The neuroscience of talent management

Posted on March 13, 2014. Filed under: Human Capital, Interesting Articles | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Karen Borgelt, a ‘Neuro Social Science’ expert, weighs in on the neuroscience of talent management and what we can do to build winning teams.




It seems that every few years we are confronted by jargonistic words and phrases that seem to be revamped versions of earlier ones. Anecdotal reports indicate that “Talent Management” is one such phrase. Even though the term has been in common use since the beginning of this millennium, talent management has generally not been embraced in organisations as well as it might. Why is this? Feedback to this question seems to indicate that the term Talent Management is either largely not understood or the focus of talent management is limited in most organisations. With this in mind, let’s go back to basics.

What is talent management?

Generally speaking, talent management has to do with:

  • Recruiting and/or developing an ongoing pool of eligible, skilled, and knowledgeable people at all organisational levels
  • Preparing them for, and appropriately placing them into, suitable roles (ahead of a need)
  • Ensuring they are technically and behaviourally capable of performing their duties to a defined standard and level of performance
  • Ensuring they are appropriately supported and developed for their current and future roles

In following these guidelines, talent management provides the organisation with the necessary quantity and quality of human expertise when it needs it, which makes it possible for the organisation to achieve its short and long-term goals. Now this might seem an overly simplistic view and many may think that their organisation is already doing this, however, it’s not always the case.

A closer look

The concept of talent management has been long understood in the sporting world where clubs ‘buy in’ or develop and support up-and-coming players through the ranks. However, how many sportspeople do we hear of who display brilliant on field (technical) skills and yet their off-field (behavioural) antics bring them and their club (or even the game) into disrepute?

Sporting clubs are not alone in managing the technical aspects over the behavioural aspects of their ‘talent’. Unfortunately, we don’t always recognise poor talent management while it is occurring, but we do see the fall-out.

To name but a few of the issues, demotivation, absenteeism, stress, lack of commitment, lack of productivity, cliques, high staff turnover, regular external recruitment and even complaints, industrial disputes and bad reputations can all be linked to poor or ineffective talent management.

Thankfully, there are organisations that understand that talent management is not only paramount for performance, but also that it requires a balance between developing and aligning a person’s technical and behavioural knowledge, skills, and behaviour with the organisation’s needs.

A fitting metaphor

yachtPerhaps the effects of comprehensive talent management can be viewed through the eyes of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. A yacht can be likened to an organisation. It is an entity in its own right as is an organisation. It has a purpose and a goal; people work in it and for it so that it can achieve its short and long-term goals; it has owners or investors; it has a Skipper who can be likened to a CEO and a crew (like staff) of specialised, well trained people.  Just like an organisation, a yacht has to be a safe place in which to work and has to be in good shape so that it is able to stay afloat and compete with others in its own class.

Of course if the boat has any chance of winning it can’t rely on the quality and seaworthiness of the vessel alone. The winning edge usually comes down to not only the level of technical talent displayed by the skipper and crew (their sailing ability) but also a myriad of behavioural aspects such as their ability to work together, respecting the command of the Skipper and the other crew members, communicating in ways that support the efforts of the race,  the ability to make good decisions and executing them, and speedily acting and reacting to ever changing and challenging conditions without getting into unmanageable trouble.

Having a highly skilled compliment of talented people at all levels, who are on-board; are in the right place at the right time and who make and act on the right decisions and do so, is paramount if dire consequences are to be avoided. In a yacht race the effects of poor performance and poor knowledge and skill sets can be immediately seen. So it is for organisations. Unfortunately although the symptoms might be present, they are often go unacknowledged or are not addressed until a crisis looms.

Again, why does this happen?

An understanding of the brain

Well, there are many reasons, and they all have to do with the workings of the brain. The explosive advances in neuroscience over the last fifty years have provided even non-scientists with powerful insights into how the brain functions from its most basic unit – the neurone – to the complex networks of interconnections made in the brain that are at work with every thought, action, reaction and experience in our lives. How and why leader’s lead, why we follow certain leaders, how we learn, make decisions, interact, work or not work within a team, what makes us stressful or emotional, how well we identify and manage talent, and so much more can be explained and enhanced with an everyday understanding of the brain and what is at work in these situations.

Talent management is not another jargonsitic term. It’s at the very core of your organisation, right here and right now. Your organisation is already launched, is at full sail, and is competing on the high seas of competition. It is a crowded race. Luck and instinct, like the weather, may play a small part; however, how well your organisation meets and conquers the elements will mostly depend on the degree of technical and behavioural talent within the organisation (at all levels) and how well that talent is managed at all stages of what is an ongoing cycle.

If you really want the winning edge, having a basic understanding of the neuroscience that underpins talent management is like having a GPS to keep you on course. And the good news is that, for most organisations, it’s not too late to get into the race but it will take good, ongoing talent management if you want to win.


karen-borgelt-phdKaren Borgelt, PhD, is a leading researcher and practitioner in the field of Neuro Social Science with particular emphasis on the neuroscience of leadership. She has more than 25 years experience in delivering consulting services, training and mentoring to national and international clients in the following fields: organisational development; organisational behaviour; leadership and management development; and transitional change and transformational change.

