An Integral Approach to Talent Managment–M.S. Srinivasan

[Published in VILAKSHAN, Journal of the Xavier Institute of Management, Sep 2011]


In the emerging and future world of business, the key-factor of success will be not capital or technology but talent.  There is at present a growing volume of literature on talent management.  However, most of these discussions are focused on retaining existing talent or in otherwords manifest talent.  Not much of creative attention is bestowed on the other aspect of talent-management: how to manifest the hidden talent in the average employee or in otherwords, harness the unmanifest talent.  This article examines both these dimensions of talent-management in the light of an integral and evolutionary vision of human development.

Key Perspectives

 Two dimensions; retaining manifest talent; profile of talent; harnessing unmanifest talent; progress, evolution and motivation; higher ranges of consciousness

 The Two Dimensions

Retaining and harnessing talent will be the most decisive factor that will determine the success and effectiveness of organisation in the future.  Most of the present discussions and debates on talent management are focused on retaining existing or manifest talent like for example, the highly sought-after and talented manager or technocrat or star-performer who contributes substantially to the company’s bottomline.  But in an integral perspective this is only one aspects of talent management. The other aspect is how to manifest the hidden talent in the average employee or underperformer.

 The traditional hard-core management is not interested in this second aspect of talent management; it is regarded as the unproductive and wasteful part which has to be got rid of by downsizing.  For example in Jack Welch’s approach to people or talent management in GEC, the work-force in the organisation is classified into three categories based on performance: top, middle and the low.  The top bracket employees or executives are pampered with a fast-track career path and other monetary and non-monetary rewards.  The middle category people are asked or rather pressurized to improve and catch up with the top.  The low-performers are simply asked to leave the organisation or fired. (Welch. J, 2005) Most of the organisations in the West follow this model in some form or other.  And many managers regard this model as the best and the most effective for keeping the organisations “lean and mean.”  But this is an opinion which may not be entirely true.

 There can be other models of talent-management.  Not all organisations follow this model.  For example, the well-known Japanese automobile manufactures, Toyota Motor Corporation, which is as great, innovative, productive and profitable as GEC, follows a very different model which is less mean and more humane.  In Toyota high-performers are rewarded but not pampered, and underperformer are not fired but helped to improve their performance.  As Hirotaka Takeuchi and his coauthors state in an article on Toyota in Harvard Business Review: “Many companies either promote employees or ask them to leave, up-or-out as the practice is called, Toyota rarely weeds out underperformers, focusing instead on upgrading their capabilities,” which the Japanese scholars call as the in-and-up approach.  (Takeuchi, H et al, June 2008)

 Interestingly Jack Welch, the champion practitioner of the up-or-out approach, admits that those who are asked to leave because of their low-performance are not always or necessarily mediocre people.  They may have other kinds of talent or capacities which do not fit in with the culture of GEC.  They may perhaps shine or excel in a culture which is different from that of GEC.  (2005) Thus, the Toyota’s in-and-up approach and Jack Welch’s patronizing views on underperformers, indicate that there can be a different approach to talent management where not only the manifest talent in the high-performance employee is cherished but also the unmanifest talent in the underperformer is helped to come forward and enrich the organization.

 Retaining Manifest Talent

 Retaining top talent is becoming the key-challenge for companies which depend on knowledge-workers and intellectual capital as the main resource.  The first step in this task is to have a general profile of top talent in the corporate world.

 When we examine some of the latest research, studies and trends in the corporate landscape, we come across two categories or types of talent.  The first one is the creative thinker or knowledge-worker with a well developed thinking or pragmatic mind, with the ability to generate new ideas and apply them for problem-solving, improvement or innovation.  The scientist, engineer, technocrat or finance pro are some examples of this category.  The second one is the dynamic executive and the generalist or functional manager with a well developed faculty for action, with an ability to organise, execute and implement ideas in a most efficient, productive and cost-effective manner.  These talented individuals are in general young, career-minded and ambitious, seeking for professional development, fast-track career-growth and quick money.  They don’t have much loyalty to their organisation.  They are part of the “Me” generation whose loyalty is only to their own ambitions.  They are ready to hop and jump jobs and organizations any number of times if it can fulfill their ambitions.

