What is Talent Management?

Organisations are operating in an ever-changing dynamic commercial environment. New technologies are almost constantly redefining the boundaries of how businesses operate and the ever-increasing regulatory and competitive pressures provide a constant challenge.

The term talent management has now become a fixture within leading organisations as they strive to compete for talent in what is now regarded as a knowledge-based dynamic business environment. The “War for Talent” studies undertaken by McKinsey demonstrated that organisations realise that talent is critical for their strategic success. Michaels, Handfield-Jones & Welsh (2001), in a survey of 7,000 managers found that 90% believed that recruiting and selecting the right people were increasingly difficult challenges affecting their business.

Silzer & Dowell (2010) defined “talent management is an integrated set of processes, programmes, and cultural norms in an organization designed and implemented to identify, attract, develop, deploy, and retain talent to achieve strategic objectives and meet future business needs”.

It was defined by Collings & Mellahi (2009) as:

activities and processes that involve the systematic identification of key positions which differentially contribute to the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage, the development of a talent pool of high potentials and high-performing incumbents to fill these roles, and the development of a differentiated human resource architecture to facilitate filling these positions with competent incumbents and to ensure their continued commitment to the organization.

The key characteristics within these definitions refer to the processes that identify, attract, develop, deploy, and retain talent. Corporate entities who recognize these key components can create a competitive advantage by developing a talent pool comprising individuals with the potential to lead business into the future.

The recruitment and retention of talent is imperative for any business. It can be impacted on by forces outside of the control of the business such as the general economy and the job market. A robust recruitment system is therefore a prerequisite to secure the right talent and the creation of a talent pool to ensure the continued growth and development both of the employees and the business. One of the main challenges they face is to recruit individuals with the requisite talents to manage the business in the medium to long term.

Talent management not only refers to the business of identifying inward bound talent to an organisation but also identifying the talent existing within the organisation that has already demonstrated that they possess the potential for key roles and leadership responsibilities that are strategic to the future of the organisation.

In relation to talent management, an organisation goal might be to create a structure so that the highest possible potential of individuals and organisations can be achieved. Contemporary research in psychology has developed new concepts such as positive organisational behaviour defined by Luthans (2002) as “the application of positively orientated human resources strengths and psychological capacities that can be measured developed and managed for performance improvement in today’s workplace”.

In order to understand the drivers of positive behaviour in the workplace positive psychology has also seen the development of positive organisational scholarship which according to Cameron & Dutton (2003) is “concerned primarily with the study of especially positive outcomes, processes and attributes of organisations and their members”.  According to Buckingham & Vosburgh (2001) talent management is the “art of recognising where each employee’s area of natural talents lie”. They propose a strengths based approach to talent management so as to enable individuals to turn talents into enhancing performance rather than take a deficit approach of trying to build on weaknesses of individuals.

What is Talent?

Having defined talent management and how it fits within an organisational perspective before moving forward we need to define what is talent. According to Buckingham & Clifton (2001) “talent is a naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied”. From general observation individuals with specific talents can seem to naturally and almost effortlessly complete a task in either a work or play.

The development of the individual is a corner stone of talent management. It is often assumed that high achievers set high goals and low achievers set low goals, however research has shown that high achievers understand their capabilities and limits and set attainable goals above current levels of performance according to Latham (2000). They usually know what they are good at, they know their specific talents and use their strengths to enhance their talents.

Enhancement of Talent Management by using Positive Psychology/Strengths

In referring to strengths Drucker (1967,) said “one cannot build on weakness. To achieve results, one has to use all the available strengths .These strengths are the true opportunities”. Contemporary psychology has seen psychologists developing a number of strengths classifications which highlight individual strengths. The Values in Action Classification of Strengths and Virtues, created by Peterson & Seligman (2004) comprising 24 character strengths. According to Seligman “well-being is the focal topic of positive psychology and the deployment of your highest strengths leads to more positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment, collectively referred to as PERMA”.

Clifton & Andersen & Schreiner (2004), within the Gallup Corporation identified 34 strengths known as Strengths-Finder. They claimed the basis of a strength is talent, strengths therefore can be seen as a refinement and development of talent.

The Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) described strengths as “our pre-existing patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour that are authentic, energising and which lead to our best performance”. Linley & Stoker (2009) in the Realise 2 Technical Manual and came up with sixty strengths. Realise 2 went further than the other two measurements and endeavoured to increase our interpretation of strengths by dividing strengths into four key areas comprising realised strengths, unrealised strengths, learned behaviour and weaknesses. According to CAPP when individuals use realised strengths they are energised and perform at their best. However unrealised strengths are not used on a regular basis but when used again energise the individual. Learned behaviour is what the individual over time has learned to do well and finally weaknesses comprise those tasks that de-energise the individual and are subject to poor performance.

The application of these tests to individuals in developing talent management can allow for the identification of particular individual or signature strengths that can be used to build on and enhance personal development both in a professional and personal capacity.

To apply strengths to talent management development then management need to recognise that individuals have natural abilities or talents and learned skills. Individuals must be given the opportunity to allow them to become aware and recognise that they possess strengths such as competitiveness, persistence or innovativeness which be used to enhance their particular talents. This environment can be created within the talent pool where members can learn and interact with each other in what may be a competitive environment.

Alex Linley in his book Average to A+ also emphasises the building on strengths rather than focusing on trying to improve weaknesses in individuals. Linley’s research indicates that focus on strengths leads to higher levels of performance.

According to Park, Peterson & Seligman (2005). “Playing to our strengths enhances wellbeing because we are doing what we naturally do best”. The psychological literature and research around the strengths area offers significant potential to develop individual talent and the talent management base within organisations.

Here within Summit Coaching we work with our clients to enable them to identify individual talents and build on strengths to enhance performance and maximise individual potential.

Contact us today for more information.


Buckingham, M., & Vosburgh, R. M. (2001). The 21st century human resources function: It’s the talent, stupid! Human Resource Planning24(4), 17-23

Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D. O. (2001). Now, discover your strengths. Simon and Schuster.

Cameron, K., & Dutton, J. (Eds.). (2003). Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Clifton, D. O., Anderson, E., & Schreiner, L. A. (2004). Strengths Quest: Discover and develop your strengths in academics, career, and beyond. Gallup Organization.

Collings, D. G., & Mellahi, K. (2009). Strategic talent management: A review and research agenda. Human Resource Management Review, 19(4), 304–31

Drucker, P.F. (1967). The effective executive. London: Heinemann.

Latham, G. (2000).Motivating employee performance through goal setting. In E.A. Locke (Ed.), Handbook of principles of organisational behaviour (pp. 107-19) San Francisco, CA: Blackwell

Linley, P.A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.

Linley, A., & Stoker, H. (2012). Technical manual and statistical properties for Realise2. Coventry: Centre of Applied Positive Psychology.

Luthans, F. (2002). Positive organizational behaviour: Developing and managing psychological strengths. The Academy of Management Executive16(1), 57-72.

Michaels, E., Handfield-Jones, H., & Axelrod, B. (2001). The war for talent. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Park, N., Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.

Silzer, R., & Dowell, B. E. (2010). Strategy driven talent management: A leadership Imperative (pp. 3–72). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass