Talent – a natural aptitude or skill. Inclusive thinkers say, “everyone has talent”. Organizations often have talent programs, talent pipelines, and talent reviews. So, does everyone have some, but just in different amounts?
My opinion is that everyone has talent. Organizations need talent in certain skill sets, aptitudes, and abilities – but not everyone has these in the same amount as others. People choose different careers because their talents lie in different places. A skilled carpenter is incredibly talented, but they might make a lousy CEO, and vice versa. A ballet dancer has artistic talent, which differs from a football player who might have physical talent. A teacher is talented in enabling kids to learn. A parent is talented in expressing love and security to their children. And so on.
I differ from the standard definition of talent, in that I believe talent can be learned as well as being innate. I don’t think that works in every circumstance. For example, I will never be a good ballet dancer – even with years of practice! I have very little sense of timing, I am not built to dance, and I would just look ridiculous! I will never be a great violinist (I did try at school – it was terrible!) But, I think I could learn to play the violin with intense practice, even to the extent that you might comment on my talent.
I think we measure talent in very narrow bandwidths in the workplace. Talent pipelines tend to be based around leadership. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I have also implemented talent pipelines based around technical capability – something that would cause most organizations to die if they didn’t have it. So, if you’re in an organization that only measures talent by the ability of someone to take the next job up the hierarchy, think hard about creating talent pipelines around other strategic capabilities that make your organization successful.
Organizations sometimes use a 9-box or 4-box grid when conducting talent reviews. Individuals are plotted into a poor, average, or good box, based on a mix of performance and potential. I’ve often thought how harsh and simplistic this is, (although I would still use this tool as a way of guiding a conversation). If someone falls in the “wrong” box, that could strike a death knell to their career. And yet, if someone falls in the “right” box for consideration as a next level leader, their “talent” can be massively simplified in its measurement.
Measuring talent can be done in a more sophisticated and accurate way than a crude 9-box grid. It can be assessed over time using various technical, attitudinal, and leadership measures. It can be informed by the employee’s manager, peers, and clients. Insight can be gained through psychometrics, experiences, results, and interactions. Scorecards and achievements can be built over time. Discretionary effort can be observed. Extra-curricular activities can be considered when looking at broad capability. Projects, committees, and workshop outcomes can provide valuable insight. Application of training, white papers, and volunteering all speak to potential. Feedback and observation also help paint a picture.
Talent assessment is best when it is considered around a balanced scorecard, weighted differently by critical competencies appropriate to the target talent requirement.