Forget "Talent" and Start Keeping Score

Last Updated Nov 5, 2008 2:11 PM EST

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The sharp downturn in the world economy has changed the nature of the talent business. It's suddenly gone from frantically trying to recruit bright and able people to focusing on keeping and developing them.

A chief executive of a large British company recently described the scramble for talent that existed before the downturn: "We were begging graduates to work for us. We were bribing them." Now the big question is less how around how to recruit talent but how to identify and keep existing talent.

Defining talent: Do you know it when you see it?
The definition tends to be highly subjective and when pressed many executives say things like, 'I can't define it precisely but I know it when I see it.'

But do they? Or do they see mirror images of themselves? We tend to admire our own skills, abilities and characteristics and pay less attention to people who don't somehow conform to our view of the world.

Matching skills to situations
Talent is the ability and capability to do something well, but the key word in the definition is 'something'. Talent is situation specific -- it doesn't pay to place a highly competent, technically expert engineer who doesn't relate well with people in a role where he or she needs to manage a team, motivate, co-ordinate and get high levels of commitment and involvement.

Rather than thinking in terms of looking for talent it is more useful to think first of the task and then the behaviour that is required to perform it most effectively. Once you've done that you can begin to identify who exhibits the relevant type of behaviour.

Finding the perfect 10
Instead of using the word talent, switch to using the word 'best'. Who are our best people? Who would be best for a particular job? Whose performance, in terms of achieving the objectives of the job, should get 10 out of 10?

To understand what we mean by best, think of how the sporting world uses it. After every big international football or rugby match the newspapers rate each player on a scale of 0 to 10. The rating is not about talent, it's about performance -- performance on the day, in the role.

The world of work really isn't much different. If the standard of performance in a job is clear then an individual's performance can be rated on a 10-point scale. You get full marks if you do everything you were expected to do.

Keeping your top scorers
The ones who are scoring eight, nine or 10 at the moment are your best people. To keep them, put them in positions where they can score 10 out of 10.

Nothing succeeds like success, and people are far less likely to want to leave a company where they are succeeding and being recognised for the success.

(Photo: Serendigity, CC2.0)

  • Robin Stuart-Kotze

    Robin Stuart-Kotze is a founder of the consultancy Behavioural Science Systems, whose clients include P&O, BP, Oracle, and Johnson & Johnson. He’s also made his way in management, largely in the financial services sector in the UK and Canada. A distinguished academic with a PhD in organisational psychology, Robin co-wrote “Who Are Your Best People?” about effective talent management.