If You Can’t “Identify” Talent, You’ll Never Be Able To “Manage” It

“Talent”  & “Talent Management”

These are the latest overused industry buzzwords…but what do they mean?

I had a supervisor who claimed she was “managing talent” and insisted I take numerous courses on timekeeping, accounting, and finance even though it was obvious I had no aptitude whatsoever with numbers or money. The result? Thousands of dollars were spent in an attempt to force a square peg into a round hole. I ended up leaving that job for another because my boss wanted me to become something I was never going to be. (By the way, I hated this job because of the way this mismatch made me feel.)

My new job came with a supervisor who could care less about the term “talent management” but recognized immediately that I had a gift for rhetoric and persuasion. Likewise, he delegated most of his contract negotiation work to me. The result? Little to no training was needed and numerous contracts were signed for a fraction of what the expected costs had been. Furthermore, while performing this type of work, I developed additional skills that had value to the organization in my future roles. (As you may imagine, I loved this job because I was able to perform work that was well aligned with my talents.)

I have clients who want to develop a “talent management” strategy.

I, rather sarcastically, push back on them and tell them they need some “talent identification” strategies first.

I suggest they consider incorporating “talent identification” strategies into selection, role identification and classification, career development and performance management processes.

Below are some easy examples:

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  • Interview and selection processes can be supplemented with questions and/or assessments regarding talents. Employers don’t have to procure fancy cognitive and analytical assessments (although these assessments often identify natural aptitudes and talents); instead, they could simply begin by asking candidates what they believe their talents are and how they plan on using them to add value to the job/organization.


  • For current teams, employers could engage in what I lovingly refer to as the “talent tree discussion.” Team members are asked to communicate to their coworkers and supervisors what talents they believe they have. These “talents” are written on a large whiteboard/smart board in the form of branches on a tree. The whole group validates the individual’s talent and identifies how the team/organization can utilize the talent for the betterment of the organization. These “ideas” are put onto the talent branch either as leaves, fruit, etc. and can serve as the foundation for role identification in jobs, projects, etc. (This exercise has both direct and indirect benefits; the supervisor learns what talents are within the team, the team members are able to better understand strengths/weaknesses of their teammates, and the employees get to hear from their boss and peers how they personally can add more value to the organization with little to no effort.)


  • Needs Assessments and Training are often driven by the job requirements and responsibilities. (This, of course, makes sense – the job requires a certain skill and the employer will provide training if the employee doesn’t have the skill.) However, if the employer doesn’t consider an employee’s natural abilities and talents, it may find itself barking up the wrong tree. In addition, the training itself may be heightened or more value-added if the employer knows what the employee is naturally able to do already. Moreover, unearthing hidden talents during this process could open up an entire new career development track for some members of the workforce who either didn’t know about their natural talents and/or were hobbled by previous supervisors and skill paradigms.wasted talent


  • Performance Evaluations often highlight skills and abilities; this only gets an employer so far if employers want to cultivate and better utilize their employees’ talents. Therefore, employers could incorporate information such as the utilization or underutilization of an employee’s talents, personal accountability for talent development, and goal setting specific to the development and use of talents.

Please note, my reluctance to jump into talent management isn’t because I don’t believe in it. I certainly do!

However, I think it’s up to us as leaders to help identify where we have talent to be managed in the first place.


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