Why talent matters even more than you think

Why talent matters even more than you think

Star organisational players tend to have higher levels of ability, likability and drive



Why are some people more successful than others? Leaving aside luck, which equates to confessing that we don’t really know, there are really just two explanations: talent and effort.

Talent concerns the abilities, skills and expertise that determine what a person can do. Effort concerns the degree to which the person deploys her talents.

Clearly, some people are both talented and hardworking, but there is often a tension between the two. Talent can make people lazy because they need to rely less on hard work to achieve the same goal. Hard work helps people compensate for lower levels of talent, which is why it’s quite helpful to be aware of one’s limitations.

But how much does talent actually matter? Scholars have recently argued for a more collectivistic approach to talent management, suggesting that individual stars are less important than previously thought, and that overpaying them could harm team performance.

So should companies stop focusing on talent? Is talent overrated?

Talented people

Not quite. Consider the following facts:

– A few talented people make a huge difference: About 20 per cent of individuals are responsible for 80 per cent of the output and vice-versa. Thus talented people – the vital few – are the main drivers of a company’s success, and companies will see much higher returns on their investment if they devote more resources to the few people who are making a big difference, as opposed to trying to make the less-effective majority more productive.

– Talent is easy to measure and predict: Star organisational players tend to have higher levels of ability, likability and drive.

Ability is in part domain-specific, as it involves the technical expertise and knowledge that people have acquired in a field. However, the key component of ability is the capacity to learn new things – it is a function of IQ and curiosity.

Likability is mainly about emotional intelligence and people skills, which are pivotal to success no matter what field you are in.

Finally, drive is the dispositional level of ambition – a person’s general desire to compete and the ability to remain dissatisfied with one’s achievements.

– Even motivation may be considered a part of talent: Although motivation is often celebrated as a talent leveller, it is important to understand that it has a strong dispositional and genetic basis. So while it may be easier to change your level of ambition than it is to lose weight, for instance, it’s not as easy as most people think.

That is not to say that you cannot coach or develop people to improve their performance. But the most effective interventions focus on helping people go against their nature, replacing toxic habits with more effective ones.

In short, talent matters as much or even more than people think. This means that optimising talent management practices is an essential aspect of running a successful business.

– Copyright Harvard Business Review

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is chief executive of Hogan Assessment Systems, a professor of business psychology at University College London and a faculty member at Columbia University


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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