Monthly Archives: August 2015

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 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.)