Toward a Definition of Talent

Reviewing the literature, some [12] have concluded that ‘talent can mean whatever a business leader or writer wants it to mean, since everyone has his or her own idea of what the construct does and does not encompass’ (p. 291). It is certainly true that talent has been defined in multiple ways, with definitions reflecting specific aspects that individual researchers and practitioners have considered uniquely important. More significantly, these definitions include a range of different philosophical assumptions about the nature of talent, even though many would prefer that these definitions were more firmly embedded in a matrix of objective psychology [13].

For example, Tansley et al. [14] have suggested that talent requires a consideration of individual giftedness and ‘can be considered as a complex amalgam of employees’ skills, knowledge, cognitive ability, and potential’ (p. 2). Others, such as Bethke-Langenegger [15], understand talent not as an abstraction or potential, but rather as an embodiment: ‘one of those worker who ensures the competitiveness and future of a company (as specialist or leader) through his [sic] organisational/job specific qualification and knowledge, his social and methodical competencies, and his characteristic attributes such as eager to learn or achievement oriented’ (p. 3). Yet others, such as Ulrich [16], view talent as not simply the embodiment of a set of personal attributes, but rather as a triple expression of these attributes within the organizational context—individual competencies, coupled with a future-orientated organizational commitment, and providing a significant organizational contribution.

Although not wishing to contribute to the plethora of definitions, in this chapter talent is understood as that set of personal and relational attributes, qualities, and capacities—possessed by an individual, and recognized and assessed by the organization—that are considered of value in contributing to the organization’s

operational and strategic goals. This definition suggests that talent:

  • • is a complex set of personal attributes, skills, and competencies that are presently recognizable;
  • • also includes capacities and potentials that can probably be further developed;
  • • includes social and relational abilities as well as firm-specific operational skills;
  • • has been identified by the organization, not simply by the individual or by others outside the organization; and
  • • is considered of sufficient value and importance to be recruited, selected, developed, retained, and utilized by the organization in realizing its current and future goals.
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