Approximate reading time: 2.8 minutes.

Who is your talent? Answering this question takes on increasing urgency as companies move from a recessionary mentality to a more positive one involving growth and a renewed focus on expansion.  

Talent management consistently tops the list of business challenges that CEOs and HR professionals are wrestling with. In our forthcoming book on Talent Management [i] we concluded that amongst the important choices companies must make about using talent is whether to consider it an inclusive or exclusive asset. 

Companies viewing talent as exclusive tend to treat it as confined to a few high potential employees, ones who are usually regarded as pivotal to its future. This narrow view of talent at least allows a concentration of scarce resources. However, it may also sow the seeds of discontent and more to the point, may cut the organisation off from a huge range of ideas, experience, know-how and enthusiasm. 

In contrast, some companies view talent as more inclusive, in which talent management focuses on all employees. Admittedly such organisations are currently in the minority. A report in 2009 by ASTD for example, suggested that less that 18% of those taking part in a US survey on talent management said their efforts were focused on all employees. Much the same would apply in the UK, though probably the figures here would be slightly higher.  

The case for treating talent as inclusive is an easy one to grasp. As companies move out of recession and look towards growth, many will face the need to tackle skill shortages. We can expect to encounter yet again regular complaints about the war for talent. This though is something of a myth, and as the book itself makes clear, is a cleverly devised concept that has successfully bounced countless organisations into people practices that are less than optimal. 

These practices include poaching other people’s talent, rather than nurturing one’s own; viewing talent as inevitably a scarce commodity to be fought over like dogs with a juicy bone; an excessive focus on recruiting the so-called “best and brightest” at the expense of just about anyone else and a failure to see the potential in the vast range of others that make up the organisation. 

So “who is your talent” is no academic issue. It directly affects whether an organisation is geared for the 21st as opposed to the 20th Century. Where talent is limited to say the top 3% of an organisation the cumulative effect over four or five years could prove highly damaging. 

What is needed is an approach that straddles the reality that some people are certainly more capable than others with the understanding that talent is potentially everywhere—you just have to find it. Looking for talent internally is therefore likely to become far more refined than in the past. This goes beyond formal assessment centres and other standard methodology for identifying potential. 

Already we see a new breed of talent manager in many organisations. While in many cases the role is no more than a re-branding exercise, in other cases the purpose of the job is relatively new. It is taking more seriously the issue of unlocking potential and refusing to see that as restricted to a chosen few. 

As CIPD’s Talent Advisor, Claire McCartney, has put it: “You do need to have a really strong vision and picture of what your talent looks like, your existing talent. I think only from then you can go on to say how you need to compliment that internal talent pipeline. You need to know who you need to attract to make maximum impact in your business.” 

McKinsey associate principal, Matthew Guthridge revealed a year or so back that its global talent management research “showed that in fact where companies can deliver the most value is often through the right developmental experiences being provided to talent internally, both through deployment and also through learning and development type of experiences.” 

Putting it slightly differently the talent you need may well be staring you in face. You just have to unlock its potential.


[i] Talent Management, by Stephen Hoare and Andrew Leigh, to be published in February 2011 by Pearson, Financial Times Briefings