War for talents: the penguins, the runners, the coyotes, and the witches

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Recently a study published by Glasser (Nature, 20/07/2016) showed additional complexity of the human cerebral cortex. Neuroscientists have subdivided each brain’s hemisphere’s mountain and valley into 180 separate parcels. The research has confirmed the existence of 83 previously known brain areas and has identified 97 new ones.

According to Dr. Rex Jung, a neuropsychologist at the University of New Mexico, “while the focus of this work was on creating a beautiful, reliable, average brain template, it really opens up the possibility to further explore the unique intersection of individual talents with intellectual and creative abilities – the things that make us uniquely human”.

Great! Finally it is recognized that each of us is different from the others. Every one of us is unique! This scientific recognition should, therefore, have a tremendous impact on management, and especially on human resource management. If every one of us is unique, it implies that everyone should have a tailored and special relationship with the company.

Talent management is the goal-oriented and integrated process of planning, recruiting, developing, managing, and compensating employees. Now, let’s make the sum: being each of us unique equals to an unique talent management, especially in terms of development, management, and compensation.

Unique person = unique talent management

The other side of the coin is that no-tailored talent management could create disengagement. The Institute for Corporate Productivity defines engaged employees “as those who are mentally and emotionally invested in their work and in contributing to an employer’s success”. Not surprisingly, studies suggest that less than one-third of the workforce is engaged. Therefore, in today’s challenging environment, no employer can afford to have its employees physically present but checked out mentally.

We need, then, to start admitting that every employee is different to the other, and start assuming that individuals will not accomplish more and or than others only based on equal-intelligence. In short, we need to develop a sort of “differentiated talent management”. To have it, the first step is plotting on an axis – on one side – theInnate Talent – and on the other side the Effort (based on the assumption of Friederich Nietzsche – the German philosopher – that success could be either the result of innate talent or effort). Next step is to put on the other axis the Contribution – positive and negative. Then, we obtain four quadrants:

  • First one (right side – upper side): high innate talent – positive contribution. This is the so –called “Penguins” quadrant, honoring the Penguins of Madagascar with innate talent always applied for the common good;
  • Second one (left side – upper side): high effort – positive contribution. This is the so -called “Runners” quadrant, honoring the great Forrest Gump, a man with no innate talent but with a wonderful grit.
  • Third one (left side – down side): high effort – negative contribution. This is the so – called “Coyotes” quadrant, honoring Wili E. Coyote, a perseverant animal, but for his own interest;
  • Fourth one (right side – down side): high innate talent – negative contribution. This is the so – called “Witches”, honoring the Wicked Queen, a great innate talent, applied to the destruction of the others. This is the area that I call “No – fly – zone”, where it is almost impossible – even if for the best HR manager – to develop a specific talent management program.


Figure 1: the four categories of talent (copyright Dr. Salvatore Moccia)

Now, once we have introduced the possibility of other talent areas, the next step is to start thinking in terms of tailored talent management programs, especially in terms of motivation, the force that energizes, directs, and sustains human behavior.

When dealing with “penguins”, it is quite easy to develop a differentiated talent management program. They are natural genius, and always motivated by the common good. They do not act for recognitions and medals. They act just because they like it! How to motivate them? Leave them space enough to act, and don’t create obstacles.

When dealing with “runners”, and I would assume that the majority of employees will fall in this category, it is more complicated. The “runners” can assume different forms, like “Forrest Gump” form, or “Nadal” form, or “Sponge-Bob” form. It means that we need to tailor a specific motivational program aimed at keeping always high the effort of our runners. Every runner will be motivated in a different way, because each of them is different, even if in the same category. Sponge-Bob is just motivated by cooking the best burger, while Nadal could be motivated with the winning of another slam. However, the most important thing is to keep always the spirit high. If the effort is lost, they will fall in the “disengaged worker” category, and they will abandon the quadrant. A specific motivational program could be designed taking into account the specific definition of success and contribution, and it should also be aimed at eliminating the barriers that have created the disconnection. This worker is like that phone that has lost the connectivity, but it can regain it, if we do just a little.

When dealing with “coyotes”, we have to try to convince them to focus their effort towards a common goal. They have to clearly understand that if the “road runner” survives it’s better for both. If the “road runner” dies, the coyote will just disappear. This worker could still be reconnected to the company. It is not exactly disengaged, but engaged only for his own goal. Still recoverable!

When dealing with “witches”, there is no other option than leaving them alone. It means, they have to abandon the group otherwise their toxicity will affect the others. As we said before, this is the no-fly-zone. We cannot ignore that these workers are genius, but we mustn’t leave them the space to destroy our company.

Management models are the heart of success. Innovative new human resource management models should emerge and replace traditional all-in-one HRM models. The challenge for companies is to connect workers and create long-lasting success.

We would, therefore, suggest the following model:

Unique person = unique talent management = great success

We have a tough task ahead, but we should be determined to get it. What are the keys? Knowing your employees, creativity, flexibility, listening, listening, and listening.

Post Scriptum: the post is based on my last book (only in Spanish) “El buscador de talentos”, EUNSA. I am looking for companies to start this new journey towards the recognition of different talents, and looking for someone that wants to sponsor/publish my book in English.

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