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Assessing the values of ‘talent’ versus ‘performance’

Assessing the values of ‘talent’ versus ‘performance’

Let me start by stating the obvious — “talent versus performance” is not a debate being held in the common square of business today. To my knowledge, it has not been addressed that often in the mainstream at all. But deep-seated here is a need for a closer look in order to understand what it is that each represent, and how they may affect your hiring decisions.

Most people would define talent as the ability to perform a skill at a required level, or a person with an exceptional ability. The word “talent” has become embedded in the business lexicon today. As part of this, talent management and talent acquisition titles have become prevalent over the last 10 years. In fact, a majority of CEOs at annual meetings would list these two things as top priorities for their companies. And yet, measuring these leads to a herding of numbers and statistical data, which are rarely able to quantify and qualify what matters most to an organization.

Companies claim the need for talent, but what they really want is performance. Interestingly, there is fundamental misunderstanding of where performance comes from. More times than not, talent is identified in terms of pedigree — places of employment, positions held, places of schooling, etc. But performance is tied directly to individual attributes, and it’s individual attributes — such as critical thinking and mental agility — that deliver high performance, with or without a high pedigree.


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With this, one begins to recognize flaws in how assessments are made. And by extension, how flaws in hiring decisions are made.

In researching this subject I sought a parallel outside the corporate world. I called upon an old friend, John Gibbons, who manages the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. Identical to the corporate world, what baseball managers seek is top talent, but what they want is performance. In Los Angeles, the Angels went on the open market and acquired top talent in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. But did they get good performance? Obviously not.

John shared with me that it’s the individual facets of a player that truly brings about consistent and high performance, regardless of his talent level. Certain players, again regardless of talent level, just have the “it” factor, which is a common phrase in the MLB for players who possess rare internal strengths and a relentless quest for improvement and knowledge.

There is a saying, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” But in truth, we know that “hard work” today encompasses much more. Specifically, improving one’s work skill, knowledge and relational skills so as to produce positive results.

Many times in the past I’ve said to my clients that what it takes to get the job, and what it takes to do the job, are two different things. Beauty pageants have their place, but don’t confuse them with what really matters most – performance. And what produces high performance is not on the outside of the package, but inside.

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