However, there is perhaps at present a growing number of talented corporate workers who have some moral aspiration to make some meaningful contribution to the society.  Some of them may have a spiritual, aesthetic or mental aspiration or interests like for example in music, yoga, meditation or reading.  They are not workaholics and do not consider work-life as very important.  They would like to spend more time in what they like to do or enjoy doing or if they are married, with their families.  So, work-life balance is more important for them than work by itself.  And finally, an increasing number of this corporate talent pool is women.

 These are some of the common traits of the talented worker in the contemporary corporate world.  A company or management which wants to retain talent must give careful consideration to this talent-profile and try to create a corporate environment which matches this profile.   Based on this profile we can identify six factors which are crucial for creating an environment which attracts, retains and fosters talent.

 First is to provide sufficient opportunity for professional and personal development.  The young talent seeks for growth, personal and professional.  The effective and prescient leader who values talent is well aware of this important factor and gives the highest priority to provide the right growth opportunities to the talented employees under her charge.  Russell Einsenstat and his team of management scholars have made extensive research on what they call as “high-performance and high-commitment” leaders who are able to successfully resolve the tension between the need for performance and commitment to people.  All these highly successful and effective leaders gave the highest priority to provide the right growth opportunities to their talented executives.  As Einsenstat and his co-authors write in Harvard Business Review:

“At the heart of the high-commitment high-performance value proposition is the opportunity for employees to realize their personal and professional potential.  Most of the leaders we interviewed regarded the creation of opportunities for their people as one of their most important jobs. In many cases, these CEOs directly taught and mentored the next generation of leaders in development programs that they had personally designed. They also spent days in per­sonnel review meetings so that they knew where the talent was hidden at all levels of the organization. They were will­ing to cut through the hierarchy to use high-potential em­ployees as a resource to drive change and lead growth ini­tiatives.” (Einsenstat A.R, et al, 2008)

 The second factor is the moral dimension or a higher purposeAs we have indicated earlier, a growing number of corporate workers are seeking for some form of moral satisfaction in work.  So adding a moral or social content to work or the organizational mission could be of great help in attracting and retaining talent.  As the well-known British management Guru, Charles Hardy explains:  “If you want to retain talent you’ve got to create a cause.  Otherwise you get a purely instrumental relationship in which I’m earning money or because its teaching some skills which I will go somewhere else and use it.  Then you get very short-term thinking, very selfish thinking.”  And Hardy states further, “The great and satisfying things in life, I think, is a sense of purpose beyond oneself—-it is the organisations responsibility to provide such a purpose if they want to retain good people.”  (Hardy C, 1997) There is a growing recognition of the importance of this moral factor in retaining talent.  Here is an illustrative example given by Einsenstat and his coauthors:

 “ At Herman Miller, Brian Walker, (CEO of the company) discovered that the stories em­ployees told about their work in the community – such as 20 colleagues building a school in India with vacation time that had been donated by others, or a joint effort with a creative partner to build a textile that could gather and store solar power for use in the developing world – both energized cur­rent employees and served as a powerful recruiting beacon for talented professionals for a larger sense of purpose and contribution in their work.” (2008)

The third factor is work-life balance.  For the new generation of corporate professionals, their family life or their extra-professional interests are atleast as important as or even more important than their work-life.  So, a company which wants to retain talent must create an environment that provides every possible help for its employees to arrive at this balance.  As Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi said in one of her interviews, the ideal of work-life balance is to make the employee feel her work-life as an extension of her family life.  In this task, the unique needs of the talented woman-employee like for example maternity or caring for elders have to be given special consideration by the management.  Many high-potential and talented woman executives leave their jobs when they find that they cannot do justice to their maternal and other family responsibilities if they continue in their jobs.  The corporate world has to find a creative solution to this problem if it wants to harness fully the potentialities of its talented woman-force.

 This brings us to the fourth factor, woman-friendly work-place.  A major and irreversible trend in the work-place is the mounting invasion of woman in every level and domain of the corporate life, which means, as we have mentioned earlier, a growing number of the talent pool are or will be women.  It is now recognised by many corporate leaders that talented women are a source of competitive advantage because they can bring competencies and viewpoints which are different from that of men.  As Rajeev Dubey, Member of the Group Management Board, Mahindra and Mahindra, points out, “We believe it is an advantage to have woman.  We have observed innovation is better.  Often woman bring with them points of view not expressed by men.”  (Saumya, B and Puja, M,) But to harness fully the potential of woman-power in the work-place the companies have to create a woman friendly work-place, which means, it must have the following factors built into it:

 Free from sexual harassment and discrimination against woman.

