I’m referring to the word ‘talent’ when I ask this question. Mostly because I’m still troubled by the complexity and lack of form the current exploration around ‘talent’ has. We still don’t know how to define it? We still don’t know how to measure it? We still don’t know what it looks like when it sits down in front of us? We don’t know how much we want of it, and we certainly aren’t sure if we really want to manage it, or have the time to do so?
So why don’t we all get together a pick another word? Malcolm Gladwell has a suggestion that I quite like, ‘Outliers’. Certainly we know what we’re talking about when we talk about those who lie outside of the norm, the average, the mean, on the edges of the bell curve we use to describe the distribution of human capability.
Tom Peters uses ‘Talent’ as an alternative word for people – the general population. It’s broad, it’s loose, it’s all encompassing. Others use it to talk about the ‘cream of the crop’, the high-flyers, the absolute best of the best. The weakness of not being able to pin a definition and common understanding down, is that is becomes meaningless and even frustrating when we apply it to our increasingly scientific systems and processes.
I’ve even seen evidence of discomfort around using the term. I’ve met some very large multi-national companies that are reticent to reveal who the talented in their work-pool are, and how they came to those conclusions. All for fear of upsetting, stigmatising and demoralising those that don’t fit into the top right corner of the Talent Grid.
If we all embraced a term that was clear in it’s definition, that left little grey as to who was on the edge of the bell curve and who fell cosily into the middle, we’d at least be able to move to the next step in the process – designing and developing a strategy to attract, retain and motivate the ‘Outliers’ we have. We’d be able to measure their output and their return. We’d be in a far better position to identify the managers that that new what to do with them, and how to get the best from them.
Ultimately we could move on from the current wheel spinning around ‘Talent’ and get to the more meaty issues our businesses face when it comes to people – how to build the best possible environment for everyone within the constraints we have in today’s business environment.
Personally I think the best place to start is with the big picture and then move to the sub-sets within our organisations, however we choose to define them (currently we’re doing it the other way around). I think there are some clear frameworks available to begin to construct a strategy for all, and not just for the undefined few.
Here are my suggestions:
- Understand that there is a fundamental shift in the way today’s younger worker sees themselves and their work environment. If you can’t understand this, you’re not ever going to crack the code.
- The business environment has significantly shifted in the last 20 years. My opinion is that it’s never going back. In fact it’s only going to get increasingly ‘strange’ for all of us.
- Evaluate your business messaging against these 4 criteria:
- What are we telling our current and future employees about who we are and how we do things?
- What is their experience against our messaging once they step inside?
- How are we contributing to the greater environment that we engage with (customers, suppliers, the environment, nation building, etc)?
- What opportunities do the individuals in our business have for THEIR development goals?
- Earnestly educate your entire organisation, especially those who have the ability to influence the environment, about all of the above. Once you’ve done that, put the way you do business – your structure, your strategy, your systems, and your processes – onto a clean table and honestly evaluate them. Begin a process of making changes where necessary.
- Contact TomorrowToday in South Africa or the United Kingdom to come in and chat further about what you’ve just read, and why it struck a chord with you. We’d love the opportunity, even if its just for us to learn a little more about what you’re struggling with?
Barrie Bramley is a founding partner of TomorrowToday and works in our talent development’ research team. He is a strength-perspective evangelist and invites you to engage him in further conversation. He can be e-mailed on [email protected].
This is a very fascinating topic about “Talent” definition. (How many characters I have? ? )
We heard several times that one of the most assets of the companies is their Talents.
• Who they are?
• Where we can find them? – Several recruiters called himself/herself as “Talent Acquisition Manager”.
• Can we develop Talents? – Several recruiters called himself/herself as “Talent Acquisition and Development Manager”.
• Are they really “outside of the norm”? – Are they are” Outliers”?
“Outliers” – based on Malcolm Gladwell – are not successful only because their aptitudes or passions. Outliers’ measurement approach as individual performance measurment is not correct. They are heavily determined by the time and the place when they are grown up and live. The culture affected where and when they were grown up. Their parents, mentors and peers are also heavily influenced them. Just think about – Malcolm Gladwell famous example – Bill Gates.
