Sunday, December 09, 2007

Talent Management: Strengths vs. Weaknesses

The term “talent management” has become a popular buzz word, but there is little understanding about what talent is. Talent is not the same thing as human capital. Talent is part of human capital.

The human capital available to an organization includes the knowledge, skills, experience, and talent of its individual members. Knowledge and skills can be developed (and experience can be gained) throughout the individual’s career, but talent is fixed.

Talent is the prerequisite for the development of knowledge and skills. So, the proper assessment of talent is critical for an organization’s success. Some organizations have wasted enormous amounts of money trying to develop knowledge and skills in workers who lack the prerequisite talent.

When we talk about “assessment and development” it is important that we understand the definition of each term and the relationship between the two.

Many organizations are in agreement on how to do assessment. Organizations such as the Center for Creative Leadership and the Gallup Organization use and create assessment instruments. Both of these organizations are in general agreement about the assessment process, but they differ philosophically about development.

The philosophical question is: “What should we do with the assessment results?” The assessment process gives you a list of strengths and weaknesses, but the assessment process does not tell how to best focus developmental efforts. That development question is a philosophical one.

The Gallup Organization chooses to focus on strengths, while the Center for Creative Leadership focuses on weaknesses. This is a major difference. How the organization and individual spends limited resources (time, energy, and money) is a critical decision.

Focusing on weaknesses has some serious limitations. Developing your weaknesses is very frustrating if you don’t have the necessary innate talents. Plus, it typically yields disappointing results. The best the individual can hope for is mediocre performance. Focusing on weaknesses, the “deficit approach,” is a poor investment of limited resources.

Focusing on strengths has the advantage of building upon existing talents. Individuals feel good about themselves when they use their talents. They feel competent. They receive praise from others. And they are confident that they can overcome any obstacles. The strengths approach consistently leads to improved performance. Focusing on strengths (developing existing talents) is a great investment for the organization and for the individual.

For more information on this and other organizational effectiveness issues use the Search function on my blog, and read my book, “Strategic Organizational Change” (available at, Barnes & Noble bookstores, or my website There are also many free resources on the Free Stuff page on my website.