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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Looking Back & Moving Forward: The History of Talent

The History of Talent 

Talent for human resources and organizational leaders refers to human capital.  It’s the people that make the business and drive the organization through what we call talent.  Talent can be stolen.  It is coveted and much debate is how, why, and in which way talent can be measured. 

Measuring & Defining Talent

The word "talent” is derived from the Greek word “talanton,” which means "balance, sum, weight," was an unit of weight, in gold and silver, which was used as a form of legal tender for purchase or trade during that era. Talent' entered into the Hebrew language and translated meant the word Kikar' (loaf or cake) suggests that the shape of the talent was circular like the bread of those times.  In the modern day area the process of hiring, recruiting, and retaining talent remains circular.  It is ongoing, never-ending, and has increasingly become a focus for human resource professionals who specialize in human capital as well as senior business executives who understand how valuable talent is to the success of their organization.  A 2012 study conducted by IBM titled, “Leading with Connections” found that 75% CEO’s identifying and cultivating talent as critical to the success of their organization. 

Interestingly enough that same study identified four critical traits were key for successful employees: collaborative, communicative, creative, and flexible.  These talent qualities are considered soft and thus, hard to be measured. It’s ironic given that talent was originally considered a unit of measure. 

Understanding the War for Talent

The concept of talent for human capital often referred to as talent management occurred in the 1997 with the book, The War for Talent. It first discussed the battle of recruiting, hiring, and retention when it comes to employees.  McKinsey and Company, the organization who authored the aforementioned book has continued their focus on talent in a white paper published in 2001 summing up the continued importance of talent as a unit of measurement but in a different way than the Greek’s had intended.

“In today’s competitive knowledge-based world, the caliber of a company’s
talent increasingly determines success in the marketplace. At the same time, attracting and retaining great talent is becoming more difficult, as demand for highly skilled people outstrips supply.”

So maybe the Greeks weren’t wrong after all.  Talent is a unit of measure driving the success of an organization where profit margins and quarterly earnings indicate how valuable talent truly is to an organization who embraces a company’s most intangible asset.  And while the history of talent is rooted in HR Metrics and measurement, how you measure talent is up to you. 

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR is a workplace and technology strategist specializing in social media.  She’s an author who writes at Blogging4Jobs. You can follow her on Twitter  @blogging4jobs 


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