Meritocracy & Talent Management


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Meritocracy & Talent Management

  1. 1. “Meritocracy & Talent Management: Isthe Caribbean Ready for this?” By Global Expert SystemsDefining MeritocracyAs the word suggests, meritocracy is a system whereby an elite group of persons are rewarded according totheir ability and talent rather than by some special kind of privilege based on class, family connections, racegender or some other discriminatory factor. The underlying belief is that this group will better manage and/orlead the system (especially government/public administration). In an earlier article, GES defended the idea ofstandardized testing for public sector jobs as a means to implementing a meritocracy. Now this is not withoutsome degree of controversy.In the English-speaking Caribbean, for several decades now, we have stoutly defended the CommonEntrance Exam or the 11+ as a means to determine academic merit to decide who goes to the so-called bestschools within the elitist educational systems across the region. And year after year, there is a debate about thefairness of such a system. Here are some ideas to ponder on meritocracy: 1. Why is a merit-based system more controversial when we speak of academics? 2. Why do we accept such a system more readily in sports? 3. If we delayed standardized testing until age 16 or 18 or 21, will the results be different?The key to solving such a polemic is that for a merit-based system to work, everyone must be given the sameopportunity. In other words, we must all be at the same starting line. Then our abilities and talents willdetermine how we end the race or which race we enter and complete. This is particularly interesting especiallyon the heels of the just concluded London 2012 Olympics. British blogger, Neil O’Brien, who writes for TheTelegraph and who is also the Director of Policy Exchange, an independent think tank working for betterpublic services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy, strongly defends meritocracy by drawing asimilar analogy. He states that “Everyone starts on the same starting line, but at the end some athletesare further ahead, and there are clear winners. Thats basically a description of meritocracy.”iAre talent management and meritocracy synonymous?We have to give the “not really” type of answer to this question because we cannot say categorically yes orno. Certainly, if we are speaking of a highly professionalised public administration/civil service, then the mosteffective way to recruit would be through standardised testing. As we intimated before, this is already done inseveral areas of public administration, namely the security forces, public health workers (nurses, doctors) andpublic prosecutors who all are subject to rigorous testing before recruited or appointed to service.1|P ag e
  2. 2. However, such a one-dimensional approach is not what is best understood to be talent management – testingis but one component of a talent management system. Talent management is more holistic and goes beyondrecruitment by seeking to develop, retain, retool and optimize the talent within the organisation. So the realanswer to this question is that meritocracy as we know it, can be taken a step further with a morecomprehensive talent management system. This is particularly true and more evident if we are attempting toavoid what is commonly known in the human resource management discipline as The Peter Principle.What is The Peter Principle? The Peter Principle was written by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book of the same title, and in it, they demonstrate that within hierarchical systems, persons are promoted if they perform competently. However, they are eventually promoted to a point of incompetence and reach a point of stagnation because they can go no further. Does this sound familiar? How many times have we come across the excellent salesperson that got promoted to a sales management position and then failed miserably as a manager? This is a perfect example of thePeter Principle at work. That salesperson was rewarded, maybe rightly so, because of their talent, ability to sellwell and real output. But was s/he really the right person to manage the sales team? This is where talentmanagement will complement a merit-based system. With a proper talent management system in place, all themembers of the sales team will be screened and tested and the most suitable one will be selected. Please notethat the most suitable sales manager may not necessarily be the salesperson with the most sales. A talentmanagement system must always seek to match attributes to the real requirements of the job.Furthermore, GES will suggest that proper talent management can only serve to mitigate against the PeterPrinciple.Here is some advice to manage against the Peter Principle and stay relevant in today’s tough job market.Five tips for employees: 1. It is important to observe the trends and stay ahead of the curve. For example, if you were trained in marketing five to ten years ago, you will need to quickly retool to upgrade your skills in digital marketing. 2. Do not depend on your employer to pay for your training. See your personal professional development as an investment as you would invest in any other financial instrument. Unfortunately, most companies cut back on training during recessionary periods. 3. Try to gain practical hands-on skills in the shortest possible time. You will need to demonstrate to your employer that you are ahead of the trends and valuable to the organisation. 4. Experiment with online training. This is an irreversible trend that we cannot avoid. The benefits are tremendous for you can now access top level training without having to travel. 5. Develop additional skills outside your core area of competence. The employee with multiple skills is always more resilient in tough economic times.2|P ag e
  3. 3. Five tips for employers: 1. To maintain or capture the best employees in the market, consider remuneration packages that offer a good work-life balance. 2. Invest in infrastructure that will improve the quality of life for workers: crèches, gyms, park and ride systems to help employees avoid traffic and consider implementing flexi-time arrangements for those employees who are good at self-supervision. 3. Allow more telecommuting. There are several jobs that do not require the employee to come to the workplace every day. Phase in a telecommuting system whereby those employees that are assessed by results are allowed to telecommute. You may also consider a stipend to assist them to develop their home offices (laptops, broadband internet connectivity, smart phones). 4. Consider reward systems that may include commissions, incentives, profit-sharing or prizes. 5. Do not overlook honest and heartfelt acknowledgment and appreciation – this goes a long way in keeping staff motivated.These are just a few of the recommendations GES has been offering to its clients with some degree ofsuccess.Implementing meritocracy and raising the bar: what are the implications? The bar to reach the top of the proverbial ladder of professional success is constantly shifting upward in an environment that is highly aggressive, competitive and globalised. Within the context of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) this is bound to create dislocation in our regional labour market. Over time, we will witness a shift in workers within the CSME. The best workers will be attracted to the highest salaries and benefits wherever they are to be found within the region. In fact, top regional companies are already recruiting outside national boundaries for the best Caribbean talent. Therefore, in a market that is more and moreglobalised and competitive, Caribbean countries may find it difficult to avoid implementing systems ofmeritocracy. Should we ignore meritocracy and talent management, we are highly likely to become lesscompetitive and this will further exacerbate the region’s talent drain where we are constantly losing our talentendowment to the industrialized West.Next week we will examine the new trend, “Why are leading companies allowing their best employeesto telecommute?”The issue of meritocracy will be discussed at the 1st Caribbean & Latin American Conference on TalentManagement on September 25th in Barbados and September 26th in Trinidad. Feel free to visit GlobalExpert Systems online at or email us at for moreinformation.i See|P ag e