  1. Helps woman to arrive at the highest possible work-life balance, showing special consideration to her material and other unique needs and responsibilities.
  2. Where woman can express freely her unique nature, competencies and perspectives, which are accepted, respected and incorporated into the company’s strategies, policies or actions.

The fifth factor is individual uniqueness.  Ultimately, the key-factor in retaining talent lies in understanding the unique motivational needs of the individual and match them with a reward system which is precisely tailored to these needs.  The manager in charge of a talent pool must make a conscious effort to understand the nature, temperament, capabilities, attitudes, values and the motivational or other needs─monetary, emotional, mental, moral and spiritual─of each individual member of the talent squad under her and try to provide the right activity, motivational input or reward system which match the unique individuality of each member.  The main thrust of the motivational strategy must be to discover the activity-reward cluster which evokes a deep joy and fulfillment in the individual and as a result lasting commitment to her work.  This requires intuition, empathy, dialogue, patient listening and building an intimate personal relationship, with a certain amount of detachment and objectivity in judgement.

There are two important facts which we have to keep in mind to arrive at this understanding.  First, our human organism is a changing and evolving being.  So most of the psychological factors like needs, motives or attitudes change as the individual progresses in her evolutionary leader.  Second, behind the changing surface nature of the individual formed around his physical being, there is a deeper and more enduring psycho-spiritual nature with a more stable uniqueness of character.  An activity which is in harmony with this deeper nature of the individual can create a lasting commitment to her work.  This deeper nature is called in Indian thought as Swabhava.  Harvard psychologists Timothy Butler and James Waldrop have a similar concept which they call as “life-interest.”  As Butler and Waldrop explain the concept:

“These interests are not hobbies, nor are the topical enthusiasms such as Chinese history.  Instead, deeply embedded life-interests are long-held, emotionally driven passions intricately entwined with personality and thus born of an indeterminate mix of nature and nurture.  Deeply embedded life-interests do not determine what people are good at¾they drive what kind of activities make them happy.  At work, that happiness often translates into commitment.  It keeps people engaged, and it keeps them from quitting. “(Butler. T, Waldrop. J, 1999)

The key to effective talent-management is to discover this deeper nature of the individual and its natural inclinations, Swabhava or life-interest, and to create a matching activity or reward cluster which is in sync with it.  Butler and Waldrop call this task as “Job Sculpting,” which means “the art of matching people to jobs that will allow their deeply embedded life-interest to be expressed.” (1999)

The sixth factor is compensation.  Those who live in the upper plateaus of their thinking or dynamic faculties of action may not be motivated entirely by money.  They love more the intellectual or vital challenge, achievement or joy of self-expression.  But this does not mean money is unimportant to them.  If they are young they may want to enjoy life to the full with all the comforts provided by technology and at the same time save money for building a secure economic future.  For example, Aravind Eye Hospital, (AEH) provides a noble purpose and good opportunities for personal as well as professional development for its doctors and paramedical staff.  But still, R.D. Tulasiraj, Executive Director of AEH states, “Retaining doctor is a constant struggle” because, as Dr. G. Venkataswamy, founder of AEH, points out, “Once they get experience and make a reputation, a lot of doctors move to places where they get better money.”  The management of AEH is making a conscious effort to improve the situation by giving more monetary incentives and paying market-rates to its doctors.  (Venkataswamy, and Thulasiraj, R.D, 2004) So, adequate compensation which matches or exceeds industry standards is important for retaining talent.  An organization which pays poor salaries to its talented people cannot hope to retain them.  There may be a few exceptions to this rule with some unique and overriding cultural moral factors life for example strong cultural values and nationalism of Japanese work-force or when the individual perceives a promising future possibility in a start-up.  But in general good compensation is a vital factor for retaining talent.

Harnessing the Unmanifest Talent


We have discussed so far how to retain manifest talent.  The next, more difficult problem is how to harness the unmanifest talent in the average employee or underperformer.

