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Hidden Talents Part 2: Identifying Your Talent and Strengths

How do I know whether I have a talent?
This is a case not of if you have a talent, but what your talent is. I wholeheartedly believe that we’re all endowed with something unique within us that can be put to use, something that connects us to our own distinct purpose for being. Our primary challenge is figuring out what that is. If you’re still searching – regardless of your age – it’s okay. Some of our talents are well hidden from our view. To help, there are countless assessments and resources out there you can turn to that will help you. Two books to consider are:

Is Your Genius At Work? by Dick Richards. Dick works from a model that we all have one unique genius that is an exceptional power that just comes naturally to us. His book is a wonderful guide for discovering our talent and how to apply it in our life and work.

StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Once you complete the web-based assessment, you can return to the book for ideas on how to bring your five strengths into daily action. The real key to the assessment and book is taking the strengths and compiling them into a unique concept of who you are and what you can do that no one else can.

Just don’t fall into the trap of considering each resource the end-all, ultimate source of insight about you and your talent. Instead, take each one and combine them all to form a story. This may take some help from others around you.

Make the most of your talent…practice it.
If you do happen to pick up StrengthsFinder, you’ll discover that Rath uses an equation that ties talents and strengths together:

talent x investment = strength
Talent: a natural way of thinking, feeling, or behaving.
Investment: time spent practicing, developing your skills, and building your knowledge base.
Strength: the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance.

When you do figure out your talent, that’s just the first step. The next step is develop and fine-tune it. Here’s an example to help illustrate how this equation works. Say you have a passion for the cello and practice your heart out for years. But no one is going to confuse you for Yo Yo Ma or even a symphony-level performer. There’s nothing wrong with this, but recognize that cello playing will never be a strength regardless of how hard you practice. The reason is that you lack the talent. But let’s say you have incredible talent, but don’t bother to put in the effort to hone it. You’re simply wasting your talent because you don’t make the investment necessary to make it a strength.

In the end, it takes the ability to recognize your talent and invest the time and effort to make it a true strength.

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Hidden Talents Part 1: Talent, Retention, And The New Realities

Before diving into the idea of hidden talent, we should take a step back and examine the current understanding of talent. Before 1997, the concept of talent was pretty much exclusive to the entertainment industry. That changed when McKinsey published their seminal study called The War for Talent. Whether or not you buy into whether there’s continues to be a war or not (particularly with our current sensitivities toward actual war), I think we can agree with the central thesis: that a post-industrial era company’s most vital asset is not bricks, widgets, or equipment; it lies in the intangible qualities of the company’s people.

Yet, if that’s true then why do so many organizations typically do a lackluster job at attracting, managing, and engaging talent? The answer lies in the persistent use of old school human resource practices and industrial age thinking about employees.

The Struggle to Attract and Keep Talent
The interesting trend is that recruitment continues to outpace retention when it comes to attention and innovation. But then, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Getting something (or someone) new has always been sexier than trying to keep them. I learned that in a past-life working in nonprofit association membership management. When I compiled my monthly member data reports, my Boards and Executive Directors always asked first about the growth statistics. “How many new members did we get? Which recruitment effort worked the best? Etc, etc, etc.”

However, for all of this attention and innovation, employee recruitment often continues to be disconnected from the issues of retention. Think of the typical sales cycle within most companies: marketing creates a branding image and sales continues to build on this image to close the deal. What happens if this carefully crafted image turns out to be more myth than reality? You have some very pissed off customers on your hands (think: JetBlue, Microsoft Vista, General Motors for some recent examples of unrealistic branding). The very same thing happens in organizations. New talented employees are lured in by slick employer branding only to find that the reality of working there is quite different. Again, pissed off employees who are feeling disenchanted and devalued.

And this feeling isn’t exclusive to newer hires. If organizational changes are made that negatively disrupt that initial branding or a more recent employment experience (think job description changes or management shake ups), then you can expect a similar type of disengagement. The fact is that if left unengaged, your people will be shopping their themselves and their talents even in not so good economic times. Michael Gregoire, President and CEO of Taleo Corporation recently wrote:

Today’s workforce is in control. Employees want to understand how they are connected to the company. They want to know how they can progress. They want to work at a place that fits their lifestyle choices. As employers, we have been placed in the unenviable position of needing to market our companies to our employees each and every day. If we neglect to engage our own employees, those who are frustrated can surf hundreds of job boards to see what other opportunities await.

A Refreshed Look at Talent
While talent is often defined as a natural aptitude or skill, I take a wider view of it. It’s not just about raw intellect or strictly defined as having an Ivy League education. I see a talent as something unique to an individual. I also see it as a gift; a gift given to each of us that we can use in service to others. Some of these talents are immediately evident, particularly those that match up with our job descriptions. But we know that job descriptions, while necessary, can be limiting unless employees are given the room to explore outside of their boundaries. Each of us have been endowed with talents that not only energize us when we use them, they are an organization’s prime source of innovation, passionate enthusiasm, and competitive remarkability. In short, these hidden talents are one of the critical elements in creating a culture of high employee engagement that leads to long-term organizational success.

This week, I’ll be exploring hidden talents, why they are important, how to surface and use them in work, and ways to embed them in organizational culture. I’m looking forward to the rich dialogue we’ll cocreate together.

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