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Jackie Clifford

Clarity Learning and development


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Why we need to rethink the meaning of talent 

In the context of evolving employee expectations and evolving language, talent development and pathways need to recognise and value individual differences. How can we ensure that we are identifying, nurturing and developing talent for the benefit of all?
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For many years now we have been talking about talent – whether that be recruiting, managing or developing talent. 

Let’s delve into some ideas about building career paths within our organisations versus creating pathways for talent to be identified, nurtured and developed for the benefit of both individuals and their employers. 

All people professionals will have some involvement or contribution to make to workforce planning – it is one of the core knowledge elements from the CIPD Profession Map

Alongside this is the core behaviour of developing others, which includes ensuring that individuals can contribute fully to their workplace. 

In the past, particularly in larger, more bureaucratic organisations, career paths were mapped out. You could start with an entry level job and then progress within the ranks. 

In many instances it was very clear what you had to do to get to the next step and there would be development programmes to help you. For example, in accountancy there would be a progression from accountant to junior associate, associate and eventually chartered accountant.

For employees who haven’t been given the label of talent, where does that leave them?

But we are all valuable

As the world has changed, so our organisations have evolved; importantly, the expectations of employees are significantly different in 2024 to what we would have seen in years gone by. Inside our organisations we are now familiar with discussing talent. 

The CIPD tells us that talent management is “about using data from workforce, succession and contingency planning tools to understand what talent exists within the organisation, what talent populations are needed, and the identification of individuals who are particularly valuable to an organisation.”

I have to confess that I have a little disquiet about the focus on talent when talent is defined as “individuals who are particularly valuable to an organisation”. For me this raises the question ‘what about everyone else?’ 

For employees who haven’t been given the label of talent, where does that leave them? What impact does it have on their engagement and motivation to contribute?

Evolving language, evolving people

The word talent has evolved from its original meaning related to money and weight to its current use, which refers to a person’s natural abilities or skills.

It’s an example of how language evolves over time and how a word can transition from a very literal and tangible meaning to a more abstract one, reflecting not just wealth in terms of money but riches in terms of human capabilities and potential.

I would like to view talent in our organisations from the perspective that everyone has inherent skills and capabilities. Everyone has the potential to learn, grow and develop. 

And with this in mind, I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to find a pathway in the organisation that enables them to use their current capabilities as effectively as possible. 

Additionally, they should have the chance to develop new capabilities for the benefit of themselves and their employer. 

The word talent has evolved from its original meaning related to money and weight to its current use

A new view

A news item last week caught my eye when the government published the Buckland Review of Autism Employment. This review highlighted the fact that autistic people have the worst employment gap of all disabled people. In the news item, various individuals were interviewed, demonstrating the massive benefits that autistic people can bring.

If we look more widely at the implications of this review, I believe it should have us asking ourselves questions about the traditional view of talent and how this needs to evolve so that we see the talents in everyone.

If we can achieve this, then we will need to take a new view of talent development and talent pathways.

Asking valuable questions

We will need to look at our organisations and ask:

  • How are talented individuals chosen?
  • What criteria are used to label some individuals as ‘talented’?
  • To what extent do we favour those identified as talented and what impact does this have on the wider workforce?
  • How can we create a new, more inclusive definition of talent?
  • How can we create talent pathways through the organisation that are highly personalised and yet still strategically focused on the vision, mission and goals of the organisation? 
  • To what extent do our pathways focus on developing capabilities relevant to the workplace of today?
  • How can we shift our focus to developing individuals for future roles that may not even exist yet, based on their potential and unique capabilities?
  • How can all our people professionals work together to create these talent pathways? What is the role of the recruitment team? What is the role of the organisational development team? Where does the learning and development team get involved? What if there is only one HR person in the organisation – how can they take a range of different views of the same issue?

If we are to adopt talent pathways that are both individualised and relevant to our organisations, we are going to need to engage across our organisations. 

We will have to find robust ways of identifying the capabilities of each employee and relate those not only to today’s organisational needs, but also to tomorrow’s needs. And this means that we will all need to develop a strategic viewpoint as well as an operational one. 

We will have to find robust ways of identifying the capabilities of each employee

Curiosity in a climate of uncertainty

There are many challenges for us as we consider talent and talent pathways. Not least the uncertainty of where things are heading at local, national and global levels. 

To respond, we need to continue to be curious and interested so that we can bring in a range of ideas and perspectives. We need to use evidence to build our arguments and recommendations and we need to grow our professional courage and influencing skills so that our voices are heard. 

By doing this, we will contribute not only to the success of our organisations, but also to the creation of better workplaces, better work and the realisation of human potential. 

Did you enjoy this article? Feel free to check out: How talent mobility drives employee engagement

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Jackie Clifford


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