Expand Your Definitions: The Key to Identifying, Drafting, and Developing Talent


Every one of your team members has talent and potential. It's your job, as a leader, to identify that talent and help those team members realize their potential so they can maximize their contributions toward the achievement of company objectives. The same is true of people who don't work for you yet.

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Business leaders at many organizations complain about the difficulty of finding top talent, but perhaps they're looking for the wrong things and in the wrong places. That is, they are seeking a certain "type" of person to do a specific job in a specific way. From a logical standpoint, every time another qualifier is added to a list of job requirements, the potential pool of available talent shrinks – until you end up with a puddle.

Have you ever seen one of those reality TV shows, such as The Amazing Race, that challenge contestants to get from a starting point to some far-off destination with minimal resources? With that in mind, which of the following two competitions is likely to attract more and better entrants? Imagine that both contests offer the identical prize money:

Competition A

Travel from New York to Los Angeles using less than $250.


- You must travel by bus

- You must sit in seat 4c

- You must sit beside an obnoxious fellow traveler

- You must watch a shopping channel for the entire journey

Competition B

Travel from New York to Los Angeles using less than $250.


- Don't break the law

- Treat other travelers with respect

If you want to attract contestants with creativity, ingenuity, and an entrepreneurial spirt, sponsoring Competition B is the way to go. If you want to attract talent with similar qualities into your organization, it may help to broaden the scope of who is considered "talent."

In other words: People don't need to check off a laundry list of technical requirements to make significant contributions to the success of an organization. They need to leverage their unique strengths and motivations and realize their potential.

HR professionals and recruiters have vitally important roles to play in the talent acquisition process. That said, managers and other business leaders aren't doing themselves any favors by checking out of the process. They must be equal partners who are ultimately the most responsible for bringing the right people to the team.

Properly identifying key talent requires gaining a deep understanding of what makes someone successful in your organization or on your team. Gut feelings and experience are valuable components of making business decisions, but hiring choices should be validated with other, more objective data.

Cultural fit is another important consideration. How well does the applicant align with your organizational values? Will the role give them the opportunity to put their potential into practice? Or, from the opposite perspective, what if you want to change your current organizational culture? You can move the needle by starting to bring in people who display the qualities of the culture you hope to build.

Homogeneity of work styles may seem easier for the leader to deal with (i.e., hiring in one's own image), but it leads to poorer business results. Conflicts between personality styles, communication styles, and problem-solving styles can provide the most fertile ground for innovative solutions, if steered toward constructive outcomes.

For managers who intend to build diverse teams of people with varying skill sets and backgrounds, a mental adjustment is sometimes required, but the end result is worth it. Some things to keep in mind after you have brought new talent on board:

Focus on what makes people tick and then help them to leverage those motivations into successful behaviors.

To the degree possible, give people the freedom to design and deliver the results that you are seeking.

"Development" doesn't have to mean promoting people through an organizational hierarchy. It can mean expanding skill sets in a way that leads to more satisfying and engaging work.

"Development" isn't just for fixing performance problems; it's also for optimizing what the team member can offer the organization.

Most importantly, a leader should foster an environment of learning for new hires and existing staff, make sure developmental opportunities are meaningful for each participant, and design programs that develop the competencies needed for success within the organization's culture.

George Brough is vice president, organizational development services with Caliper, an employee-assessment and development based in Princeton, NJ.