What is 'talent' and how can we identify it? The missing element

In this article and there have been a number as the Penna report came out, it's coming to light people don't really understand this piece of terminology and also don't know how to assess future potential (79% of 1000 respondents).

Personally I think the word is misleading. It's a piece of consultancy junk that has been adopted to make it sound glamorous and in that application it's only confused everyone with a generic label that isn't so useful. How the consultants make their money of course.

Almost gone is the word HiPo's the high potentials, but what is Talent, where do you find out and how do you grow it?

Understanding the terminology
Talent is a coverall word, therefore you could argue it puts an umbrella over everyone in the organisation or is it really just a replacement for HiPos? Meaning those we know are good and have ambition and room to grow. Therein lies the rub, this is also about motivation and personal desire. A double edged sword. Those who have the motivation but not the talent, what do you do with them? How do you let them down gently if you need to?

It can also be those who are great performers that don't have ambition but we don't want to lose them, or high risk roles that are hard to fill, unique and special. This sounds like succession planning but is it more than that? Or simply an umbrella statement that means you can interpret it how you want for your organisation?

A simple definition captures some important elements - great performance and/or great potential plus great motivation.
The reality is, you have to define what it means for your organisation. So there is no one single quantifier and 'great' means different things to different people. Research it, study it and avoid 'assumptions'.

So if talent is separating out those we want to invest in, either by enhancing performance or unlocking potential, how do we do that, in an effective, non discriminatory way? The report suggests 62% of managers focus their efforts on 24-35 year olds. Geez I feel washed up already.

Solutions for identifying talent
Let's not add into the process here, as you could say the personal appraisal should be a source for taking care of all this, checking motivation, understanding personal goals, but also breathing life into unrecognised talent. Those who don't yet have the confidence to push their boundaries. The process also identifies great performance and competency assessments pull out specific behavioural actions that get great results. So these become useful tools, key performance indicators and the behaviours that sit behind it, what and how.

Personalising the process - the personal narrative
You can't separate motivation from talent, so that's a key part of the puzzle to understand personal goals and drive. Without that they won't stay the course. You will waste your money, effort and attention. Talent identification has to be done in the context of a personal narrative.

Do you know the limits of your potential? I doubt it..
What's possible? What could you do? It's a very difficult question to answer. I can't answer that myself, let alone someone else do that for me. Yet we try, desperately to make judgements on this and often we are completely wrong.

Look at this picture to see what I mean...

   Have you ever been told you were useless at something and then gave up?


Have you ever been told you were useless at something and then gave up?

We think systems will help us...software...computers...but how much can we trust them?

Can taking a chance on someone inspire them to do great things?
Of course it can depend on how much you invest, but leaders I have talked to say one thing that has always surprised me...someone took a chance with them, took a risk and gave them an opportunity and it inspired them. Sometimes that is all it takes. However, it wasn't obvious. So I'm guessing the computer would have said 'no'.

The problem of objectivity - how do we get over it?
We look at people through our own lens of values, what we consider important must be reflected in their values too, what their strengths are. 'Clones' as we say in recruitment, it's a dangerous business.

I've taken risks on people and it's gone badly wrong, why should put myself in that position again?
It will happen. There are no guarantees. However, unless you take risks, nothing ever changes, that's a fact of life. You can take calculated risks, in safe ways, that's the useful approach.

Multiple sources of evidence, use trials and experiment
Using tools such as the 9 box grid but with points in between is a common way in which organisations try to plot performance and potential but it's generic nature concerns me. Suitable for what roles? Potential in what area, skill sets? We are missing the motivation element too.

It can be argued the only way to identify potential is to put it to the test, with the support of appropriate training or coaching, let's not set people up to fail, but give them a chance, a calculated risk with something 'safe' but itis the only true way to see what they are made of, so they say.

Are assessment centers a useful tool?
Yes, often these can be good way, if not time consuming, to test in a more artificial environment, certain skill sets, it's a practical test, so these can be very useful.

Other simple tools
Small projects, presentations, the list goes on for what you could do, but giving people more than just their every day work is a way to 'test' capability and talent, to see whether it can be stretched. This can also be done with people's targets, with agreed stretch built in.

Organisationally relevant
Short term, long term, industry and globally thought through and prepared for change, talent is great performance and/or great potential AND great motivation for what is needed in your organisation as a priority RIGHT NOW and also for the longer term. A talent strategy must combine both and identify all three, all in context of someone's 'relationship' with the organisation. How engaged they are. If you're not engaged, you're unlikely to want to demonstrate great performance.

Talented managers are at the root of success, but with great people insight, even the people practitioners haven't got it quite cornered yet.

Talent management is simple to understand, more difficult to robustly identify and that's the challenge of today, we haven't yet reached the point where it's fool proof...but will we ever? That's the human touch.