What exactly is “Talent”?

June 2, 2009



In 1997, several executives at McKinsey & Company, America’s largest and most prestigious management-consulting firm, declared what they termed the “War for Talent.” So began the current era of talent management.

What exactly is “talent”?

The recent return of American Idol , and the dreadful Susan Boyle on the UK version, has me thinking about the word ‘talent’ lately.

Dictionary.com describes it as ‘a special natural ability or aptitude.’ Some people are talented athletes; others, gifted artists. I, on the other hand, pride myself on my ability to help people better perform their jobs. It’s probably not what my mom had in mind when she had me taking lessons in everything from the clarinet to karate to computers, but you have to make the most of what you’ve got, right?

To put in another way, talent is something that produces value that is meaningful for our organization’s results. Let’s look at this definition in respect to sports: World class organizations from the New York Yankees (or the Boston Red Sox : ) to Olympic skating teams to regional bowling leagues are constantly out there scouting for the best talent. Why? For the same winning results that all organizations work toward.

While this talent mindset is the new to many American managers, most agree that an organization is considered only as strong as its stars. In the past few years, the talent management message has been promoted by consultants and management gurus all over the world with some arguing that it is the organization that “raises up” an employee and not the other way around.

Even the goings-on in the financial sector and the turmoil created over some less-than-honest companies hasn’t confused the message that the best talent has to be recognized and cultivated.

Simply put, talent is each of us delivering on our own unique capabilities every day.

So, while I may not have become the world class jazz musician that my mom was hoping for, I do contribute in a meaningful, worthwhile way to my organization’s results. (While drinking a great deal of coffee!)

What about you? Why is your organization better because you show up there every day?

What’s your talent?


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