A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
December 11th, 2013 by William

The Talent Gap

Skills, knowledge, and talents are distinct elements of a person’s performance. Skills are the “how-to” of a role, i.e., the capabilities that can be transferred from one person to another. Skill is defined as: proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience (repetition or practice). Knowledge are the facts and information acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject; or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.

The distinction among the three is that skills and knowledge can be taught, whereas talents cannot. The key thing to understand is that Skills plus Knowledge do not necessarily equal Talents. Last week’s post talked about the Illusion of Skill and how we all tend to believe we’re better at certain things then we really are. This week I want to concentrate on the other side of the equation: Talent.

ThefreeDictionary.com defines talent as: “a marked innate ability, as for artistic accomplishment; a natural endowment or ability of a superior quality.” The operative word in this definition being: “innate.” Thus talents are innate to an individual. It also defines innate as: possessed at birth; inborn possessed as an essential characteristic; inherent and (the most important definition); produced by the mind rather than learned through experience.

In their best-selling book, First Break All the Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers Do, ©1999, Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman tell us that instead of skills and knowledge manager’s should be focusing on discovering and nurturing an employee’s innate talents. They sum it up “There are so many kinds of talents and that the right talents, more than experience, brainpower, and willpower are the prerequisites for excellence in all roles.”

Buckingham and Coffman define a talent as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. Talents are what your find yourself doing often. Every role, performed at excellence, requires talent, because every role, performed at excellence requires certain recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior.” Why is this important? Because as they further point out: “Conventional corporate recruiting practice advises managers to select for experience, skill, intelligence, or determination. Talent, if mentioned at all, is an afterthought. However, talents prove to be the driving force behind an individual’s job performance. It’s not that experience, knowledge, brainpower, willpower, and determination are unimportant, it’s just that an employee’s full complement of talents–what drives him/her, how he/she thinks, how he/she builds relationships–is more important.”

Talents can also be described as strengths. Strengths are defined as: a good or beneficial quality or attribute of a person. In their book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, ©2001, Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. tell us that “Only 20 percent of employees working in large organizations we surveyed feel that their strengths are in play every day. Most bizarre of all, the longer an employee stays with an organization and the higher he/she climbs the traditional career ladder, the less likely he/she is to strongly agree that he/she is playing to his strengths. Most organizations take their employees strengths for granted and focus on minimizing their weaknesses. Management becomes expert in those areas where their employees struggle, delicately renaming these as “skill gaps” or “areas of opportunity.” But this isn’t development, this is damage control. Damage control is a poor strategy for elevating either the employee or the organization to world-class performance.”

Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton tells us there are three basic types of talents. They are: Striving, Thinking, and Relating. Examples of each of these talent categories are detailed below:

Striving Talents

  • A Competitive Achiever: a drive that is internal, and self-imposed with a need to gauge one’s success comparatively
  • Desire: a need to claim significance through independence, excellence, risk, and recognition
  • Competence and Receptiveness: the striving for expertise or mastery and embracing learning new skills
  • Belief: a need to orient your life around certain prevailing values
  • Mission and Vision: a drive to put your beliefs into action
  • Service: a drive to be of service to others
  • Ethics: a clear understanding of right and wrong which guides your actions

Thinking Talents

  • Focus and discipline: an ability to set goals and to use them every day to guide actions
  • Arranger: an ability to orchestrate things; the need to mentally rehearse and review; to move others to action
  • Responsibility: a need to assume personal accountability for one’s work
  • Conceptualization: an ability to develop a framework by which to make sense of things; an ability to find coherent patterns from incoherent data
  • Strategic Thinking: an ability to play out alternative scenarios of the future

Relating Talents

  • Empathy: an ability to identify and respect the feelings and perspectives of others; the perception and awareness of, and attentiveness to, individual differences
  • Relator: a need to build bonds that last and an ability to build an extensive network of acquaintances; need to build feelings of mutual support
  • Stimulator: an ability to create enthusiasm amongst peers
  • Persuasion An ability to persuade others logically and without emotion
  • Courage: an ability to use emotion to overcome resistance

The bottom line is that these “talents” are what should be sought out through the performance review process. Some of these I’ve seen represented on performance review forms, others not. The key point is that they are most often believed, erroneously, to be “skills,” not talents. This is an important distinction because skills, like knowledge, can be taught−talents cannot be taught.

As Buckingham and Clifton noted above most performance review processes are geared toward identifying “skill gaps” in the employee and then tasking the employee to somehow “change” to comply with the evaluators’ perverted sense of what it will take for the employee to be a success. However, as Buckingham & Coffman would council us:

  • People don’t change that much
  • Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out
  • Try to draw out what was left in
  • That is hard enough

In my mind, the talent (above under Striving talents) that is the most important to be reinforced by management on a daily basis and nurtured through the performance review process is “Competence and Receptiveness.” These include the innate need for a person to strive for expertise, or mastery, of their job duties and to embrace the learning of new skills. Because, after all, the performance review process could be boiled down to just the simple appraisal of whether the employee performed their job or not, i.e., job results. After all, the current most overused buzzword in business is “results.”


One Response to “The Talent Gap”
  1. Darrick Bostain says

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