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Let me venture to describe some characteristics that define the talent flows in these times:

  • Talent is a species that reproduces poorly in captivity.
  • Talent seeks out open spaces.
  • Talent prefers to be linked to projects rather than to institutions.
  • Talent engages provisionally with the organization that it currently serves and, in a more sustainable way, with its own development.
  • There is awareness  that all talent is dynamic: either it develops, or it atrophies. That’s why talent likes to flow rather than to stagnate.
  • Talent feels better with assumed uncertainty than with fictitious security.

This landscape may seem discouraging for those who manage talent using parameters belonging to the past. There are still some who yearn for a scenario in which talent joins an organization expecting to remain indefinitely. These people offered their outstanding capabilities as a blank check, which we have been cashing in successively in alignment with the organization’s needs. Talent investments generated reasonable guarantees of return. Now these same managers are disturbed by shorter relationship cycles that cast doubt on the profitability of their investments: “Why should I allocate resources to some collaborators, if they‘ll be leaving at any time? It doesn’t make sense to invest in an employee who leaves.” That’s until someone makes them notice that there is an even worse scenario: not investing in employees and they stay on.

Companies that are most advanced in people management do not analyse the profitability of their talent investments through the return they obtain from each individual, but instead as an aggregate. It’s about their talent policies offering a positive net balance.

We are confronted with a rather fast-paced setting, yet one that is much more adjusted to the reality of the times we live in. To the point that widely accepted concepts, such as talent retention, have become obsolete. Talent is no longer retained: they are seduced, they are enticed, they are offered attractive conditions so talent desires to develop their potential in the projects we offer them.

These reflections come from the latest book by Javier Fernández Aguado: “Jesuitas. Liderar talento libre” (Title literally translated as “Jesuits. Lead free talent.”) The most prolific author on management in the Spanish language offers a rigorous analysis of the governance style in an organization that is more than five centuries old and of remarkable ecclesiastical and civil importance. Can today’s organizations learn something from the management techniques of such an ancient organization encased in a religious confession. Fernández Aguado’s merit is to rigorously describe past events, while extricating consequences applicable today.

His work offers a portrait of the Jesuits and their well-tested organizational management. He also tries to show that the followers of Ignacio de Loyola had a talent-based form of management and that they manage their HR through recruiting and developing people capable of taking on a leadership role in different social environments. Their management style is not expressed through the oppression of people, but rather through freedom.

Compared to conventional talent models submitted to a rigorous discipline, the paradigm of free talent management offers the following advantages, among others:

  • Greater degree of autonomy. People boost their ability to make decisions when circumstances so require, without excessive dependence on prior instructions or continuous affirmation by a superior. This is particularly useful in organizations undertaking expansion processes that start operations in new markets where business models must be adapted to local characteristics.
  • Increased initiative. Freedom is not anarchy. It is the ability to take on organizational objectives, while imaginatively design alternative routes to achieve them.
  • Effective commitment. Free talent does not remain linked to the organization by the barriers to exiting inherent in its relationship model, but deliberately and consciously, through the value of the project itself to which talent decides to dedicate its capacities and resources at that moment.
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