Defining the word “Talent” – and 4 Action Steps to Get More of It!

7987532186After my last post, Hire Talent, Not Experience!, some folks wanted to know more about what I mean by the word “talent”, and what specific things they can do to better identify and recruit talent.

Cool, those are essential questions if we want to turn this concept into action.

I think the general definition of talent used by the Gallup Organization is a good one:   “Talents are naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.”  But if you think about it, that general definition leaves all the work to you, oh dedicated leader of people.  Because you have to figure out all the key pieces:

– What recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior produce results in your world/business/team?

– How do you move the talented person from “can be productively applied” to “performed brilliantly, nailed it!”

In my experience, intuition is helpful but not really enough.  You have to be intentional and specific in the way you think about talent in your context.  Here is a diagram that I use occasionally to describe the search for great product development talent, where the key talents of interest are shown as dimensions:

Talent chart

There are probably more dimensions than this to consider, but in this example I have defined 3 recurring patterns that predict the performance of a product development engineer on an engineering task:  Technical Ability, Relationship Forming, and Creativity.  I could probably add Attention to Detail but bear with me.

The point is that on a continual basis you will want to evaluate these “factors” in your team members (locate them in the talent “space,” consider how these talents correlate with results,  and begin to create a specific set of the key talent dimensions that predict success for a particular role in your organization/environment.

Here are Actions Steps that will help you get more of the talent you need:

1. Study your top performers.  Is there a combination of these talents that occur over and over again in your top performers?  A certain amount of creativity that is needed to do the job?  A certain minimum quality of technical thought processes?  These might mark key success factors for the role.  You just need to have a certain minimum level to succeed on our team.

2. Evaluate the mix of talents on successful teams, and the gaps in talent in your organization.  What range of talents would add important elements to the team, create needed diversity of talent, complement other members?  Here you are putting together that special recipe for the team that usually benefits from a range of complementary talents.

3. Create the talent profile you need.  There will be a range of talents you can accept – you want to think about this before people start interviewing for the job.  At this point you will not only have a stronger target for your search, but you will have a meaningful language to discuss how candidates would affect the team and perform in the role.

Important Caution:  Do not use this system as a back-and-white, go/no-go screen.  Talent is hard to identify and always a subjective criteria at some level.  And you might find that someone high in one talent might not be the ideal fit but might complement others who are low in that talent.  You might find a team recipe that works with a particular person’s talents in a special way you had not considered – sort of like an unusual case of item #2 above.

4.  Develop screening tools.  Consider not just interview questions, but specific problems or situations that reveal the focus talents for the role.  Run each candidate through as wide array of questions and evaluations as feasible to understand his/her talents.

I know this is harder than it sounds.  But try this out for a critical opening on your team, run a pilot project to see if this helps.  Let me know how it goes!

Do have any thoughts on this or related ideas?  Let me know by commenting below…

Related Content:

1.  Exactly What is Talent, Anyway? (

2.  How to Identify Your Employees’ Hidden Talents (

3.  Identifying and Developing Talent (

Hire Talent, not Experience! (and 5 Simple Steps to Find the Talent You Need)

3427501183Recruiting is a pain.  It is hard to get right, and so painful and damaging to get wrong.

We make it so much harder on ourselves when we focus on experience.  Here is my controversial statement for today:  experience is no indication of ability or success.  Makes sense, right?  I might have cooked a lasagna, but it doesn’t mean it is any good.  I might have drawn a picture, but it could be awful.  And the harder the task, the less likely that experience alone is any indication of success. So, of all the folks who have done a job like the one you want done, most have not been very good at it.

Then why do we only look for folks who have done the job before that we want done now?  Is it that we just don’t have the patience, process, or ability to train someone to do the work?  Admittedly, if I can find a talented person who has also done the job before, then we have the best of both worlds.  Just realize you may not have that option.

The best Manufacturing Engineer I ever hired spent the first part of his career as a cook.  The best Project Manager I have ever worked with had spent most of her career as a Manufacturing Engineering.  The best Operations Manager I knew spent the last 5 years as a naval officer.  You can see, though, that in each of these examples the earlier work developed or built upon a talent that mattered to their next role.  As a cook, the engineer learned how to simplify complex tasks, to break things down, and to add some creativity into his work.   As a Manufacturing Engineer, the future PM learned to understand tasks, priorities, and milestones as they flowed in the real world.  And she did so with attention to detail and discipline that the best PMs would recognize.

So, stop scanning resumes for a narrow set of experiences.  You are wasting your time.  Instead….

1.  Identify the talents, the basic attitudes and attributes, of the very best people doing that job.  Now you have a target that matters!

2.  To find folks like this, think of jobs where such people thrive.  That might be a job like the one you are looking to fill, but there are certainly others as well.   Now you can look at someone’s resume and consider experience from the talent-centered point of view.

3.  By all means, if there is some critical knowledge or experience you must have, identify it.  But don’t go overboard.  Talented people learn quickly and adapt.

4.  Signs of great talent often include:  a positive, energetic attitude;  curiosity and a passion for learning;  a solid record of doing important things in their chosen field.

5.  Absolutely must avoid:  any kind of negativity or negative attitude; a tendency to attribute their problems to the fault of others; a solo player – great teams are held together by relationships, no hermits welcome.

Now go forth, and build that great team!


Related Content:

1.  How Great Manager Define Talent (

2.  Your Best Employee May not Have Industry Experience, (

Servant Leadership is Tough!

Deny yourself.  Focus on others.  Show compassion. Provide hope.

Oh, and Deliver Results.

This is a tough recipe, hard stuff to do.  So often in the rush to deliver results, to get the job done, leaders crowd out the compassion/hope/deny self stuff.  We can get to that later.  That is more long term.

Not only that, but It is a service to the team to help them achieve results, right?  So as long as we are winning, then we can call whatever  leadership that gets us there a kind of service, yes?

I think the answer lies in a simple exercise.  List the qualities of the leaders who have had the most positive impact on your life, and think about how they led.  How they treated people.  How they invested in you and others.  The importance of respect.  The extent of compassion in their words and actions.  The way they listened when you had a few moments to talk to them.

I would suggest that the way we win – the things we do on the journey – tell the story about whether we serve ourselves or serve the team. Whether our leadership transforms or just transacts like punching a ticket.

Details matter in this.  There is a tough discipline needed to block out our own voice when listening to others.  To keep the smart phone in the pocket when a text message arrives while we are meeting with someone.  There is homework to be done to understand what others need, what goals they have.  There is sometimes an uncomfortable fuzziness to getting close enough to know them well enough to understand their strengths, to know their talents well enough to find the best fit and to position them well for success.

Here is an interesting link that helps build one aspect of servant leadership, Compassion: