The best definition of talent for your talent management program

Definition of Talent for HR

What is a talent? Is it only Einstein and Mozart who are talents or are we all talents in our own special way?

The way you define talent is important. Or worse, perhaps you haven’t explicitly thought about how you define it? Do not underestimate the influence of how you define things – it greatly impact the effect of your HR activities, in this case your talent management program.  If you have a too narrow definition of talent then only a select few will be seen as talents and developed accordingly and if it is too broad it will have little or no practical effect.

McKinsey defined in their original “War for Talent” article in 1998 talents as “bright young people”. That is not very relevant for a talent management program in my view. Why is it only young people? What does bright mean – IQ or is EQ also relevant? We must do better than that.

Another thing to consider in your definition is whether a talent is born as a talent or talent is a skill that you acquire and develop. This theoretical discussion is important in relation to the extent to which you choose to recruit or develop talents and in relation to how much money you choose to spend on it.

A final thing to consider is if high performance is due to the talent or the systems, context and position.  There are – broadly speaking – two opposite views on this; one which claim that the talent is responsible for the results and the other which believe it is more the position/company/context. It is probably somewhere in between in my view.

Regardless of your opinion of the above you must find a definition which makes practical sense for your company. If you do not have a strong clear definition you cannot link it to your HR strategy, develop good talent management KPI’s or evaluate it.

I will venture this as the best definition of a talent when you are creating a talent management program:

“A talent is a person who possesses special skills, which are difficult to copy or imitate, who is a top performer with competencies of strategic importance which  cannot be readily developed and the lack of these skills and competencies would affect the competitive advantage of the company.”

What do you think?


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