Saturday, May 3, 2014

Talent or Skill or Something More

Talent: A special ability that allows someone to do something well. Innate ability or aptitude.
Skill: The ability to do something that comes from training, experience or practice. Developed talent or ability.
-Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Every company wants to hire the best person for the job. And every person wants the job that is best for them. Seems simple enough. So why are there so many hiring mistakes? Why do so many companies hire the wrong people and why do so many people take the wrong jobs? People are involved and that always makes it messy. I have certainly come to understand that there are no “sure things” when it comes to hiring. One thing that is “sure” is the difference between TALENT and SKILL. What is not so sure is how one determines or measures talent and skill levels? And, when it comes to doing a specific job, which is more important, talent or skill? And are they even enough?

I have a number of clients who test for talent. These tests tend to measure a candidate’s intellectual capacity or critical thinking ability. They may also use assessment tools to identify work behaviors and management styles. I am actually a big believer in the use of testing and assessments to determine if a candidate has “the required” talent and personality to fit the position (and/or the company). And clearly there are positive correlations between test/assessment results and job success. But, I see some employers setting the bar so high or the specs so tight on their testing that they unnecessarily eliminate candidates who have developed exceptional skills for the position. Or they try to use the one size fits all approach to testing. News flash: Safety people have different profiles than Operations or Sales people. So if you’re going to test and profile candidates, make sure that you are using the right tools in the right way. Otherwise, you will end up eliminating some of the best candidates and selecting from a very small pool of candidates who “pass the tests” or “fit the profile”. You may even end up hiring someone who has the “talent” but lacks the skills to do the job. The old saying “Hire for talent, train for skills” is great advice as long as you’re prepared to “train”. And, oh by the way, can you afford the time and missteps that come from placing a talented, but “unskilled”, person in the job?

Ideally, you want to hire people who are talented AND skilled. And for management and executive positions, you absolutely need both talent and skill. In addition to “testing” for talent, past performance can say a lot about talent level. It can also be a strong indicator of skill. It is often said that past performance is the best indicator of future performance. It’s a simple formula right? Person has the ability (talent) + person develops the ability (skill) = positive performance. Well, not exactly. POSITIVE PERFORMANCE IS NOT ONLY A FUNCTION OF TALENT AND SKILL. It is also the result of application (work), orientation (attitude) and situation (industry, company, location, economy, etc….not the Jersey Shore guy).

So, we can test, assess and interview in ways that help us determine a candidate’s talent level. Education, certifications and past experience/performance also tend to reflect talent and some level of skill. They also give us a sense of application (work) and orientation (attitude). Therefore, if we hire someone who is talented, skilled, possesses a strong work ethic and positive attitude and all of this has been demonstrated with a successful track record of performance, we have a winner. Maybe, maybe not.

The most over-looked and under-estimated variable in the “performance” equation is the “situation”. I call it Ego’s blind spot. And the further up the organizational food chain one travels, the bigger the blind spot. Smart, successful people like to hire other smart, successful people. Self-made birds of a feather flock together. Give a hiring committee a talented, skilled candidate with a record of accomplishments and “executive presence” and you have the proverbial “slam dunk” placement.

So why do so many “slam dunks” hit the back of the rim? We’ll talk about that next time.

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