Research: It is worth informing employees whether they are star performers

Posted on 04/06/13.

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Under the broad heading of talent management many firms are spending a considerable amount of time and attention trying to identify their star performers, often referred to as ‘high potentials’. The basic idea is to ensure that these individuals who lie at the heart of the firm’s current and future success are given special attention in terms of personal development and career planning.

More harm than good?

Having identified who their ‘talent’ are, one important but potentially very sensitive consideration for firms is whether to inform the ‘talent’, and those who are not, about their status. The rationale for informing the ‘talent’ of their status, amongst other things, is to provide positive feedback, improve motivation and to help in their retention. Many HR managers are worried, however, that heightened expectations and the firm’s inability to deliver on them may in fact do more harm than good.

The effects of employees knowing whether they are identified as ‘talent’ was the subject of an article Talent or Not? Employee Reactions to Talent Identification, recently published in a top US journal Human Resource Management by the University of Vaasa Professor Adam Smale and his colleagues Ingmar Björkman, Mats Ehrnrooth, Kristiina Mäkelä and Jennie Sumelius.

In this article, we examine the effect of talent identification on employee attitudes. We analyzed the association between employees’ perceptions about whether or not they have been formally identified as ‘talent’ and a range of attitudinal outcomes such as intentions to leave, identification with the firm, commitment to building skills and support of strategic priorities, explains Smale.

Nordic firms very cautious

The issue of whether to communicate to employees their talent (or ‘high potential’) status appears to be particularly sensitive in Nordic firms. However, our findings suggest that it is not only better to inform those employees who have been identified as talent, but that it is perhaps also better to tell those who have not made it into the talent pool – provided that both the talent review process and communication about inclusion are conducted in a transparent and fair way.

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