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Ditching the boss: How the collective brain empowers organisations

Posted on January 10, 2014. Filed under: Human Capital, Linda Ray, Tara Neven | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

We’ve made it our mission at neuresource group to transform the workplace by helping to build brain-friendly organisations — starting with our own.

We’ve given a lot of thought to just what it is that makes an organisation brain-friendly. Over the next few months, we plan to explore the subject in more depth by looking at various organisational models to see what works and why. We welcome your comments and hope you will take the time to share your experiences and perspectives.



A lab for innovation

Because we were merging two unique and independent organisations, each of which was already functioning well, we were especially sensitive to setting up an organisational structure that would complement — and not quash — existing strengths. We also recognised that we had an unparalleled opportunity to try something new.

We both knew instinctively that a control-and-command governance structure was out. Not only was it something neither of us practiced for a long time, but we also saw that it wasn’t really working anywhere. Imposing ‘productivity’ never works in the long term. It was important to us to find a system that gave employees the freedom to develop intrinsic motivation, to draw on and extend their talents, and to follow their hearts.

We established a portfolio structure from the start. Because we are a small organisation, team members often sit across one or two portfolios, which allows for interesting insights and the cross-pollination of ideas. Because we are new, enthusiasm is high; because we emphasise democracy, our team is invested, but also open to different views and perspectives.

We began to notice something interesting. When one person generated an idea, the team would embrace it. However, the idea often underwent a series of subtle tweaks and changes that invariably improved it. No one actually said, “Improve on this”. It just happened. Sometimes just having a different person articulate the basic idea led to a new dimension that made it better, richer, and more powerful.

We realised that by setting up an environment that was open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, we were encouraging innovation. This is something that all organisations are after, often paying consultants high fees to come in and institute the changes that lead to a more innovative workforce.  And for us, it just seemed to happen.

The collective brain

img_3461We know from neuroscience research that emotions and attitudes are contagious. Being open to ideas leads others to be open to ideas and it also leads to more ideas. We now refer to our team as “the collective brain” and, trusting that throwing an idea out to others and knowing they will listen in an open and nonjudgmental manner, we can be confident the idea will blossom. Each team member has different talents, individual experiences and unique ways of looking at the world. This means that an idea that has passed through the collective brain of the organisation is going to be more robust right from the start.

Importantly, since everyone has a chance to contribute, there is more personal investment in all the stages of bringing an idea into fruition. By making our workplace a lab for innovation, we also set up a structure for real collaboration, something else organisations pay top dollar for.


In a recent energetic online discussion, we were introduced to the holocracy model. At first glance, it seemed like maybe we were practicing holacracy without even knowing it. It has many of the same elements as our collective brain model.

The creators of holacracy define it as “a comprehensive practice for structuring, governing, and running an organisation. It replaces today’s top-down predict-and-control paradigm with a new way of achieving control by distributing power. It is a new ‘operating system’ that instills rapid evolution in the core processes of an organisation.”

Holacracy is purpose- and process-driven, not manager-driven. In the words of the founder Brian Robertson, “It places the seat of organisational power in an explicit process, one which organises around an explicit purpose. This allows emergent behavior of the whole system, without being controlled by a single heroic leader…”

How holacracy is brain-friendly

istock_000017297060mediumWe know from neuroscience that no two brains are alike, and the holacracy model allows an organisation to tap into diversity among employees. We also know from direct experience that tapping into the collective brain really does work.

Additionally, in the hyperkinetic world we live in, organisational agility is paramount. Because governance and the bounds of individual authority are clearly defined in the holacracy model, employees are empowered to exercise autonomy and embrace change. By giving a clear direction rather than a defined path forward, quick ‘re-wiring’ and innovative responses are possible.

Some other brain-friendly features:

Overall, we are pleased to have learned about holacracy. We know first-hand the importance of encouraging autonomy as a way to support engagement, innovation, and collaboration. Tapping into the collective brain has empowered our organisation, and we believe it will do the same for yours.

Watch Brian Robertson on holocracy in this TEDTalk:




Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 9.23.30 AM


Tara Neven is the co-founder/director of neuresource group.  As an entrepreneur, business strategist, facilitator, learning and development, and collective leadership specialist, Tara has over 15 years experience in corporate learning and development, education, business growth and organisational development. The last 10 years of this experience has been in remote and regional areas of Australia. Tara’s primary industry experience has been in the mining and resource sector, construction, local government and medium to large organisations.





Linda Ray co-founded neuresource group with Tara. Through  the delivery of the Diploma of Neuroscience of Leadership and other innovative programs informed by neuroscience.  this organisation is playing a key role in developing a new generation of thinking leaders. Linda is recognised both in Australia and internationally as one of the foremost thought leaders in the neuroleadership field. She actively contributes to the body of knowledge that supports the building of individual and organisational ‘neurocapability’.






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