What is talent, and do you really want it? If so, how much talent do you want, where will you find it and what are you going to do with the talented people you manage to attract to your company? Barrie Bramley turns his attention to these and similar questions, as he helps companies to see talent as their most important competitive differentiator.

Do you know Talent?

By Barrie Bramley
Diversity, Innovation, Six Sigma, Decentralisation, Jack’s 70/20/10, Kai-Zen, Feng Shui. All of these (and others) are strategic focus areas that most companies, either currently or historically, have visited and poured resource and energy into, in order to create a distinctive business value proposition, in order to stand out in the crowded market place they find themselves within. Both internally to ensure the best people, and externally to ensure a healthy bottom line.
I’m not suggesting that companies don’t pick these up and run with them. In today’s business environment everyone’s looking for something to distinguish them from those to the left and right. If you find something that you think can give you an edge, you shouldn’t be criticised for earnestly giving it a go.
A large area of focus at the moment is ‘Talent’. It currently has our attention because of a well-written document titled ‘The War for Talent’. It makes perfect sense. In a globalising world, with a shortage of numbers, in the developed world, and a shortage of skills, in the developing world, it is right to ensure the best possible people inside of your organisation.
I have some questions (to start with), that I think need to be answered for those pursuing the talented:
What is Talent? – There doesn’t seem to be a universally accepted definition as to ‘what talent is’. It seems most people I interact with agree that talent implies individuals who stand out from the crowd. Just how far they need to stand out, or in what area has much fuzziness attached to it.
TomorrowToday has a definition we’ve created having trolled through many other definitions:

“Talented people are defined by their ability to understand the game (rules), master the field of play (environment) by using their equipment and themselves (skills) to go right to the edge – further than anyone else is able to go.”

How many people can we expect to be talented in any one organisation? – Apart from being a fun question to ask a group of people from one organisation in front of each other, the answers vary quite significantly. I’ve had people suggest everyone is talented on one extreme, and only 1% of the group on the other. If one had to look at the sports arena where the concept of talent has been alive for a long time, one is lead to believe that there are levels of talent. Anyone who can complete the Tour de France is certainly talented. But there is only one Lance Armstrong. This applies to golf with Tiger Woods, Grand Prix with Michael Schumacher, Tennis, Swimming, Marathon Running, etc, etc. Perhaps it’s both/and?

How many Talented people do you want?
– I imagine we’d all want a Richard Branson or a Jack Welch working in our business? But how many of them could one organisation handle. How many could one manager manage? Or one leader lead? It is certainly a question you need to answer before you rush out and get one more than you or your organisation can cope with. I imagine just one too many could send you on a fairly destructive journey. Harvard Business Review has dealt with this topic from time to time. The authors of those articles concluded that if you were able to assemble a team full of talented people, it would need to be for a short and defined period of time.
Do you know Talent when see it? – This is the million dollar question. When you’re sitting looking at a team of people, or even just one, how do you know the potential of the person/people you’re looking at? It’s a question we at TomorrowToday are often asked. I imagine it’s contributing a fair amount of pressure and stress on those responsible for finding talent, and then investing time, energy and resource into developing the identified talent.
I wonder, however, if the debate is focussed in the wrong space? What if business stopped investing big chunks of time, energy and resource on finding, retaining and getting the best from ‘talent’, and instead constructed amazing places to work, no matter where their people fell on the continuum of ‘talent’? What if they allocated more time to understanding this new kind of worker in this new kind of workplace? What if adapting the entire organisation for everyone was a more efficient and effective way to have great people lining up for interviews, and investing a fair chunk of who they are into making the said organisation great?
So what would that look like? Next issue of this e-zine I’ll explore thoughts down that road of thinking.
Barrie Bramley is TomorrowToday.biz’s talent expert, and chief creative officer. Barrie spends most of his time helping companies understand the many issues related to talent acquisition, retention, creation and development. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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