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June 20, 2017 / Mervyn Dinnen

Time to Redefine What we Mean by Talent

The way we attract, hire, retain and develop the people our businesses need is changing. And so are the roles we want them to do and the way we operate. Yet too many organisations continue recruit as they always have, reporting skills shortages and costly unfilled vacancies. This needs to change.

Firstly we need to start redefining exactly what we mean by the word ‘talent’ – for too long the most overused and misleading word in the modern labour market. Many HR and recruitment professionals use it to describe a high skilled, high potential candidate who is in some way special. This narrow definition leads to poor recruitment practice, with recruiters chasing mythical candidates who tick all their boxes and seem ready made for their vacancy.

These people rarely exist, nor are they likely to be successful. When they are hired and identified as high potential they can fall into a ‘talent curse trap’, feeling trapped by others’ expectations and feeling a need to prove themselves worthy, attempting to live up to a perception of what a high performer should be like. This is rarely successful.

In an evolving commercial world where new jobs will often require skills that have not been hired before, these narrow definitions also fail to take into account the many ways that employees can develop and use their initiative and capabilities to help companies meet business challenges.

Most successful specialist hires step in to a role that will stretch them and help them grow and realise potential. Everyone has talent. It is finding the people right for the business and the role, irrespective of background and work trajectory, that organisations need to focus on.

Redefining what we mean by ‘talent’ also means we should select people for what they can achieve in the future rather than what they have done in the past. Previous performance is often an unreliable predictor of future potential and nowhere is this more prevalent than when looking at emerging roles and digital skills, which evolve and change at a rapid pace.

Selection processes have to change from a gladiatorial approach that resembles the Labours of Hercules, and seem designed to trip people up and exclude them from selection. These should only be used if they reflect what your culture is really like. Instead we should create opportunities for people to show what they can do and how they can contribute to the organisation’s future success.

Rip up job descriptions based around a previous incumbent’s profile, and stop drawing up wish-lists of ready made capabilities and achievements. Break vacancies down into tasks and rebuild them around what actually needs to be done. Some of these actions can probably be covered by people already in the organisation by either having their own roles re-imagined, or through secondments or stretch assignments.

Internal mobility – often the last resort for recruiters and HR practitioners – should to be the first strategy before trying to fill externally. The opportunities for development and skill enhancement is an important differentiator for talent looking to join, or remain, with a business, so lets start showing what we can offer.

Whilst retaining and retraining existing employees is valuable in helping to diversify the talent pool available, it is a focus on diversity itself when recruiting new people to the organisation that will help businesses really succeed in redefining talent.

Increasing the number of women in the workplace, attracting and supporting people with disabilities, finding a way to capitalise on the talents of neurodiverse people, and giving greater opportunities to graduates, apprentices and ex-offenders, will all help diversify and enrich the talent pool. And overcome those supposed skills gaps.

 

Exceptional Talent – the book I co-wrote with Matt Alder – is available now, published by Kogan Page. In it we look at the New Talent Journey and offer examples and case studies of how, and why, businesses are evolving the way they attract, hire, retain and develop the people they need.

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