This is one of the most well-researched, amusing and contradictory books on Talent you will read. It is going to be challenging to review this book in 800 words. Thus, I suggest that while my review might provide a high-level insight, you should read it for yourself.
‘The Talent Delusion‘ debunks a number of myths about Talent and our intuitive ability to make accurate judgements about it. Particularly, talent professionals are offered some uncomfortable advice on why most organisations feel they are losing “The War for Talent” despite spending more of their capital on it.
Defining talent properly
The author posits 4 principles of talent that should be used to guide human capital decisions (but currently, are mostly ignored). These principles have been educed by focusing not on intuition, but data.
- Law of the Vital Few – based on Pareto’s Law, this states that in any organisation, a minority of people are responsible for the most of the collect output. Also known as the 80/20 rule e. 20% of people are responsible for 80% absenteeism etc.
- Maximum Performance Rule – a person’s talents can be assessed when they are trying their best. There are plenty of people who display talent but are not motivated appropriately to perform at the highest level. Performance = ability + motivation.
- Effortless Performance Rule – a talented individual achieves the same level of performance as a less talented individual, but uses less effort. When a person achieves the same level of performance by making less effort than their colleague, they are more talented.
- Personality in the right place – a person will display talent if they are in the appropriate context for their talents to shine. There is a nifty example of this in the book concerning how talented Kim Kardashian is. It is counter-intuitive but persuasive.
These principles can be applied in any field or organisation and once established can be used to define what to assess in future talent, and how to assess it. The author takes swipes at most definitions of Talent: particularly those who are part of the ‘Strengths’ movement. Also, at those who suggest that defining and assessing talent is not necessary and we should all be treated as individuals.
What is getting in the way?
The author cites many barriers to progress. Firstly, most problems in organisations involve people – hiring, firing, innovation, promotions, leadership etc. And psychology should be at the forefront of helping to solve these problems. Currently, most organisations ‘play it by ear’ with intuitive solutions where ROI is impossible to gauge. Secondly, HR professionals, the author says, are “lukewarm at best” regarding the academic research in their field. This means that progress will always be slow. Certain tools are widely used but lack any grounding in science. Things that are fun and cheap, are usually not accurate. Things that are accurate are usually expensive and take time. Organisations have not come to terms with how much it costs to ‘do talent’ correctly.
On a more local level, the most widely used measure of job performance is the supervisor’s opinion of it. This lacks consistency and reliability. It rewards upward managers to the detriment of potentially more worthy recipients.
People are notoriously poor at knowing how good (or bad) they are at something, compared to others. This causes them to overestimate their abilities at selecting and promoting talent. And most people don’t keep a track of their win/loss ratio.
What to do about it?
Put simply, the essence of the book is to stop playing it by ear and following your intuition.
The author talks about how the current labour market feels entitled to a career with a purpose: and are not satisfied with a job and a pay check. This means that values and culture will play a consequential role in the retention of talent. Most people know a strong company culture when they see it, but don’t know how to define or measure it scientifically. There are ways to do it objectively but again, it costs.
The author refers to a number of innovative solutions available now that are promoting scientific methods above intuitive ones and helping to reduce the inherent biases in hiring and promotion. For example, using HireVue to help with more structured interviews. Or, using the Hogan Dark Side report to help reveal potential derailers in those whom you wish to promote. There are many more examples in the book.
The answer lies in challenging peoples deep intuitive beliefs about talent. As we have seen from recent Brexit and Trump episodes, enthusiasm for rationality and data is nowhere near as strong as it is for gut feel.
No panacea exists. Current (and future) talent processes will be imperfect. But by listening to the research and investing, businesses can begin to nudge ahead in the war for talent.