posted 29 Feb 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 6
Talent is to knowledge like an actor to a script. The script (knowledge) defines what needs to be delivered; the actor (talent) determines how the script is interpreted and produced. Actors bring scripts to life just as talent turns knowledge into productivity.
So, when those in the knowledge business better understand how talent works, they are more able to generate and generalise ideas with impact.
In the human resource (HR) profession, talent has received extensive inquiry and practice. While good talent without a good organisation is not sustainable, the study of talent may be synthesised into a relatively simple formula: talent = competence + commitment + contribution.
Competence means that individuals have the knowledge, skills and values required for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs. One company clarified competence as right skills, right place, right job. Competence clearly matters because incompetence leads to poor decision-making. But without commitment, competence is discounted.
Highly competent employees who are not committed may be smart, but don’t work very hard. Committed or engaged employees work hard; put in their time; and do what they are asked to do.
In the last decade, commitment and competence have been the bailiwicks for talent. But, we have found the next generation of employees may be competent (able to do the work) and committed (willing to do the work), but unless they are making a real contribution through the work (finding meaning and purpose in their work), then their interest in what they are doing diminishes and their talent wanes.
Contribution occurs when employees feel their personal needs are being met. Organisations are the universal setting in today’s world where individuals find abundance in their lives through their work and they want the investment of their time to be meaningful. Simply stated, competence deals with the head (being able); commitment with the hands and feet (being there); and contribution with the heart (simply being).
Knowledge workers can partner with HR professionals to engage general managers to identify and improve each of these three dimensions to respond to the talent clarion call. Knowledge workers can participate in building competence by helping specify what skills and abilities are required for a job, then finding creative ways to buy or build those skills.
Knowledge workers may enhance commitment by creating an employee value proposition where employees who give value get value back from the organisation. This value might be in the form of a vision that engages; an opportunity to learn or grow; a supportive social network; incentives; or flexible work conditions.
Knowledge workers may help employees feel a sense of contribution or abundance by helping employees find meaning, relationships and joy at work.
In this talent equation, the three terms are multiplicative, not additive. If any one is missing, the other two will not replace it. A low score in competence will not ensure talent even when the employee is engaged and contributing. Talented employees must have skills, wills and purposes; they must be capable, committed and contributing.
Dave Ulrich is a professor at the Ross School of Business,