Here again the first step in the task is to understand the inner psychological causes or conditions of underperformance.  The first major cause may be evolutionary.  There are many individuals who are still in the first, primitive stages of human development.  These individuals live predominantly in their physical consciousness of the body or lower emotional nature.  Since their thinking mind, emotional being and dynamic faculties of action or execution are under developed, they are not capable of any high or above average performance, unless they are forced to evolve and progress by the pressure of the external environment or collective culture.  They are lazy, lacking in energy or interest in work and wedded to the routine.

There are two ways to make them progress and perform better.  The first way is the traditional and orthodox system of motivation through the carrot and stick policy.  The stick could be to set a tough target and threaten them that they will be fired if they do not perform.  The carrot could be more money, power or status if they perform well.

The second, more enlightened approach is to create a culture of difficult targets, continuous improvement, guided empowerment and supportive mentoring which help them to move forward, perform better, and manifest their hidden potential by the pressure of the collective environment.  A concrete example of such a culture is the Toyota Production System.  In Toyota each worker, from the lowest level in the corporate hierarchy, is encouraged to think, experiment, innovate, solve problems and strive for continuous improvement towards tough goals.  However, in this task, the worker is not left entirely to her own capabilities.  She was provided with clear, simple and standardized guidelines on how to think, how to set up experiments or how to make constant improvement.  The other source of guidance and support is the close mentoring relationship between the supervisor and the subordinates, senior and junior employees and the high-performer and the underperformer.  The system as a whole leads to the higher evolution of the physical person who lives predominantly in her physical consciousness towards her higher potentialities in the vital, emotional and mental realms.  The need to think and improve develops the thinking mind.  The tough goals, experimentation, emphasis on teamwork and the close emotional bonds and mentoring relationships develop the vital consciousness of the worker.

However underperformance need not always or necessarily be due to primitive evolutionary condition of the individual.  She may be in the higher stages of evolution, living in her thinking or dynamic faculties of action.  But still her performance may be poor because there is a mismatch between the nature of the person and the nature of the job.  In this case, whatever we have discussed earlier on “Individual Uniquenesscan be applied to bring out the suppressed talent or potential in the individual.

As a general principle, for harnessing the total human potential or talent in an organisation, there should not be any rigid and trenchant classification of people into fixed categories like talented and the untalented.  The wiser view of people always believed that every individual has a unique talent in some line of activity and to get the best performance, the leaders must try to place or match each individual with an occupation or activity which is in harmony with his unique talents and temperament.  Moreover, every individual is capable of improvement with education, training, motivation, guidance and under able leadership. The really untalented is someone who has no aspiration for progress and refuses to move forward or improve.

This doesn’t mean the extraordinarily talented should not be given the recognition or the reward she deserves.  But the talented should not be pampered too much so as to make them think they are indispensable to the organization.  This will only bloat their ego and the resulting conflict and friction created by the oversized ego will neutralize whatever benefits their talent brings to the organization.  Similarly the underperformer should not be hastily dismissed as useless without making an honest effort to understand her problems and her hidden or dormant talents, interests and motivations, place her in a position where she can bring out and manifest her unique capacities and help her to improve or perform better.  This ideal may not be easy to implement in the present condition of the corporate world.  It requires a much higher level of nurturing leadership with intuition, patience, compassion and understanding.  But this is an ideal worth striving for and a more effective approach than putting people into fixed categories.  Interestingly, there are some corporate leaders who have made the attempt to put this broader ideal into practice.  For example, Nilofer Merchant, who was the President and CEO of Rubicon Consultants, USA, describes her own experience in dealing with people:

“When I was managing people while leading in my corporate position, I always wanted to find a way to use their gifts well.  So I often spent time with them personally, rather than on their job duties, and talked to them about what they personally most wanted to do.  I would ask them what they felt their natural gifts were.  I would then tailor their jobs so that they could use their skills and strengths optimally.  In places, where their job required them to do something that they did not really have their gift to do, I would find someone else on the team to help them.  I would create a team around the responsibility so that they would not fail.  I never wanted to spend my energy trying to get a person to do something that they did not want to do.  I always wanted to find a way to bring out the person’s essence.” (Nilofar, M, 2007)

Progress, Evolution and Motivation

There are two more factors or principles which have to become part of corporate culture for harnessing fully the manifest as well as unmanifest talent in an organisation.  The first factor is the great law of evolution.  Change, Evolution and Progress are the eternal laws of life.  Anything which doesn’t progress tends to disintegrate.  The manifest talent loses its edge and degenerates if it doesn’t progress interms of skill, knowledge, performance, motivation, character and consciousness.  And the hidden talent will not manifest if there is not the will for progress.  So, this urge or push for progress is a key-factor in manifesting fully the talent and potentialities of people.

