Is Talent Taboo?

PeerCulture, December 14, 2016
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If you spend anytime on LinkedIn, you have most likely come across posts that talk about the importance of work ethic over talent. Posts like “Hire Character & Train Skill” or “10 Things That Require Zero Talent.” Why are people hyper-focused on this idea that work ethic is so much better than talent? Perhaps it is harder to measure talent. Even so, if you need heart surgery do you want the most skilled surgeon or do you want the harder-working surgeon who just pulled an all-nighter?

Okay, that might not be a fair example. The majority of jobs in the world do not involve life and death scenarios, although some CEOs would beg to differ. The idea of talent has become a much talked about topic in the past few years with several books becoming bestsellers, such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. The overlapping hypothesis in these books is the notion that expertise is developed by practicing something for at least 10,000 hours. Based on a 40-hour work week, an employee could become an expert at their job in 250 weeks or about 5 years. With the average tenure of an employee being about 4.4 years, it seems that this idea of hiring work ethic over talent might not be a great long term investment.

To give us a fresh perspective, we caught up with Hilary Bacon in Mountain View, CA. Hilary has a M.A. in Counseling and specializes in advising young people on their future personal and career goals.
Hilary, what do you think? Should companies put more focus on work ethic than talent?

A prospective employee definitely needs to possess a certain level of talent related to the position and/or field. However, talent has room to be further developed. So let’s assume that whoever is hired has at least a minimum level of talent necessary to perform the job. The question for employers is, “Is this company willing to invest in developing an employee who has talent but lacks experience, or should they hire someone who is already an expert in the field with years of experience?”
Hiring and investing in any employee, whether new to the field, just out of college or an expert in the field, is a risk. An employee might leave right after gaining enough experience to be competitive for a new job. Another employee might stay too long doing the bare minimum. Someone might be an “expert” in their field, but may be inflexible or difficult to work with. Or a person new to the field could be inexperienced, but shows promise by working hard and being willing to learn new things.

Companies need to look at their philosophy, culture, needs and current resources to determine the best fit for their team. My philosophy is that companies should have a good balance of both experts and novices with a good work ethic on their teams. Having both diversifies the pool of skills, knowledge, attitudes, perspectives, energy and creativity within the company.

I believe companies should plan to invest in developing employees’ talents as this creates the opportunity to build relationships, trust and loyalty of employees. If an employee ultimately leaves on good terms with the company, this is also an opportunity for collaboration, networking and referrals both ways in the future.