Do you think Bill Gates will be one of the richest people in the world if
• he was NOT born in Seattle,
• he was NOT in the Lakeside School, an exclusive preparatory school,
• if the Mothers Club was NOT invest 3,000 USD to buy ASR-33 teletype terminal and a block of computer time
• if he did not live just a few bus stop from the school and
• he could NOT start programming in 1968, much more earlier than anybody else.
“Outliers” for me, in the past, was a rigid descriptive statistics term only. Outlier based on Encyclopedia Britannica definitions is: “Sometimes data for a variable will include one or more values that appear unusually large or small and out of place when compared with the other data values. These values are known as outliers and often have been erroneously included in the data set.”
So, “Outliers” are different that the standard population. They are “larger” or “smaller” than the norm.
“Talent” is something different, as especially for me.
First, everybody is talented. Period. But everybody is talented in different things. It means – we are all ‘outside of the norm’ if we would like to find our talent and to be “Talent”.
Second, but it is also true that not everybody can find their talent inside. They never find it or they lost their passion to live with their talent.
Third, there is necessary an opportunity (time, place) when talent can joy his/her potential. If Bill Gates was born in 1945 instead of 1955, he will meet with computers with elder age only.
“Talent” is who found his/her potential and have passion to use this potential effectively in his/her life. Talented people can make most out of their aptitude and knowledge between the given circumstances and ready to provide the maximum performance in the present and the uncertain future.
Probably, that’s why Talents are the most valuable asset of the companies now and in the future.
I am so exited to discuss more about this.
All the best,
Please visit my blog: http://jozsefboros.wordpress.com/
or follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jozsefb
I’ve followed TomorrowToday for a good few years now and I am concerned about an underlying biase I pick up in a lot of your material – including the above article.
You seem to assume talent in confined to the young.
I still categorise myself as young (although most of my aquaintences wouldn’t and certainly my family would roll around laughing) but the longer I live, the more I can appreciate the complexities of all the organisations I am involved with. In the days when I was even younger than I still am, I thought I was God’s gift to the people paying me (I think you guys call it “Bright Young Things” ) I’m full of ideas, but without the wise old grey-heads who have done the hard yards and understand the the intricasies of the organisation, my hare-brained ideas would be doomed to failure. They have the wisdom and experience to temper my ideas, blow the chaff away and keep what is of value.
If you want to be relevant (in South Africa in particular) you need to balance TomorrowToday’s angle to include material on how to retain the invaluable wisdom already within organisations.
If you care about my 2c worth; the greatest crisis in South Africa is that we’ve replaced the possessors wisdom and experience with “Bright Young Things” – full of ideas but no one with the experience to evaluate and impliment what is of value.
Does a definition even matter? Talent is relative to the discussion at hand. Let each organisation / department / etc define talent as it sees fit, as long as they understand their internal jargon we can move on to understanding, evaluating and educating.
One response to the two comments above.
Firstly Owen…. You caught me out. You’re 100% correct in what you say, and while I work so hard to watch my language I became lazy here. I do think most of us erroneously associate ‘talent’ with young people / bright young things. Talent must be broadened to include everyone who contributes to business.
I do agree with you that many businesses are facing a crisis as they allow their more experienced (often older) employees walk out the door, a long time before their full value has been extracted/used or whatever PC term is best inserted here? Today’s younger set are arriving very smart. Even intimidatingly so. But they lack experience, or as I like to suggest, depth. And we’re moving away from the techniques we’ve always used to pass on depth. We’ve replaced them with slick ‘Mentoring’ programmes that have robbed the richness from what mentoring is all about. It’s very sad.
I do think we’re still in for a revolution of ‘older talent’. There is anecdotal evidence coming through of companies that are getting burned by letting too many of the ‘grey beards’ go, leaving the younger inexperienced set in charge to make the mistakes that have already been made. Companies are losing their memory at a vicious pace.
Thank you for correcting me. I’ve enjoyed the thinking with you.
Neville….. Easier said than done in my opinion. You’re assuming in your response that companies do the sort of thinking it requires to reach their own definition. My experience is that they rely on the likes of TomorrowToday to do the thinking work and they do the implementing work. And so there are authors, academics and consultants all over the world that determine the definition and at times even the implementation of Talent practices.
I spend a lot of time suggesting that companies do exactly what you’re talking about. Find a definition that they agree on, understand collectively and then implement. Hence the article you’re responding to.
If your company has a common understanding of Talent, it would be great if you could share it, and the process you went through to arrive at it?