Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Talent is, in Itself, Irrelevant

RSA Premiums has launched a 'Valuing your Talent Challenge' to discover new ways to identify and develop talent within an organisation, so I have submitted an idea based on Genius at Work; that talent is entirely culture dependent.


Everyone's focusing on talent; nurturing talent, the war for talent etc. and forgetting a very important point; that talent, in itself is irrelevant. If that talent cannot express itself in a which which creates value, it's a waste. In fact, we can only ever identify talent in light of an organisation's goals. Do we analyse an investment banker's talent for playing the trumpet? Or a production manager's talent for creating hybrid roses in his garden? No. So, if we don't also look at an organisation's culture then talent means nothing.

This is the subject of over 20 years of research that is shared in my book Genius at Work.

A culture can be enabling, where organisational and tacit rules inhibit the expression of rules, or it can be enabling, where those rules allow or even reinforce the expression of talent.

A culture is simply a set of rules (plus a language) which adapts as quickly as the people who make those rules. When managers talk about culture as an ethereal, intangible concept, they're talking about tacit rules - rules that aren't written down anywhere and which are passed on through experience. Our approach maps these rules as they connect with a person's behaviours and beliefs to create an interaction which either makes it difficult for that person to express their talents or easy.

We already know, intuitively, that you can have the best candidate in the world, on paper, but if they don't 'fit in', they won't perform. What we lack is a way to quantify and predict this. On the other hand, a group of average performers, working as a close-knit team to achieve shared, inspiring goals, will achieve more than a team of superstars, each fighting for the limelight.

My insight is therefore that talent is irrelevant, in itself, and you must look at the relationship between talent and culture to see how to improve performance, which is ultimately what we're aiming for.

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