In modern politics, parties need to attract talent to better engage with the constituencies they represent. Regrettably, one area where many need to improve is in headhunting, talent management, and scouting. This lack of foresight is detrimental to parties’ long-term success.
Talent management is fundamental to any organisation’s success. Parties need to recruit the best people in community organising, policy and engagement to be representative of voters rather than just ego-driven career seekers.
However, many parties doom themselves to mediocrity
This leads to an influx of loyalists, rather than experts and skilled individuals, in critical roles, recruitment strategies should emphasize innovation and expertise rather than allegiance. Parties too often rely on established figures or career politicians rather than searching for fresh, diverse, and innovative talent.
A few European political organisations are working to help parties implement talent and recruitment schemes to diversify their talent and make themselves attractive to newcomers. One such group is “JoinPolitics”, a start-up based in Berlin focused on supporting organisations willing to create innovative talent schemes. In their own words:
“While parties and party-affiliated foundations mainly offer seminars and study scholarships, JoinPolitics awards scholarships and start-up capital for concrete initiatives that want to implement solutions in politics.”
The starting point is that many young people are politically interested, but even fewer are involved in the classic political structures. They aim to help discover and promote talent outside the established system. I asked Philip Husemann, Co-Managing Director and Talent Partner of Join Politics, about parties’ attitudes towards talent programmes.
He noted that we live in an age when most parties have significantly lost membership. In Germany, some lost up to half of their members. This has limited parties’ ability to have a diverse and talent-driven poll to select candidates. Parties are aware of this. However, they have yet to embrace scouting or developing talent.
A handful of party leaders are keen to address the shortcoming. The main challenge is that the culture of political organisations often needs to be more flexible. Parties traditionally have created ladders for members to become candidates independently of their skills. Loyalists tend to refuse talent processes, fearing a threat to their traditional career path after years of service. This is entirely understandable. However, it can harm democracy since many candidates, once elected, do not have the necessary tools to perform their public service roles.
Parties that implement talent programmes have an opportunity to scout internally for raw talent. Philip believes they have an even more significant opportunity to look for talent beyond their own networks. Parties tend to remain in bubbles to ensure that ideology is not compromised. Yet, plenty of outside talent is keen to bring political solutions aligned to parties’ principles and boost their talent pools.
Parties tend to use their extended networks in this regard. For example, green parties are closer to civil society, and logically recruit talent from the civil sector to enhance their membership. Liberal partie, might ask small business owners or entrepreneurs to join their cause. Still, as Philip mentions, the real potential is in parties identifying talent gaps and in being open to looking outside their immediate networks.
We discussed the type of parties we see implementing talent and scouting schemes. I keep observing parties in government understanding the importance of talent schemes to keep their majorities; such
ias VVD in the Netherlands, the Reform Party in Estonia, and even Fidesz in Hungary. Philip said that younger parties are, in his experience, keener to implement talent processes to ensure sustainable growth. Newer parties are more open and have a better chance of implementing such programmes because they do not face resistance from time-servers.
We will write in upcoming editions about how political parties can implement talent schemes. Meanwhile, as a conclusion of this conversation, failure to identify and groom potential candidates and members within political parties is a formula to create a leadership vacuum when senior members retire or face unexpected setbacks. This absence of visionary leaders can lead to internal power struggles, weakening unity and coherence.
A party that invests in identifying, nurturing, and promoting talented individuals is more likely to withstand the test of time. By building a solid bench of competent leaders, the party ensures continuity and avoids the pitfalls of relying on a single charismatic figure. A party that scouts for fresh talent can better adapt to rapidly evolving societal challenges. New generations bring novel ideas and solutions, making parties more agile and relevant to contemporary issues.
It is high time for parties to prioritise talent cultivation and create a political landscape that fosters progress, inclusivity, and prosperity for all. We thank Philip and the team of JoinPolitics for their insights. To get to know more about them, visit their website here.