HR Should Get Out of the Talent Game

Paul Hebert Career Paths, HR, Leadership, Paul Hebert, Recruiting, War for Talent

Girlsguysskills If you have a kid who is pretty good at a sport and has a passion for it, you fuel that talent and that passion.  That means you go to more games than you can count.  You support them and volunteer for concession duty and put up with the “politics of parents” that surround the little league team.  Let me tell you – Washington DC ain’t got nuttin on the parents in little league when it comes to manipulation and influence.  Trust me on that one.

The interesting thing is that when the kids are young – talent rules.  There are always a few kids that you know just “have it.”  Whether it’s the way they move on the field, how they swing the bat, or how they just seem to be good with very little effort.  They have talent.  They are good just because they are.

Fast-forward a few years.  Those same kids who were good because they had talent are just as good as the kids who have skills.  

What I mean is that there are those kids who maybe didn’t have the talent the others had, but took the time to practice and practice hard.  Those kids got better.  They took the little talent they had, added their passion to it and worked very hard to get better.  Those kids are now competing handily with the same kids who, a few years back, were mopping up the field with them.

Skills Win

Talent will only take you so far.  Skills are what gets you to the finish line.

Sure there will be a few outliers who never practice and yet still stay at the top of the game.  But those are few and far between.  Most of the folks at the very top of the pyramid of players are there because they worked at it and honed their talent until it became a skill that they continue to work on.

Talent is what you have.  Skills are what you acquire.

HR Should Focus on Skills

I bring this up because I hear so much about “talent management” in the HR space.  I hear HR folks yammering on about how their job is to “manage talent”, “find the right talent”, “recruit talent.”

Hey HR – You’re Wrong

HR’s predominate role should be about getting the folks in the company to hone their skills.  To get more of the people in the system to be better at their jobs.  The minute you attribute success to talent you absolve yourself of having any responsibility for their success or their failure.  Talent isn’t something you can influence or enhance. 

Talent just IS

Skills are what you can influence and enhance.  Through training, through repetition, through review and revise.  Skills grow over time with deliberate practice.

World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck described something called a growth mindset.  In a nutshell, if you praise children for being “smart” when they are successful at a task, they are less likely to work hard at a task that challenges them because they believe success was related to something they “have” – intelligence.  However, if you praise children for the effort put into a task they are successful with, they work harder at a more challenging task because they believe success comes about through effort – and they can control their effort.  They can’t control how smart they are.

Same applies in your organization.  Attribute success to “talent” – then effort wanes.  Attribute success to learning, working hard, researching – you get hard working folks who see every challenge as an opportunity to grow and get better.  If you rely solely on talent – tough opportunities look more like chances to fail than chances to succeed.

HR’s Job Isn’t About Talent

If HR took the approach that their job was to enhance the skills of the people in an organization versus manage the “talent” in an organization, I think their approach would change drastically.

HR would focus more on evaluating skills versus identifying “talents.”  

HR would focus more on training for specific skills versus hiring for a specific “talent.”  

HR would focus more on finding people with a “growth mindset” versus finding people with “talent.”

Focusing on talent is an easy way out.  Focusing on talent is a one dimensional gig.  By focusing on managing talent you’ve really compressed the HR job down to recruiting.  If you get the right “talent” in an organization, you’re done.  The talent will take it from there.  

Failure is also a selection issue.  Didn’t work out – we hired the wrong guy/gal – didn’t have the talent. “Not my fault – they looked good on paper.”

Talent is Where You Start – Skills are Where You End

I guess the net-net in my mind is that talent is the raw material you look for in a candidate or a possible succession candidate.  Instilling a “growth mindset” in them is what brings them to the next level.  

That is HR’s job – helping identify those with talent and creating the path to success by developing skills.  I see too much talk about the first half of the equation – talent.  I think the second half of the equation is where time should be spent.  That can be influenced and managed.  Talent can’t.

Oh, and a side benefit – you won’t have to put up with prima donna “talent” who wants green M&Ms in their candy bowl on their Admin’s desk.

Don’t take it from me… Napoleon Dynamite knows it’s all about skills…


Paul Hebert

Paul Hebert is Vice President of Individual Performance Strategy at Creative Group Inc, writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. He is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Using proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation, incentives, and engagement.