What Do You Mean When You Talk About Talent?

from the Turning Good People Into Top Talent blog series

top talent

Ever since McKinsey’s 1997 research and subsequent 2001 publication The War for Talent, winning the war for talent has been high on HR professionals’ priority lists.

The PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey found that 61% of CEOs saw retention skills and talent as a key issue over the next five years.  The ability to acquire and manage talent was cited as the second most critical capability for tomorrow’s CEO.

There seems to be growing preoccupation with the interpretations of what the word “talent” really means.  Many HR professionals and authorities believe the time has come to be clear on what we mean by “talent.”

Some use “talent” to describe only the very best performers in their organization.  Other organizations use “talent” to refer to all employees. There are also some who use “talent” synonymously with “top talent.”

This is most likely what is behind McKinsey’s War for Talent model. Essentially saying that people ensure the success of an organization and the more talent or top talent you can recruit, fully engage and retain, the more successful the enterprise.

As the author of the book, Turning Good People Into Top Talent, I take the position, just as Jack Welch does, that there are at least three levels of performance in any organization. Welch divided them into the top 20%, the middle 70% and the bottom 10%–and to improve organizational performance, the bottom 10% should be terminated. However, he makes an interesting point that many may have overlooked. He referred to the upper 20% of that middle 70% as the good people who could become top talent.

I believe by focusing on and investing development effort into that 20%, you could conceivably have 40% top talent.  Clearly, any organization could do well to strive for that level of top talent even if they are not really at the very top.

Visit www.talentmanagementinstitute.com and check out the resources available for improving selection, alignment and development of top talent by whatever definition you use.


Bob Moore, CMC
Managing Principal, Talent Management Institute
“Turning Good People Into Top Talent”


CMC®, Certified Management Consultant,
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