Who is considered “talent” and who isn’t?

You probably already heard executives and HR gurus talking about the importance of talent for businesses. It seems that companies are actually fighting a war for talent and recently one of the most important gurus in HR/HCM/talent management Josh Bersin declared that “The war for talent is over and talent won”


All this means that talent must be pretty important, right? But what does “talent” mean exactly? According to the Wikipedia entry on the war for talent, “While talent is vague or ill-defined, the underlying assumption is that for knowledge-intensive industries, the knowledge worker (a term coined by Peter Drucker) is the key competitive resource”

An architect is an example of a typical “knowledge worker”

Architect” by Anonymous – From an 1893 technical journal, now in the public domain. Scanned in 600 dpi by Lars Aronsson, 2005. See http://runeberg.org/tekuke/1893/0161.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Looking at a more general definition of talent, which is defined as the “innate ability, aptitude, or faculty, esp when unspecified; above average ability” the word “innate” seems problematic.

First, because our educational systems don’t always help children discover and develop their abilities and aptitudes. Second, companies usually need clearly defined skills and experience and don’t assess aptitudes or may not require the aptitudes that people have to offer. Does this mean that people who did not get the chance to discover their innate aptitudes or those who have abilities that are not in demand will not be considered talent?

Also, the highest-volume and fastest-growing job categories tend to be low-skilled ones (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) so even though there are more and more knowledge workers, this category is still a small percentage of the workforce and it will not grow very fast or very soon. It seems that many people end up taking low skilled jobs, even though they may have the “innate abilities” to be considered “talent”

So is being considered “talent” a privilege that most people cannot have or the chances of getting it are very low? Is talent management about the “human” in HR and HCM or about “resource”, “capital” and “management”? In other words, it seems that talent refers to those employees who are more likely to make a company profitable. Unfortunately, the ability of an employee to contribute to the success of a company is usually poorly evaluated. For instance, could a cashier become a manager? Yes, but that person will not be considered “talent” until he or she proves that he or she deserves it… while a mediocre person who had the chance to go to a very good school will probably be considered “talent” without proving much. Just like in the “American dream”, the cashier can end up being a manager while the mediocre educated person may not, but the reality is that this is unlikely to happen for many reasons (eg: networking and connections, social and financials situation, etc.)

Do you need to undo the harm that marketing may (consciously or not) cause to your company?

Marketing is supposed to promote the products and services offered by companies, which is also supposed to generate sales. Unfortunately, despite their good intentions, marketing people can sometimes do more harm then good to the company they work for. Here’s how:

– by setting unrealistic expectations as to the quality of the products and services delivered by the company, usually accompanied by a lack of transparency when it comes to pricing
– by promoting a brand that simply does not exist (e.g.: leader in their field, exceptional user satisfaction, etc.)
– by broadcasting irrelevant content over and over again, which may get recycled once in a while but the main strategy is to bombard people with the same ideas (e.g.: why you need us, how smart people choose us, etc.)

Another way that is more difficult to catch by most people is to misuse data and statistics. There are many ways to misuse data but the main idea is that we tend to trust statistics and usually don’t even think about questioning the data or its visual representation. One way to understand how this works is to read How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff


“How to Lie with Statistics”. Via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:How_to_Lie_with_Statistics.jpg#/media/File:How_to_Lie_with_Statistics.jpg

So who can “undo” the harm that marketing may (consciously or not) cause to the company? Here are several possibilities:

1. sales managers who realize that they cannot deliver on what marketing promises, which will impact their relationship with prospects or existing customers
2. CEO who needs to grow the company in a realistic and sustainable manner, which means that its brand also needs to be as close to reality as possible
3. managers involved in actually delivering the products and services promised by marketing and sold by sales, who should not exactly what can be done, what can be improvised and at what cost
4. shareholders who may worry that the success of the company may be jeopardized by under-delivering on the promises made, which may eventually drive customers away
5. PR and communication managers who may need to fight a bad reputation of the company
6. institutions which are supposed to protect consumers and companies against actions which may be misleading and cause not only financial loss but also physical damage to properties and people

In you opinion, who would be the best category of people to handle this issue? Maybe the marketing managers themselves should be the first to tackle it. Should it a team effort? Does it need to be enforced through policies and internal rules?

As usual, I welcome your feedback.

Should you know your company better than you know your competitors?

When we think of competitive intelligence, we may tend to assume that it’s all about knowing your competitors. While it’s obvious why you need to know as much as you can about the competition, we may assume that we already know everything we need to know about our company.

That may not always be the case though. Here are a few examples why knowing your company better may be more important than knowing your competitors:

–          If one of your competitors is very expensive and you think that you can offer a better price, you need to make sure that this strategy is sustainable in the future. Is your company capable to support this strategy on the long term?

–          If you learn that a competitor has a weak sales team and you have some “rock stars” who can sell anything, you need to make sure than you can deliver what you sell otherwise the initial success may turn against you

–          When your strengths are mainly based on technology that is very likely to become obsolete on the long term, you need to know how your company can adapt to change

In order to know your company better, you need to focus on the human factor more than on the technical or economical ones. Your different types of capital are an important competitive advantage but it’s the human capital that’s the most unpredictable and has the most impact on the future of the company.

Probably the most important challenge when analysing a the employees of a company is that fact that we tend to separate them into categories or see them as a collection of individual employees. The holistic approach is preferable since it’s based on the idea that natural systems (including social and economic) should be seen as wholes, not collections of parts. Companies are legal or economic entities but are rarely seen as an entity characterised by interdependence (relationships between people who depend on each other)

This is why the skills and experience of a decision maker, leader or superstar employee needs to be analysed in the context of the interdependence with the others employees of the company. Similarly, the untapped potential of the employees can be assessed by taking into account the importance it may have in the interconnected company.

These exercises are not usually seen as an important part of a competitive intelligence initiative and we tend to take employees for granted or evaluate them individually. While this approach may reveal conflicting interests in the company as well as a different (even opposite) understanding of its direction and values, these challenges need to be acknowledged in order to be addressed.

The employees or a company can be found in all four quadrants of a SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Do you know how many of them are in the weaknesses and threats quadrants? Do you have a plan to move them to the other quadrants?


By Xhienne (SWOT pt.svg) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons