As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic has pointed out, all organisations have problems and they almost always involve people. The essence of these problems usually boils down to how to attract and retain employees who fit the organisation’s requirements, how to motivate and develop them, who to promote and who to fire. In other words, one of the biggest challenges HR departments face is trying to answer the question of what is talent in business.
Most employees also face similar issues. The most common problems relate to how to find the right company and take the right career path in order to make use of their talents and consequently not end up as an inefficient employee, doing work that has little meaning for them. If this is the case, work can become a source of frustration, and only achieving success in one’s private life will bring joy.
So how do we respond to these problems?
How do we meet the needs of employers, employees and candidates?
Goodwill alone may not be enough.
By trying to solve hiring, development and retention issues based on the intuition of HR people, we may inadvertently create additional problems. With some help, science can come in. As Adam Smith put it: “Science is the perfect antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition“.
But science alone will not provide a simple answer to the question of how to employ key staff more effectively, or how to bring about an increase in their potential and productivity. It can, however, help us improve our ability to diagnose, understand, anticipate and manage talent in an organisation. And that is always something.
What is talent, then?
The very word ‘talent’ sounds appealing. Everyone would like to have it, show it and use it.
The word talent was used in ancient times to refer to a unit of measurement and mass of money. Over the centuries, the definition of talent has evolved. In the modern world, talent is colloquially understood as something special, an innate gift that enables us to perform certain activities better than most. This definition suggests that talent relates to a specific area of specialisation. Consequently, given this perspective, both in the world of science, art and sport we can find a number of examples of talent. However, would a talent revealed in one area also have comparable success in another? For example, Robert Lewandowski, known to all, undoubtedly has a tremendous talent for football. However, we are not sure whether he would have proved himself as a painter or a captivating pianist.
A closer look at the phenomenon of talent even within the same area leads to the conclusion that, when considering issues of talent, it is important to also take into account the specific details of the environment / setting in which talent is revealed. Continuing with the example of Robert Lewandowski, it is worth noting that this striker achieves a much better performance when playing for Bayern Munich (average of 0.89 goals per game) than for the Polish national team (average of 0.56 goals per game). In summary, when talking about talent, it is necessary to take into account the specific environment in which the talent manifests itself. In other words, there may be a situation where a talent that is revealed in one environment will not be revealed in another. So how can we translate these observations into the business field?
When we consider talent in business terms, it expands its definition to include an additional area – the ability to consistently maintain a high level of performance. Therefore, it can be said that talent in business terms introduces the additional issue of intrinsic motivation. This consistently translates into the need for three elements to coexist:
- the ability / potential to perform a particular activity;
- the desire (motivation) to perform that activity;
- the sense of satisfaction one feels when performing the activity.
The coexistence of each of the aforementioned elements guarantees that our talent is able to sustain its activity for a long time against various adversities.
Capturing talent as the ability to perform above average is important because research data clearly shows that above-average people are 400 per cent more productive than average people. This means that they perform better in less time. Research also indicates that the gap between the average and above-average worker increases as the complexity of the job increases, and thus the potential difficulties involved. For occupations that require complex tasks involving the processing of large amounts of information, or that involve a great deal of interaction with others, above-average people are, incredibly enough, as much as 800 per cent more effective. We can imagine the concrete implications of this in terms of the money a company can gain from talent and the money it can lose if that talent leaves. In the context of the above data, then, the important question is what to do to diagnose who the talent in our organisation is as soon as possible.
The search for talent in business
So how do we find those above-average people – the talent in our organisation? How do we carry out a recruitment process that will help us identify and hire talent that fits our organisational culture? The answer to these questions, especially in these times of change and unpredictability, is becoming increasingly important.
Undoubtedly, the first step to achieve this should be to define our expectations, i.e. to determine what talent is for our organisation. At this point, it is worth emphasising that a time perspective is important for the definition of talent – it is one thing to have expectations of doing a job “here and now”, and quite another to have expectations of people whose profile will strengthen our organisation in the future. In other words, when defining talent, it is worth considering what profile we need in the present to achieve future goals.
In the process of defining talent, it is worth considering a number of aspects, including the question of what qualities, competences and qualifications will enable us to achieve the best results in the future. In order to do this, it is necessary to take into account the perspective of people from different parts of the business and the strategy that is planned for the business for the coming years. The end result of the process discussed should be the identification of a reference profile (constellation of qualities, competencies and qualifications) of our talent.
However, a common pitfall of HR departments and/or HR consultants is to define talent only through the lens of a personality profile and competencies. It is clear that matching the personality and competence profile is very important – however, it is also equally important to take into account hard business indicators (KPIs) and formal criteria (e.g. length of employment, periods of absenteeism, etc.).
