HR Roundtable: What Is Talent – and Why Aren’t We More Focused On It?

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Nov 14, 2013

The word “talent” gets thrown around rather easily in the HR community.

In fact, in some corners it’s become more of a catchphrase versus an actual focus. Because of that, the November HR Roundtable in Cincinnati decided to tackle this topic and give it the bones/context it deserves.

We started with the basics and built from there. Here’s where we began:

  1. What is “talent?”
  2. How do you view talent internally and externally?
  3. Why aren’t companies and HR more focused on talent?

The questions were challenging this month because describing something is easier, but how it’s applied is much different. The groups did great, and here’s what they had to say:

What is “talent”?

  • Skills and strengths that add value — Interesting that the group tacked on “added value” to skills and strengths. The thought was that talented people bring a different (and higher) level of specific skills and strengths to the organization. This may be an assumption, but it needs to be played out and proven over time.
  • An ability to grow —This is a great factor because it implies that a person may be talented entering a company, but they should also be able to grow once they join. They shouldn’t remain static or sit on their laurels. Companies also need to make sure that folks don’t remain static as well!
  • A willingness to learn — Great to see that talent isn’t only “self-focused.” A willingness to learn should be an attribute for all organizations and employees. By taking in new thoughts, approaches and ideas, employees can build on their talent over time.
  • Artful capability — This was just a really cool way to say that talented people seem to move in an artful way in applying what they bring to an organization. This is a very visible and creative way to build a parameter around “talent.” Employees can be capable at all levels of an organization.
  • Attitude and adaptability — It was great to see that this was framed in a positive light. Also, it’s a great way to combine two attributes because this is quite an influential presence if people bring positive energy that can role with how an organization ebbs and flows.

How do you view talent internally and externally?

  • Externally — This is where people get caught in the catchphrase mode. “We need to get more talent,” is said when looking for new hires and in recruiting efforts, but it often lacks context. This is a great chance for HR to step in and do the exercise above to see what the hiring manager is truly looking for. If the ambiguity isn’t cleared up, you may be searching for a completely different person than what is desired.

Job seekers can also learn from this. If they position themselves as to what talents they bring to an opening at a company, then they aren’t just looking to land a job. This may prove to be more time-consuming, but the results are significantly better long-term.

The key to the responses given when looking at talent externally was – don’t buy the shiny new car !

What does that mean? Make sure that you dig in to see what a candidate can truly offer your company. Don’t just take the resume at face value. There are an incredible number of talented folks who can be great additions to your company. Just make sure they are who they say they are.

  • Internally — The sad fact is that most talent strategies are externally focused to bring people in. Once they join you, they become “staff” and they aren’t viewed as talent anymore. In fact, most of our HR systems are built on fixing people’s weaknesses. It’s not really “talent” focused.

This is a great opportunity for HR to change the direction of how things are currently trending. Instead of trying to push the boulders up a hill, look at ways to encourage, develop and build your staff into the talent you originally hired.

Also, if HR would look at, and expect, employees to be the company’s “talent” – then they’ll become that over time.

Why aren’t companies and HR more focused on talent?

  • Intent vs. action — Many companies have the best intentions, but they don’t put those intentions into action. Focusing on talent takes both intent and action. The key is to move things into the “action” stage.
  • It takes too much time — Fascinating! To hear this answer from a room filled with HR pros, job seekers, and small businesses is honestly deflating. The sad thing is that having a talent focus does take time. When people don’t want to make this type of investment, they will get the results of their efforts. However, if the time is invested in a talent strategy, results will also follow that companies say they want.
  • We have more important things to do — Yikes! What’s the number one asset of companies? (or so it says on mission/vision statements) Everyone has this listed as people. So, if people are the number one asset, how can “talent” take a back seat to more “important things?” And please note – this is an HR issue and not a company issue. HR departments that allow people to be relegated behind things are the problem here. It’s time for HR to lead in this area and show senior management how to make talent part of the company’s fabric and not just a recruiting effort.
  • It’s not how our culture is based — Then change that. It seems simple to say, but it is difficult to do. Companies that see their people as their talent are light years ahead of their competition in so many aspects including retention, brand loyalty and performance. Those factors alone should encourage HR to turn the ship around in their environments.

In the end, companies need to define expectations of what “talent” is for them both internally and externally. When they do that, a whole new world will unfold. People won’t work for jobs, they’ll work for a cause and a mission that is a daily factor of what they do.

The Roundtable was great and exhausting! This was a deep dive into a topic, and it’s the goal of every Roundtable to have that happen. The more in-depth we can look at things, the chance for sustainable change starts to bloom and come to life.

Make sure to join us in December when we’ll be discussing, “Why should we even measure performance?” Be ready to tussle!

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