The trouble with talent is… the ‘talentless’ 95%

Working out your employees’ strengths is key to unlocking the hidden talent in your midst, says Lyndsey Simpson, co-founder of The Curve Group

The trouble with talent is… the ‘talentless’ 95%

So far in this series, I’ve explored the challenges associated with identifying talent, attracting talent, nurturing talent and how to engage talent. However, there’s a bigger problem out there. By its own definition, most people don’t fall into the bracket of ‘talent’. Therefore, if the search is always on for the elusive top 5% of people, what do you do with the remaining 95%?

One of the first things to remember is that talent isn’t an absolute, whereby you either have it or you don’t. In January, I looked at how you identify talent and explored the notion that the role or job someone is doing and the context of your organisation has a huge part to play. Not everyone who is now considered a top dog within their industries started out as one. It took time, investment and development in order to get them to where they are today. A perfect example came at the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi, where Lizzie Yarnold secured her skeleton gold after four years of heavy investment. As such, you need to tread very carefully when dealing with the majority who you don’t currently rate as talent. You may just not have discovered what they are talented at yet.

Find the square pegs for the square holes

The best way to uncover hidden talent is to expose employees to as much of your organisation as possible. This does not have to be as formal as job rotations or secondments to different departments, but mini projects and tasks that test their skills and abilities in a different way to their day job. This way of working and ‘testing for talent’ in different areas is of particular importance to smaller organisations that can’t afford, or don’t have the need, for functional specialists. 

For example, there may be a particular member of your advertising team who has a great telephone manner. Why not give them a go at running your credit control to see if they can get your invoices paid quicker than you or your finance team can? Or you may have a sales person who is really into the latest gadgets and all things technical. Why not train them up on your IT systems and make them your go-to person on day-to-day IT matters? 

If they find something they enjoy and, more importantly, are good at, you will normally find that you see a whole different side to what they can bring to your organisation and their performance across the board increases as a direct result.

Don’t protect them from the truth

Just because they’re not big hitters now, it doesn’t mean they can’t put in some great performances. Role and performance ambiguity can be incredibly detrimental within a professional environment, so each individual within your business should know where they stand. I’m not suggesting a public ranking system of your top ten employees in each department. However, you should make them aware of what you think of them and how they are performing against others. You should also note the differences you see in either output or behaviours of those performing similar roles that you would deem as talent or high potentials. If they are frustrated by this and believe they have the potential and ambition to improve, then this gives you the basis for a development conversation and agreement of how you can support them and they can develop themselves to improve. If on the other hand they are happy to be middle of the pack, then it will not come as any surprise to them, or cause you any issues, when they do not receive the same treatment, opportunities or progression as those whom you have identified as top talent.

Don’t write them off

It’s the age old debate: nature versus nurture. Is talent born or made? You never know when somebody might surprise you. Just because an individual may not be considered as talent today, it does not mean they won’t be in the future. If you disregard people because you were too short-sighted to see what they could become, you may end up regretting it. Consequentially, if you do write these individuals off too soon before trying their hand in different areas, they may never reach their potential, or even worse they will leave and reach their potential under the guidance of one of your competitors.

At the end of the day, within your organisation you will have different techniques for progressing and managing individuals who do not display as much obvious talent as some others. However, it is paramount to remember the journey we take as professionals and that it matters more where you’re going than where you are. 

Lyndsey Simpson
Lyndsey Simpson

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