1. “Meritocracy & Talent Management: Is
the Caribbean Ready for this?”
By Global Expert Systems
As the word suggests, meritocracy is a system whereby an elite group of persons are rewarded according to
their ability and talent rather than by some special kind of privilege based on class, family connections, race
gender or some other discriminatory factor. The underlying belief is that this group will better manage and/or
lead the system (especially government/public administration). In an earlier article, GES defended the idea of
standardized testing for public sector jobs as a means to implementing a meritocracy. Now this is not without
some degree of controversy.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, for several decades now, we have stoutly defended the Common
Entrance Exam or the 11+ as a means to determine academic merit to decide who goes to the so-called best
schools within the elitist educational systems across the region. And year after year, there is a debate about the
fairness 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 same
opportunity. In other words, we must all be at the same starting line. Then our abilities and talents will
determine how we end the race or which race we enter and complete. This is particularly interesting especially
on the heels of the just concluded London 2012 Olympics. British blogger, Neil O’Brien, who writes for The
Telegraph and who is also the Director of Policy Exchange, an independent think tank working for better
public services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy, strongly defends meritocracy by drawing a
similar analogy. He states that “Everyone starts on the same starting line, but at the end some athletes
are further ahead, and there are clear winners. That's basically a description of meritocracy.”i
Are talent management and meritocracy synonymous?
We have to give the “not really” type of answer to this question because we cannot say categorically yes or
no. Certainly, if we are speaking of a highly professionalised public administration/civil service, then the most
effective way to recruit would be through standardised testing. As we intimated before, this is already done in
several areas of public administration, namely the security forces, public health workers (nurses, doctors) and
public prosecutors who all are subject to rigorous testing before recruited or appointed to service.
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2. However, such a one-dimensional approach is not what is best understood to be talent management – testing
is but one component of a talent management system. Talent management is more holistic and goes beyond
recruitment by seeking to develop, retain, retool and optimize the talent within the organisation. So the real
answer to this question is that meritocracy as we know it, can be taken a step further with a more
comprehensive talent management system. This is particularly true and more evident if we are attempting to
avoid 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 the
Peter Principle at work. That salesperson was rewarded, maybe rightly so, because of their talent, ability to sell
well and real output. But was s/he really the right person to manage the sales team? This is where talent
management will complement a merit-based system. With a proper talent management system in place, all the
members of the sales team will be screened and tested and the most suitable one will be selected. Please note
that the most suitable sales manager may not necessarily be the salesperson with the most sales. A talent
management 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 Peter
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
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.
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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 of
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 more
globalised and competitive, Caribbean countries may find it difficult to avoid implementing systems of
meritocracy. Should we ignore meritocracy and talent management, we are highly likely to become less
competitive and this will further exacerbate the region’s talent drain where we are constantly losing our talent
endowment to the industrialized West.
Next week we will examine the new trend, “Why are leading companies allowing their best employees
The issue of meritocracy will be discussed at the 1st Caribbean & Latin American Conference on Talent
Management on September 25th in Barbados and September 26th in Trinidad. Feel free to visit Global
Expert Systems online at http://www.globalexpertsystems.org/index.php/event/first-caribbean-latin-
american-conference-on-talent-management/ or email us at email@example.com for more
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