What is talent?

There are numerous definitions of talent, depending on who you ask and the context within which you ask it. Key questions to consider are:

  • Does everyone have talent or just a select few?
  • Is it innate or can it be developed?
  • Is it about being better than others or the best you can be?
  • How does talent relate to performance and potential?
  • Is talent a general quality or specific to a job or organisation?
  • Is it possible to measure someone’s talent?
  • Does individual motivation influence how talented we are perceived to be?

Nijs et al, (2013) conducted a multidisciplinary review of definitions of talent and then applied them to talent management. This identified excellence as the main evidence for talent and incorporated insights from human resource management, gifted education, positive psychology and vocational psychology.

‘Talent refers to systematically developed innate abilities of individuals that are deployed in activities they like, find important and in which they want to invest energy. It enables individuals to perform excellently in one or more domains of human functioning, operationalized as performing better than other individuals of the same age or experience, or as performing consistently at their personal best’.

Ref: Nijs, S., Gallardo-Gallardo, E., Dries, N., & Sels, L. (2013). A multidisciplinary review into the definition, operationalization, and measurement of talent. Journal of World Business, 49(2), pp. 180-191.

What is talent management?

Talent management is generally considered to refer to the systematic attraction, identification, development, engagement, retention and deployment of people with attributes deemed particularly valuable to the organisation. It has its roots in management practices of the 1950’s.

Research has indicated four core approaches to talent management, based on the perceived source of competitive advantage:

  • People approach - focusing on star performers (a focus on people considered to be High Potential and the identification, attraction, development and retention of these people).
  • Practices – focusing on the benefit of adherence to excellent practice and process (which can relate to any of the talent definitions and typically include assessment, succession planning, career pathways and leadership development and an increasing interest in employer branding, structured career moves and programmes to encourage diversity).
  • Key positions – focusing on the key positions (not just leadership) that are critical to organisational success (which can relate to any of the talent definitions and manages business risk by securing availability of suitably qualified people to perform in key roles).
  • Strategic talent pools – focusing on groupings or clusters of talent and preparing them to meet future organisational demands (which can include any of the talent definitions, but generally focuses on people considered to have High Potential for a variety of roles, for example groups of graduates or people with particular technology skills).

Many organisations use a combination of these approaches.
See Collings, D.G. and Mellahi, K., 2009. Strategic talent management: A review and research agenda. Human Resource Management Review, 19(4), pp. 304-313.

What is a talent ecosystem?

Your talent ecosystem refers to all the ways that you may be able to source or acquire the talent you need in your business. You may want to buy talented people in as traditional, permanent employees, but this may not be the best solution. Other options can be more agile. For example, you could:

  • Build the talent you need by investing in targeted training and development.
  • Borrow the talent you need by working in partnership with other organisations, bringing in short-term consultants or outsourcing work through crowd sourcing.

According to Jon Younger and Michael Kearns, there are five key benefits that executives are seeking when they look to access talented people without necessarily recruiting them:

  1. Leverage the increased availability of external expertise.
  2. Reduce cost.
  3. Avoid adding permanent headcount.
  4. Increase the speed of getting things done.
  5. Challenge internal thinking and assumptions with new ideas from outside.

From ‘The Future of Teams: Managing the blended workforce’ Whitepaper by toptal.

For more information on the work of Jon Younger and Michael Kearns visit Toptal - Managing the Blended Workforce (pdf: accessed 07.02.19

What is talent liberation?

Talent liberation is an alternative approach to talent management, developed by Maggi Evans, John Arnold and Andrew Rothwell (link?). The approach is based on extensive research and challenges the notion of talent scarcity. The focus is on how to unleash and maximise talent, helping individuals and organisations to thrive in the changing world of work. In particular, talent liberation broadens the scope of talent management:

  • from a focus on process to a focus on purpose.
  • from a single focus on the organisation’s needs to one that balances these with individual aspiration.
  • from a preoccupation with individual performance to an awareness of the importance of team performance.
  • from an organisation driven approach to one that involves, empowers and engages the individual.

From Talent Management to Talent Liberation

A book by Dr Maggi Evans, Prof John Arnold and Dr Andrew Rothwell

Talent management as practiced in most organisations is not fit for purpose. It is driven by an underlying assumption that talent is scarce; it is based on narrow views of future organisational needs and individual cases.

A more dynamic approach is needed that harnasses more of the talent that is lying dormant and that recognises the real challenges facing organisations and individuals in this changing work environment.

Talent liberation provides a solution. It looks to maximise existing talent, building agility, engagement and capability through a partnership approach that extends beyond the traditional boundaries of the organisation.

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