There are two forms of progress.  The concept of constant improvement, efficiency, productivity, waste-reduction or cost-cutting, introduced by Japanese TQM and Kaizan practices are one form of progress which is very much relevant to the modern corporate life.

The other form of progress is the evolutionary growth towards higher levels of motives and potentialities, which requires a system or a strategy of evolutionary motivation.  A human organism begins her evolution as a physical person, trapped in her bodily consciousness, preoccupied with her material and survival needs.  As she progress further, she becomes the vital person centred in her emotional and dynamic and pragmatic faculties of action and desire, seeking for harmonious relation, pragmatic adaptation, achievement, expansion and mastery over the environment.  The vital person is at a higher level of potentialities than the physical person because she is capable of a higher range of emotions, energy, knowledge and action and therefore brings a greater efficiency, productivity, vigour and dynamism to the physical and vital life of the community.  As the human soul progress further on in its evolution it becomes the mental person who lives poised in her thinking, ethical and aesthetic intelligence, seeking for knowledge and for a better understanding of the higher laws, aims and values of life and trying to organize her life around these higher verities.  The mental person is at a higher level of potentialities than the vital person because she brings a higher knowledge, culture, refinement and values of the mental being to the physical and vital life.  As the mental person ascends to the highest summits of her development, she opens her consciousness to the spiritual dimensions of his consciousness.  Here begins the spiritual evolution of the human soul, which will lead to the highest fulfillment of the human being.

One of the major aims of evolutionary motivation is to consciously accelerate this progressive natural evolution of the human being from the physical, vital, mental and to the spiritual consciousness and manifest this growth in every activity of the corporate life.  In fact whatever may be evolutionary status of the individual, this four-fold development can be pursued simultaneously but with an emphasis on developing the unmanifest potentialities of the next stage of evolution.  For example, the physical person has to be goaded or induced to develop the potentialities of her vital being and pragmatic mind which will bring greater energy, dynamism and the capacity for a successful dealing with the pragmatic realities of life.  But at the same time, she must be awakened to the need for knowledge and ethical discipline.  And finally even the physical person can progress spiritually by pursuing an inner and outer discipline of religious and spiritual dedication of her outer activities.  This is the principle of motivation followed in the following verse of a well-known Indian tantric text: “The householder should actively strive for wealth.  He must try to understand the fundamental principles of life.  He must dedicate all his action to the Eternal.”

Similarly the vital person must be given the freedom and the opportunity to develop all the potentialities of her vital and pragmatic mind to their utmost limits.  But at the same time she must be awakened to the need for developing conceptual and philosophic intelligence and for governing her physical and vital life with some mental, moral and aesthetic values.  The vital person can attain rapid spiritual progress by pursuing a dynamic inner discipline which leads to the spiritual sublimation of her work, action and relationship.  In the same way mental person, has to be helped to develop all the faculties of her thinking, ethical and aesthetic intelligence to its utmost limits.  But at the same time she must be awakened to the need for developing the pragmatic faculties of application, execution and implementation, which will help her to manifest her higher sensibilities and ideals in the outer life of work and action.  The mental person can attain rapid spiritual progress through a process of purification, refinement and internalizing of her thinking or emotional being.

For a progressive realisation of the talent-potential in an organisation, this concept and practice of evolutionary motivation has to become an integral part of the leadership development programmes of the company.

The Higher Ranges of Consciousness


There is one more important factor which needs careful attention for effective talent management.  It is the higher ranges of consciousness beyond our surface mentality.  This factor is ignored in most of the discussions on talent-management.  What is not recognized is that all exceptional or extraordinary performance or talent in whatever field of human activity comes not from the surface mentality but from the deeper and higher layers of consciousness beyond it.

