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Moving to a more fluid definition of talent

(This post was originally featured in a 2015 White Paper jointly produced by HR Zone and Cornerstone On Demand titled ‘Talent 2020 – What is the Future Talent Landscape’. You can download it here and read further contributions from Rob Briner, Mervyn Dinnen and Dr Tom Calvard)

Moving to a more fluid definition of talent

As someone who relies on improvisation in my work, and someone who practices meditation, I enjoy going with the flow, and trying to be in the moment. The idea of trying to see five years into the future for any reason, let alone what that might mean for talent at work, is a challenge for me. Nevertheless, here are a few thoughts about what talent could mean for an enlightened organisation in five years’ time, and some things that need to shift in order to make talent the dynamic, wider opportunity it should be.

Talent bubble

I find the notion of talent as some exclusive club into which only a few can pass, quite abhorrent. When I worked for BT I declined a request to join the talent community, because it felt like a secretive, invitation only club, into which you were quietly drawn, rather than something everyone knew about and could take advantage of when needed.

Everyone has something to offer, and I prefer to think of talent as an all-encompassing notion which we use to encourage everyone to bring their best, and be the best they can. It’s a fluid concept, my talents may be particularly useful for a given time, and for a given set of requirements. I’d like to see the idea of talent as something highly permeable through which anyone can move through, to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

A shift – from employee to freelancer

According to a 2014 report published by the ONS, self-employment in the UK is at its highest level since records began. There are 4.6 million people working for themselves, with the proportion of the total workforce self-employed at 15% compared with 13% in 2008, and as few as 8.7% in 1975.

This shift looks set to increase, with some predicting the number of people in a freelance role could be as high as 50% by 2020. I think what this means is that the bubble in which talent currently operates will burst. The idea of a ring fenced, private club for talent within an organisation will no longer be practical as organisations increasingly look outward to freelance workers to help them deliver. How willing will these organisations be to invest in talent that they don’t ‘own’?

I invest frequently in my own ‘talent development’. In the past 12 months I’ve spent time and money with The Improvisation Academy developing my improvisational skills. I’m investing time and money through the CIPD to learn more about Organisational Design and I’m investing in improving my artistic skills.

Currently I fund these activities directly from my freelance income, and I’m wondering if maybe, my freelance arrangements should be tweaked so that clients who invest in my talents can see that part of their fees is a direct investment in me, and therefore the service I give them?

The same ONS report which confirms the current levels of 15% self-employment in the UK also reveals that income from self-employment has fallen by 22% since 2008/09. There could be all sorts of reasons for this – and maybe, just maybe, if the buyer could see that the freelancer was committing to his or her ongoing development, this fall could start to become a rise.

A shift – from being trained to learning to learn

Within organisations I’m observing a move towards a more self-determined approach to learning and development, albeit currently at quite a slow rate. Technology is a clear enabler for this, and by 2020, I think this will offer a challenge to people in traditional organisational talent communities, for whom membership often means access to an enhanced training programme.

For some – the idea of co-creating and co-owning this facet of talent development will be very exciting, yet there’s a degree of arrogance that comes with admission to the club, and an expectation that learning and development will be done for you. People with that mentality may see this shift as a cheapening of the talent experience, and I’d argue they are not the kind of people you will be looking for in future.

A move to more self-determined learning should make talent communities more open, and make it easier to connect with relevant talent at relevant times, personally and professionally, organisationally and individually.

Clarity in the hiring process

There is already a need for greater clarity in the hiring process, specifically around making sure the role description is tangible, and matches the needs of the employer – regardless of whether this is for a permanent hire or not. I think recruitment agencies need to work much more closely and robustly with their customers – not only in making job descriptions fit the role better, but being generally more responsive and accountable too. A failure to achieve this will mean that talent increasingly bypasses the recruitment industry and goes direct.

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