Talent Management Choices: Who is the Star, the Individual or the Organization?

You may have heard how people are an organization’s most important asset. But really, well-known management consultant Peter Block says that people are often relegated to #7 on a list of most organization priorities.

There are very clear differences in the path an organization takes as it recruits, develops, and endeavors to retain its talent. As you consider your current use of talent today, are you using a Talent Constellation or a Talent Community approach?  Here are some author viewpoints to consider.  

For one, Tony DiRomualdo has researched the talent management practices of more than one hundred U.S. and European-based businesses. He suggests that companies achieving high performance choose from either a Talent Constellation or Community approach.


Talent Constellations, or a “stars” approach leverages the individual and group performance of the brightest people.


The constellation of Orion and full moon
The constellation of Orion and full moon

To summarize, Talent Constellations, or a “stars” approach leverages the individual and group performance of the brightest people. Tony suggests that Talent Constellations mimic the operation of free markets – individuals acting rationally pursuing their self-interests in ways that increase the greater good.

This model of talent is oriented toward specialists performing work that requires high degrees of skill, knowledge and expertise. It is predominant in professional fields like investment banking, academia, consulting, law, medicine, and the arts. General Electric, McKinsey, Microsoft, Intel, various business schools such as Harvard’s, and PepsiCo are good examples of this approach.


…Talent Communities …recruiting and retain ordinary people and [focus on] getting extraordinary performance from them.


Talent Communities take the opposite approach based on recruiting and retaining ordinary people and getting extraordinary performance from them. Tony suggests that a community approach is like a family – individual members are strongly bonded to the group and further their individual interests by pursuing the collective good of the whole community. The community approach features the sum of its talent as greater than the individual parts.

Organizations adopting this approach strive to create an environment, culture and practices that maximize the performance

Teams across the organization, agile teams Photo by Radarsmum67
Teams across the organization, agile teams        Photo by Radarsmum67

Jeffrey Pfeffer of the Stanford Business School discusses Southwest Airlines corporate behavior featuring a community approach. “Lots of companies say their people are important.  Southwest actually acts as if this statement is true.”

He writes of Southwest’s practices that feature community-oriented approaches such as their focus on developmental training, peer recruiting, muted hierarchical roles, and even a catastrophe fund for employees that fall on hard times.

The company hires for attitude, believing skills can be learned and seeks to provide stable employment for everyone. Training is extensive and fully internal.

Choosing a stars path features organizations like PepsiCo that conducts research to define what a high potential at PepsiCo looks like and how to spot them sooner and/or deeper in the organization. PepsiCo uses a slate of assessments and follow-up feedback sessions, successive years of 360 feedback data, and performance management ratings (on both business and people results) to develop profiles of high potentials. It then links assessment results to a formal leadership development agenda supported by extensive follow-up coaching engagements (e.g., 6–12 months in length).

PepsiCo is also selective with how its array of development tools is used including its performance management process:

  • 360 degree feedback,
  • functional competency models, and
  • an organizational health survey.

PepsiCo chooses to whom certain combinations of tools will be applied such as with a select group of high-potential talent hand picked by the CEO of the international business. PepsiCo also uses a cadre of external executive coaches to drive development planning and accountability.

Finally, the company leverages assessment and coaching during major developmental transitions or when on-boarding strategic new hires. Tony states there is no middle ground. Organizational practices, programs, and systems are developed effectively based on making one choice. Any attempts to blend the two philosophies sacrifices the effectiveness in the people investments in stars or community approach.


Choosing one approach over the other can be insightful for testing the validity of your organizational values as well as the organization competencies you desire in all your staff. If your hiring practices are up-to-date, your decisions of who to welcome aboard will be based on those key behaviors or skills that defines your organization, as well as your chosen or default talent management approach. Current economic stress and layoffs have temporarily buffered organizations from some of the effects of the current boomer wave of retirements.

The future will tell if any hand-wringing over the predicted “War for Talent” is warranted. Job vacancies in your organization will naturally bring up the talent approach choices you are making. In considering the path of an organization focus on stars or community, consider these questions:

  • How is the mission and purpose of your organization carried about most successfully by those in your organization? Is the distinguishing factor the few, or the many?
  • Do various forms of recognition collectively focus more on the stars or more on the strong and consistent groups of performers across the organization?
  • What philosophy and values (principles) in action define your organization? Do they align with a stars or community approach?
  • What aspects of your organization’s identity, values and workforce characteristics most correspond to the needs for of the near future as well as your organizations’ long term future forecasts?

The key to a solid talent management approach is integration – integrating all parts of your organization’s people-focused initiatives and systems including anything and everything having to do with recruitment, retention, professional development, leadership, high potential development, performance management, feedback and measurement, workforce planning, and culture.

Those who define their path, stars or community, and clarify their people systems to align with this decision may prove to be the winners in talent market through attracting and retraining staff who best fit their organizations and are not only happy to help produce solid and successful business and people performance results, but are fully engaged, even passionate about it.

Author: Deb Nystrom is an organization development consultant with a specialties in change & transition, facilitation, leadership development, leadership coaching and process facilitation. She can be reached at: DebNystrom@Reveln.com or contact her here.


• Hidden Value: How Great Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People; Charles A. O’Reilly, Jeffrey Pfeffer, 2000, Harvard Business School Press

• Talent Constellations or Talent Communities – Choosing the Right Talent, Tony DiRomualdo, business researcher, writer, and advisor with Next Generation Consulting

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons

Published by dnrevel

Change & transition, Leadership team & organization development. Executive Leadership team coach. My LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/dnrevel

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