Only by taking into account data from the so-called soft and hard areas does the likelihood of proper talent acquisition increase. It is worth noting, however, that if the criteria for the definition of talent are strictly adhered to, it may turn out that only a handful of employees meet the criteria. This is a perfectly natural situation, as research clearly shows that the average percentage of talent in business organisations reaches only 7 to 15% of the total workforce.
We can obtain data on business criteria (KPIs) and/or formal criteria with great ease. But how do we answer the question of whether a person fits the defined personality-competence profile?
One of the more commonly used tools is the structured interview, which is based on a set of specific diagnostic questions. However, despite its widespread use, this tool is subject to the subjectivity of the interviewer’s assessment. As an emotional individual, each person is susceptible to various cognitive traps that directly affect our assessment of reality and, consequently, the decisions we make. Therefore, during the diagnostic process, it is necessary to use tools that allow us to objectify the assessment we make. Evidence of the important role of objectivising tools in diagnosis in the broadest sense can be found in various fields, including medical diagnosis, where symptoms of a given disease are usually confirmed by objective tests. Here, it is worth emphasising that the symptoms of a disease are in many cases much more transparent and unambiguous than the symptoms of a talent in terms of personality and competence. In this context, it could be argued that it is crazy to use the method of intuition in an area where diagnosis is much more complex.
Today, the market offers a wide range of tools to support personality diagnosis. Nevertheless, what is noticeable is the number of mistakes that are made by HR representatives in selecting the right tools for the talent diagnosis process, which consequently translates into erroneous results and conclusions drawn.
One of the first and most common mistakes is the selection for the talent diagnosis process of tools created for development purposes, the main purpose of which is to build awareness / insight into one’s own behaviour. Here it is worth emphasising that the talent diagnosis process is an assessment process, where we diagnose directly who meets the criteria and who does not. Therefore, a natural phenomenon in this type of process is the phenomenon of social approval, i.e. the desire to show oneself from the best possible perspective. Consequently, the selection of tools for the talent diagnosis process that minimise the phenomenon of social approval through their design is extremely important. This is because it translates into the reliability of the results obtained (including information on the level of fit with the defined criteria).
A tool that minimises the aspect of social approval in its design is the Ostendi Talent Hunter, a tool on the Ostendi platform. It is a personality questionnaire, which in its design is derived from the Big Five concepts, but taking into account the contemporary context and business requirements. On the other hand, an assessment based on the 360 / 270-degree methodology can be used to diagnose competencies, which will enable feedback on the individual from a variety of sources. By juxtaposing objective data from the diagnosis of the personality profile, competency profile with business-formal data, we will increase the probability of correctly diagnosing the level of fulfilment of talent criteria in a given person.
Let us remember, however, that at the end of the diagnosis process, it is always worth asking our diagnosed person two key questions:
Is the proposed direction of development interesting to you and do you actually WANT to develop in this direction?
If you are interested in tools to support the talent diagnosis process, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Authors: Bożena Roczniak, Michał Krzewiński
Dr. Bozena Roczniak
CEO Ostendi Global, R&D Director
Member of the Board, R&D Director at Ostendi Global. For more than a dozen years she has been supporting the management boards of various companies in building their Human Resources strategies. She has a unique experience combining more than 18 years of experience in business with 10 years of conducting diagnoses in the field of psychiatry. Bożena is constantly developing her competences, which is each time confirmed by receiving international certificates: ICC coaching, MBTI(R) Practitioner (Mayers-Briggs Type Indiator), use of SLG Thomas tests (Personal Profile Analyzes, Training System Test, EQTest), Insight Discovery™, EQ-I 2.0 and EQ 360 2.0, co-developer of the Ostendi Talent Hunter questionnaire.
Co-founder Ostendi Global
Co-founder of Ostendi Global and co-developer of the Ostendi Talent Hunter tool. He has been working in the field of business process optimisation for several years, which he successfully uses in the adaptation of tools created within Ostendi to contemporary business requirements.
 Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, ‘The Talent Delusion’, Little, Brown Book Group, 2017.
 Herman Aguinis, Ernest O’Boyle Jr., ‘The best and the rest: Revisiting the norm of normality in individual performance’ Personal Psychology, Volume 65, Issue 1, Spring 2012, after Scott Keller, Mary Meaney, ‘Attracting and retaining the right talent’, McKinsey&Company, Organisation November 2017
 Source: ‘McKinsey Global Survey: War for Talent 2000’, refreshed in 2012 after Scott Keller, Mary Meaney, ‘Attracting and retaining the right talent’, McKinsey&Company, Organization November 2017