manage them well (maybe I have and have no idea I did!).

Thanks for sharing., very interesting

Michael, as Ashleigh mentions, it's definitely balancing a good combination of various attributes which are required for a specific role, in order to have success. It's can be challenging, but also rewarding when a good fit is made.

Marcus

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