How much does talent really matter?
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems and a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, posed this question recently in a Harvard Business Review article, and most business leaders would probably agree that talent matters -- a lot.
But, as the HBR article makes clear,
Scholars have recently argued for a more collectivistic approach to talent management, suggesting that individual stars are less important than previously thought, and that overpaying them could harm team performance. In fact, many people assume that a team of stars is especially hard to manage and more likely to lack “synergy,” resulting instead in a collection of entitled and expensive prima donnas.
So should companies stop focusing on talent? Is talent overrated?"
It sounds like a silly question, because great talent is what helps drive business success and grow the bottom line. It's hard to imagine that a highly successful business like Apple or Google, or even Netflix, would be what they are today without a strong focus on finding, developing, and keeping the best talent possible.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic agrees, and he gives three key points to back up his premise that having great talent is as important as it always has been:
1. A few talented people can make a huge difference
This is one of the most replicated findings in management research. In any organization or group, a few people will make a disproportionate contribution to the collective output. Around 20 percent of individuals are responsible for 80 percent of the output and vice-versa. This Pareto Effect has been found in virtually any domain of performance.
My take: As anyone who has spent much time managing knows, great talent can be a game changer for an organization. Does anyone doubt the huge difference Tom Brady has made after returning to quarterback the New England Patriots after completing his suspension? The team is markedly better when it has his talent to draw on.
Plus, talented people can help raise the game of everyone around them. They frequently make all those they work with strive to do better and accomplish more just because they want to compete with what the superstar is doing.
2. Talent is easy to measure and predict
The science of talent identification is at least 100 years old, and there are many reliable and legally defensible methods for identifying potential and predicting future displays of talent. Although most companies waste an enormous amount of time coming up with their own models of talent – a camel is a horse designed by a committee – they are over-complicating things. They would be better off consulting the vast body of scientific evidence in this field.
My take: Yes, there are "consistent personality attributes associated with top performers across all fields and industries." Star players, besides being star performers, are also more capable, more likeable, and more driven." These are all characteristics you can screen for when you are recruiting and interviewing.
3. Even motivation may be considered a part of talent
Although motivation is often celebrated as a talent leveler – a malleable state that can be trained and enhanced at will – it is important to understand that it has a strong dispositional and genetic basis. ... This is why it is extremely difficult to transform a lazy and unambitious person into an intense and competitive individual, just like it is very hard to extinguish someone’s ambition when they are naturally very driven. That is not to say that you cannot coach or develop people to improve their performance. But the most effective interventions focus on helping people go against their nature, replacing toxic habits with more effective ones.
My take: Most anyone who has a workplace track record is someone you should be able to get a good fix on before you offer them a job. (Editor's Note: Checkster's Reference Checkup can help you do this quickly and easily.)
People do revert to form no matter how hard they may try to be different, and you should be able to get a good fix on whether a person you are considering for employment can be motivated on the job or not.
Talent matters more than people think
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic does a good job of setting up a strawman argument and then knocking it down. Talent does matter and it is not overrated. Organizations with the best talent almost always win, which is to say that they perform a lot better and deliver more to the bottom line than those with lesser talent.
Will that change anytime soon? I don't think so. And as Chamorro-Premuzic notes in HBR:
In short, talent matters as much or even more than people think. It is arguably more underrated than overrated. The only aspect of talent that is overrated concerns people’s evaluations of their own talents — most people are not as talented as they think, especially when they have none."