According to integral psychology, there are three layers in our human consciousness: surface, subliminal and spiritual.  The surface being is the consciousness formed around our physical being.  This part of our consciousness is severely limited and conditioned in all its faculties.  Nothing great or extraordinary can come out of our surface being.  Behind the surface mind, there is a deeper subliminal consciousness which is not bound by the body and therefore wider and vaster than the surface being; it is in some form of inner contact with the universal mind or vital energy and therefore has a much greater capacity for knowledge, feeling, action, energy and intuition.  As we plunge deeper and further beyond the subliminal we can come into some form inner contact with the deepest and inner most spiritual core of our being or the spiritual realms of our consciousness which is the source of our highest potential or talents.

As we have indicated earlier, all form of extraordinary performance or achievement in thought or action, in science, philosophy or literature, in business, society or politics, ethics, religion or spirituality receive their impulse, inspiration or intuition from these deeper and higher levels of consciousness.  Most of the manifest talents in the corporate world are more or less partial expression of this deeper higher range of consciousness.  For example it is said about Napoleon that he used to take a short nap in his chair and come out with great energy; it is perhaps not a nap but a form of meditation by which he was able to come into contact with his subliminal source of vital energy.  Napoleon was perhaps more conscious of the source of his high energy than many other high-achievers or performers.

This brings us to the question is it possible to consciously and systematically come into contact with this higher ranges of consciousness?  If we are able to do it both individually and collectively, we are tapping into a tremendous strategic source of human talent and potential.  There are methods and practices in Indian yoga which can help us to come into conscious contact with this higher range of consciousness.  The first step is to constantly step back inwardly from the thoughts, feeling and impulse of the surface being.  As we progress deeper and further into this practice of stepping back, it becomes a witness-consciousness, which means the ability to watch and observe the movements of the surface being as a detached and uninvolved witness.  The third practice is inner peace and silence.  The surface mind has to be stilled for the higher ranges of consciousness beyond it to come forward.   The fourth practice is inner concentration or meditation.  We must reserve some time everyday for silencing our surface mind and turning our consciousness with a focused concentration on our inner and higher ranges of consciousness.

For harnessing the higher ranges of talent in people these yogic practices have to become part of the training programme for employees.


There are two aspects to talent-management: retaining the manifest talent of the high-performer and harnessing the unmanifest talent in the average employee or the under performer.  For harnessing the total talent-potential of the organisations both these aspects of talent-management have to be given equal attention.  This requires an integral vision of human development and an evolutionary approach to motivation.  There are higher ranges of consciousness beyond the surface mind which remain mostly untapped in the corporate life.  There are methods and practices in Indian Yoga by which we can systematically develop the powers of these higher plateaus of consciousness.  This can immensely enhance the talent-potential of an organisation.

Courtesy: VILAKSHAN,Journal of the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneshwar



  1. Butler, Timothy and Waldrop, James (1999), ‘The Art of Retaining Your Best People,’ Harvard Business Review, September-October, p. 144-52.
  2. Einsenstat Russell, Beer Michael, Foote Nathanier, Tobias Fredberg and Norrgen Fleming, (2008) ‘The Uncompromising Leader,’ Harvard Business Review, July-August, p. 45-51.
  3. Hardy, Charles, (1998), ‘Finding Sense in Uncertainty’ (ed) Rowan Gibson, Rethinking Business Nicholas Brearley, London, p. 16-33.
  4. Nilofar Merchant (2007) ‘Moving from fear to love,’ eds Peter and Kristen Pruzan, Leading with Wisdom, Response, New Delhi, p. 203-210.
  5. Saumya Bhattacharya, Puja Mehra, ‘Corporate Apartheid,’ Business Today, October 2008, p. 40-44.
  6. Takeuchi Hirotaka, Osano Emi and Shimizu Norihiku (2008), ‘The Contradiction, That Drive’s Toyota’s Success’, Harvard Business Review, June, p. 70-78.
  7. Venkataswamy G and Thulasiraj R.D, Interviewed by Janat Shah and L.S. Murthy, IIMB Management Review, IIMB Management Review, September, 2004)
  8. Welch Jack (2005), Winning, HarperCollins, Newyork, p. 37-52.

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