If you knew your brain, you would develop talent differently

Retaining and developing talent is not what you think it is.

ASTD2013 session M106 was led by David Rock from the NeuroLeadership Institute. Based on the meta-research of thousands of Neuro-science studies, the NeuroLeadership Institute says that we can really do a much better job of helping leaders make decisions and solve problems, regulate emotions, collaborate with others and facilitate change.

Today, we are talking about developing talent. To structure to his session, David spoke around his 50,000 foot view of talent development, which is a 5-step process…

(Note: For what follows, I have not quoted the scientific research or resources referenced by David. Please contact him directly for that. Just take everything noted here as true, with the assumption that its all proven by the neuro-science.)

There are different kinds of talent philosophy and you should think about your own

Some people think that leaders are naturally born and there is nothing you can develop. You are either born “smart” or you are not. You can’t change much. With this point-of-view, giving feedback and “stretch-goals” is considered dangerous because there is no point trying to develop people. It will only make things worse. The brain feels threatened by such approaches.

Others (like most of today’s attendees) believe that leadership competences can be acquired and developed. By using assessment and development, coaching, training, performance management etc.. we can help people improve.

Interestingly, David Rock adds that each individual’s capacity for personal development may depend on which of these philosophies he or she believes in. We are primed to grow (or not) based on our perception and those with the growth mindset have, for example, much better more active brain responses to feedback and performance evaluation.

You need to know which are the most important talents to develop in today’s leaders

David says that in the past values, strengths, general and emotional intelligence were considered as the most important talents to develop in leaders.

Today values, strengths and general intelligence remain important, but emotional intelligence is a turn-off phrase for managers. New talent ideas to develop include self and social regulation, adaptive intelligence, network intelligence and global mindset.

But in addition, given our highly networked mobile connected environment, David adds that we must now pay even more particular attention to assessing and developing team talent. He says that collective intelligence is far greater than the sum total of the intelligence of its individuals. This is proven and must be remembered. I see an interesting link to what Shari Yocum said yesterday about analysing informal social networks

Assess talent correctly

David says that classic assessments may not be the best way to search out talent. Most of our approaches to assessment only assess people’s ability to do assessments. In other words, clever people who can spot patterns in the assessment process come out better.

He adds that classic interview processes also fail for recruiting (or developing) real talent. The people who perform best in interviews are the people who perform best in interviews. In my own experience, I have seen countless engineers and techy people who fail miserably to express (read “sell”) themselves in interviews. But they would have otherwise been a good match for the competences required.

Add to that the fact that everyone assessing the talent of others will be massively biased and its clear that these approaches to talent assessment are doomed to failure.

What does David suggest? At the NeuroLeadership Institute, they recruit people by giving them concrete measurable tasks to perform that are as close to the reality of the work as possible. An editor is given a document with 100 errors and asked to edit it. A salesman is asked to go out on the floor and sell something. An engineer is asked to design something. As a side-note, reading “Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?”, you can see that Google suggest the same approach…

Develop talent. (And its not about performance management)

According to David Rock, you can forget about performance management and performance evaluation. People are not happy with it, they say it doesn’t create any significant change in performance and rarely reflects employee contributions. This seems SO wrong. Why?

Firstly, Rock says that humans are not wired for feedback. Getting feedback activates some of the same parts of the brain as dying (!!!). It is scary. And we are not capable of listening properly to people. Especially not if they are different to us. Which everyone is.

Secondly, there is too much focus on the process within performance management and not enough on what happens during the actual conversation and dialogue. The Neuro-scientist knows that status, certainty, perceived autonomy, relatedness and fairness all have an impact on our (in)ability to have good dialogue. Which is one of the building blocks of effective for most performance evaluation moments.

Finally, having performance evaluations once a year is not going to work. Intuitively, we already knew this.

So what can you do about all this? David Rock says there is SO much we could do (and encourages you to read his research) but adds that if you could only do ONE thing today, it should be to help the leaders involved in talent development, performance management and evaluation to understand the impact they have on others and what is going on in the brain.

Thanks for reading!

Juana Llorens: ASTD 2013 ICE recommendations

In preparation for the ASTD International Conference and Exposition this May in Dallas, I interviewed ASTD’s Community of Practice Manager for Learning and Development Juana Llorens to get her recommendations for sessions, preparation and follow-up…


What do you expect people from your community are going to be excited to learn about at the ICE this year?

I think that many people in the ASTD Learning and Development Community are excited about taking some practical guidelines back from this year’s ASTD ICE in Dallas. This is a group that loves theory and big ideas, but they also really want to get their hands on those big ideas and put them to work. They are looking for any tools and tips to design learning faster and more collaboratively.

With that in mind, I imagine that Michael Allen’s “Leaving ADDIE for SAM” session and anything on Agile will be quite popular. People also want to figure out how to use evidence and science in practical ways to better engage their learners and get their programs to really “stick.” David Rock’s session (The Neuroscience of Growing Talent), Ruth Clark’s Scenario-based e-learning session, and Karl Kapp’s session on games will be well-attended in that arena. Also look out for the Josh Davis session and Julie Dirksen session. They will be talking about how to do a phenomenal job with brain-based and evidence-based approaches. This is just a sample of what gets the L&D Community going!


How would you advise people to prepare for their visit to the ICE?

There are plenty of tools on the conference website to help you plan your time. Put them to work and research the sessions that will have the most meaning for you. On the other hand, allow for flexibility—stop by a session or two that you might not ordinarily attend. You might be surprised. Also, set at least 3 specific goals for what you want to bring back to the job. That could be 10 new professional contacts, or a new way to perform a major task. And speaking of contacts, bring business cards! So many people travel miles away from home with no way to distribute their contact info. If you want to save trees, generate a QR code that your new connections can scan to keep in touch.


For those that can’t be present in Dallas, what is in place to follow or to get updates at a distance?

If you aren’t able to attend, there are plenty of options to get updates. Follow ASTD on Twitter using the hash tag #ASTD2013, and subscribe to one or more of the ASTD Blogs for news, tips, reminders, and fresh content about what’s going on in Dallas. In addition, the “Conference Daily” will be available online as well at http://www.astd.org/Publications/Conference-Daily (as of May 19th only).


Juana Llorens

Juana Llorens is the ASTD Community of Practice Manager for Learning & Development. She works with L&D practitioners, writers, and experts and thought leaders from around the globe to deliver meaningful content and best practices to instructional designers, students, training facilitators, and all others interested in workplace learning. Follow Juana on Twitter @ASTDLearningDev, find her profile on LinkedIn or visit astd.org/Communities-of-Practice/Learning-And-Development to read blog articles and updates from around the industry.