“Talent”, a term adored by HR and rejected by executives

« Les entreprises doivent donner une définition claire du terme ‘talent', voire aller jusqu'à le décliner en termes de compétences », estime Jean Pralong, professeur en gestion des ressources humaines à l'EM Normandie.

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Published on Nov 13, 2023 at 6:02 p.m.Updated Nov. 13, 2023 at 6:07 p.m.

It’s an increasingly strong dichotomy in the business world. On the one hand, ” HR teams and managers adopt a more inclusive vision, considering talent as potential to be cultivated internally “. On the other hand, 56% of the executives questioned see this famous talent “ as a rare and non-scalable resource », predicted more by the diploma than by performance on the job. To put it simply: they can't be found there.

These elements come from a study published on November 13 by researcher Jean Pralong, professor of human resources management at EM Normandie. As part of this study, called “Achilles Talent, why executives do not believe in their talent”, 499 executives and managers were interviewed to give their vision on the subject.

A concept invented by the McKinsey firm

To understand this paradox, let's go back. What does this term talent mean? “ It was created thirty years ago by the McKinsey firm, it is an HR approach that has lastingly fueled minds. Originally, it designates a rare, exceptional person, a strategic advantage for the company », Indicates Jean Pralong. According to McKinsey, employees should be divided into three groups: “ the best “, ” those who give satisfaction ” And ” the least good », Explains the study. In this logic, only the first, the famous talents, “ justify an investment ” specific.

However, and this is good news for the majority of employees, this selection process has been reversed. Work has shown that if it can be individual, “ performance is above all collective and organizational “. Especially since internal competition can be harmful. So, since then, “ HR has acquired the idea that it is necessary to open up to a greater number of profiles and work with all employees », underlines Jean Pralong. A progressive approach of “ talent management », far from the original and restrictive definitions of the term.

Difficult to relate to the term “talent”

Problem: English executives have well integrated the original idea of ​​“talent”. “ Particularly young people starting their careers!Here we return to the well-known subject of English elitism, with the importance of the Grande École. Those who graduate from Polytechnique or HEC have no qualms about calling themselves ‘talented'. But the others, the vast majority, do not think they are concerned and do not take advantage of the opportunities and measures intended for them. », underlines the researcher. And thus miss these.

It must be said that it is not easy to navigate, as the study notes: “ The same company can widely recruit ‘talents' to occupy the most humble positions, while developing selective ‘talent management' to prepare its future leaders. “. Difficult, obviously, to position yourself as an employee or candidate. Even more for those who have experienced uneven paths, marked by frequent external mobility and average incomes “. These are the most likely to exclude themselves from the term “talent”.

Skills rather than talents

To get out of this impasse, Jean Pralong suggests “ get out of ambiguity » : « Companies must give a clear definition of the term ‘talent', or even go so far as to break it down in terms of skills. Perhaps we should rather talk about skills, rather than talents. Because by wanting to be inclusive, by trying not to offend anyone in this community of talented young people, ultimately, we implicitly create hierarchies “. Where companies think they are promoting candidates by describing them with this word, the message does not get through. “ On the contrary, it tends to be worrying! »

So should we stop talking about talent? The researcher finds in any case that this term is so overused that it is in fact no longer very useful… “ FWith this catch-all marketing word, no one is fooled anymore. We should rather talk about skills. One day, candidates will speak up to say that they do not claim to be ‘talented', but simply competent! »


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