Do organizations even know what “talent” is?

Nice post man, good topic.  Also some really good comments, and there has been some interesting conversation around culture fit related to the removal of Jack Griffin at Time Warner.

I usually find the cultural fit conversation to be pretty humorous.  In my experience, it seems that the people using it as a reason to not hire someone are also the people least capable of actually describing the aforementioned culture and the most clueless about what culture is and how it evolves.

There is really a lot of stuff involved in this issue, but I think there are at least three big underlying issues.

  1. Most organizations do not have a clear, consistent, logical definition of talent or a methodology for identifying it…same thing goes for culture…so they become these vague ambiguous things that get used to rationalize decisions.
  2. Most organizations do not have any real understanding of human decision making and the numerous blind spots that are involved.
  3. Existing models of both the organization and the thing we call management are designed for control, stability, predictability (minimization of variance, minimization of diversity).

So no, I do not think that most organizations are good at hiring the best people for the job, and part of this is about organizations lacking the capacity to make well informed hiring decisions about people that are different.  And when people that are different are actually hired, there is a great deal of pressure on them (explicit and implicit) to fit in…to not actually be different.

And this is also at the root of a great deal of corporate dysfunction and why most change initiatives fail and why organizations have a relatively short lifespan.  Conflict is the genesis of change and diversity is the genesis of conflict.  Change is life.  We talk a good game about change but most things in the world of work are actually oriented away from difference and away from conflict.

I think that at least part of the solution to this is about having some very honest conversations about what talent means today.  We create value differently today than we did when these organizational and management models were built.  We create value differently today and because of that talent is a different thing today.  Difference, deviation, disruption, curiosity, the ability to deal with and thrive in the face of conflict and tension…these are things that need to be central to a new definition of talent.  Without doing that its simply too easy (and natural) to dodge them…in the name of culture or whatever else is handy.



  1. Joe,
    It might be time for organizations to have a sort of “American Idol” type search for talent. But then again, even on “American Idol” it seems as if the singers that are a bit pitchy are given props for their abilities to sing.
    I just don’t know anymore. It seems like we are looking for people that look the same way, dance the same way and we really don’t care too much for how they sing. The same is true for diversity within the work place. We say, “Just give me the same thing.”
    Again, you HR gurus are always talking about metrics and I have to admit and say once again that I believe that the problem lies at the beginning of the process: the hiring phase.
    If there are metrics tools to measure engagement in employees within the workplace, between employees and customers, metrics for just about everything, then surely there is at least a chance to devise a metric tool that can find real, diverse talent?
    In your expert opinion, can there be a tool created capable of measuring talent or is talent simply immeasurable at times?
    Surely, the resume and cover letter isn’t enough to say, “Hey, I am exactly what you need. I am talented! Look at my long list of qualities you can’t live without!”
    There are those things you simply cannot measure, right?

  2. Hey guys, where have you been all my life?!?! Love what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it. We are on a mission to help organizations clarify and do exactly what you’re suggesting and we get to work with the most incredible folks! Great culture grows out of great design. Without it, all of the things you mention in this post will occur. Check out our stuff, I think you’ll really like it!

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