The War for Talent

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Bet you thought ‘talent’ equals ‘high performance’. Whoops! That’s a flawed assumption…but you’re not alone in such thinking.

When we encounter true talent – the musical prodigy, the athletic wunderkind, the business genius – we are awed. How do they do it? We think to ourselves, “If only I had been born with those gifts, I would be a star too.”

We all labor under the assumption that there is a defined and limited supply of talent (innate ability) and that only a few individuals have what it takes to become true stars in their professions. While this assumption may hold some validity for Olympic-level athletes and top tier entertainers, the flaws of applying such a broad assumption to the workplace are easy to identify.

For example, most of us still buy into the assumption that our success (the organization’s and our own) is wholly dependent on how many high performing stars we are able to hire and retain. We search frantically for these extraordinary individuals (we even call this search the ‘war for talent’) and then rely on this limited number of star performers to drive the success of the entire team.

How about stepping back from this assumption long enough to test EP’s researched alternative. Let’s test the assumption that an organization’s talent curve does not predetermine its performance curve. In other words, our experience across multiple clients in disparate industries shows that it is possible to replicate the results of your stars without replicating their innate talent and ability.

Geoff Colvin, in his book entitled Talent is Overrated (Geoff Colvin, New York: Portfolio, 2008)) makes the following points based on his synthesis of years of research:

  • Talent [innate ability] does NOT account for the variance in performance seen in music, athletics, or business
  • Intelligence and memory do NOT account for it either
  • The single largest contributor to exemplary performance is deliberate practice.

 
Perhaps you’re saying, “Timeout! Are you telling me that I can succeed in my business with people who are not talented?” Not at all. What I’m saying is this: the exceptional results that are consistently produced by your exemplary performers are not dependent on talent alone! Talent explains some of the results by these high performing individuals, but it is not the whole story. Let’s fill in the significant gaps in the old talent-centric narrative and create a new narrative that leads to a much higher portion of the workforce producing exceptional results.

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