Sunday, July 8, 2012

How Do You Define and Identify Real Talent?

Talent has become a common topic in business and academic journals, where the main focus is on what’s called talent management, yet if you look for clear definitions of what talent really is, you might be surprised to find that definitions are often vague or ill-defined, especially in the context of business. Yet to be able to manage something, you first need to be able to clearly define it and then be able to identify it. The danger of not doing this first is that you create a ‘generic statement’ that has little bearing on the real facts.

There are many key issues with ‘talent’ as a topic which need to be examined. First, talent will mean different things to different people and different organisations, because they can have different needs, where for example, a ‘talented’ manager in one organisation may not be considered ‘talented’ by another; or a footballer who is talented in a lower division, might not be considered talented in a higher, premier division – but does that make them ‘less’ talented? I assume the answer is, yes, if one benchmarks them against all the players in the world – but no, if on benchmarks them against other players in the league that they play.

Second, the environment has to be right to allow a person’s talent to be seen and become ‘active’ in the first place – otherwise a person’s true talent could lay dormant until the right ‘opportunity’ and ‘environment’ presents itself. Therefore whose responsibility is it to ‘identify’ a person’s talent – do we assume that it’s an individual’s responsibility to find out what they are ‘talented’ at and if they don’t – well that’s just bad luck.

As talent often relates to some form of ‘knowledge’ and ‘skill’ then it might be fair to assume that it’s a person’s parents and educators, who are responsible to identify what ‘talent’ or ‘talents’ a person might have – and to do that you would have to be able to let them experience ‘everything’ possible, otherwise how will you really know.

Thirdly, is there necessarily a correlation between ‘talent’ and what a person ‘enjoys’ – meaning a child might be ‘talented’ at football, for example, but does that mean the person will enjoy football and hence naturally pursue their talent? I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that correlation exists – in fact I’ve often heard parents talking about how talented their children were when they were younger at a certain activity and how disappointed they are that they didn’t pursue that ‘talent’.

Fourthly, talent isn’t timeless, as once found it needs to be nurtured and developed if it has a chance of being recognised as a talent over a significant period of time. As Andrew and Valerie Stewart highlighted many years ago, “the relationship between performance and potential is not a simple one. The best performers of today are not necessarily those of high potential. Hence promotion solely on the basis of past performance (one’s past talents) inevitably leads to promotion to the person’s level of incompetence”.

So it’s clear from the above that talent is a complex issue, with many key influencing factors that can contribute to identify someone’s real talent and then allow them to pursue it, such that it is recognised as talent by those that matter.

But does this match up to the definition of talent? What’s interesting is that there appears to be wide variations in how talent is defined and how it is used in the business context. As talent can be defined as ‘a special natural ability or aptitude’ or as ‘a capacity for achievement or success’.

Of course both of these definitions already assume the environment exists for the natural ability’ to be ‘noticed’ in the first place and second for it then to be ‘nurtured (or developed)’.

With the above in mind and the importance of ‘talent’ in the workplace it would seem that business needs to interact much more with the education sector in order to be able to offer the opportunities to identify real and latent talent at an early age. This is of vital importance, since once a ‘basic’ talent has been identified, ‘we’ need to be able to offer the individual an opportunity to then show a ‘passion’ for their talent – and if the two match, then a much more focused development programme can be put in place – in a sense matching individual talents and desires with business needs, both for the short and long term.

I often wonder how much latent talent is actually out there, just waiting to be found, because we haven’t been able to match the right individuals with the right environment for their true talent to shine through. I also wonder how much potential talent has been lost because although identified by an organisation, they then haven’t taken the time to nurture and develop it?

1 comment:

  1. Consistently placing top performers, one thing I do know is that talent is relative. A clients "wish list" starts with experience and skills but people hire on presentation and prescience. "I don't know how to describe it but I know it when I see it" is what make most hiring decisions.

    The trick is in matching the "wow" the hiring manager sees with the "wow" the candidate sees in terms of opportunity / career with the new company. A strong attraction on both sides results in a high-potential or high-performance hire.

    No one gets it right every time but 93% isn't too bad. There is plenty of talent to go around. Nothing wrong with investing in a resource that delivers. Our niche is transitioning military officers and technicians.