What does the War for Talent actually mean?

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What does the War for Talent actually mean?

The war for talent. I thought it was recruitment hype. A fashion term. What further research soon showed is that this “war” has been going on for at least 20 years. Everyone wants the icing on the cake. Bringing in the greatest talent in order to achieve to stay ahead of competition. The tight labour market has only fuelled this struggle in recent years.

Online I see many answers to the question of how do I recruit top talent. The question why you should recruit at all or what talent actually is, is a lot less prominent present. Presumably because we think we know the answer to these questions. Although, it turns out to be not that simple, let alone unequivocal. Although I agree that we can keep improving the implementation, it doesn’t hurt to change our strategy after 20 years of doing the same thing.

What is Talent?

What exactly am I looking for in this tight labour market? If this question is not answered correctly, we go back to what we know. To what we know to be quantifiable. For junior roles, these are, for example, school performance, for medior and senior roles, this is recent work experience (preferably supplemented with delivered results). Very handy, because you can often use those performances as evidence of capability for the work for which you are looking for someone,  and can therefore be fairly certain of an immediate positive result.

Conclusion: A lot of confident faces in the HR department, but no certainty of the right talent in your organization. When push comes to shove, all good intentions have led to competency-based sourcing. An excellent short-term solution, but no guarantee that you will win gold for the long term.


If you really think about it, it’s pretty crooked, isn’t it? Your organization’s future make it sustainable by looking at past performance. As we know, this offers no guarantee.

Anyone with a steady hand can follow the lines and paint a Mondrian. Only Mondrian could set the lines.

Talent equals success?

In an environment where success is a predefined concept (such as an education institution) talent is not a requirement. As long as you work hard and follow the set frameworks, a good result is within reach. Talent can already facilitate this process, but in many cases this talent turns out to be in the way. Talent finds new, creative ones ways to deal with problems. These new concepts are often not directly accepted by the environment and can lead to misunderstanding and resistance. These factors, plus lack of challenge, are demotivating for talent and can lead to underperformance.

Talent is an innate gift. Everyone has one to a greater or lesser extent number of talents. Talent often goes hand in hand with interests which develop from a young age and are expressed creatively. To fully utilize one’s own potential every individual must be given the space to discover and develop his talents. If this is possible within the frameworks of our systems (and our definition of success) is that really nice and everyone will applaud you. If it doesn’t fit it will be quickly become problematic, resulting in a lot of untapped potential for the organisation/society and – just as annoying – a person who does not have the possibility of self-actualization. One of the core things of a happy and fulfilled life and therefore something to which everyone is entitled.

What does talent need to develop?

An important distinction between persons make their unique contribution based on their talents and individuals who don’t is, where they get their energy get from. 

From inspiration or motivation. Inspiration can be found within. Inspiration is pure necessity and is always accompanied by curiosity. A strong and sometimes almost uncontrollable energy that wants to express itself in your talent. It doesn’t matter if this is an artist, teacher or programmer. When inspiration is the strength that drives you, you are filled with creativity, you do not know what giving up is and are always able to find a solution to every problem. This energy can be found in everyone, expresses itself in different ways and is very contagious. Just ask yourself. When have you been inspired or have you worked with an inspired person? What does that do to you and your environment?

Motivation, on the other hand, is based on external factors. For example, think about it getting a promotion, pat on the back, raise or benefit on the competition. These are positive motivators. Negative motivators are for example the fear of losing your job or a client, or because you just don’t want experience the nagging of your colleagues or manager. Motivation is still there and can generate just as much energy. Combined with inspiration, positive motivation lead to exceptional performance. Because motivation is based on external factors, the energy that can be drawn from this is – in contrast to inspiration – finite. If motivation is the only driving force, one should always be looking stay for reasons to get out of bed. An activity that in itself already costs a lot energy.

Motivating (external) factors, both positive and negative, are always based on scarcity. Positive motivating: “I need more (status, recognition, money, time, freedom) amass”, Negative motivating: “I am not allowed (status, recognition, money, time, freedom) fall short”. The constant pursuit of these factors is an anxious and energetic inefficient existence. When this imbalance becomes too great, or lasts too long, stress and burnout become serious factors to take into account.

Inspiration, on the other hand, is based on abundance and trust. Who based on his talents and curiosity can contribute exudes energy and positivity. Even if an intended goal is not achieved, this is because the achievement of the target only yields part of the energy. A more important source of energy is the development of talent, something that always happens regardless of the result.

Talent = Inspiration + Motivation

In summary, we can say that talent is characterized by a number of things. Talent is an innate gift that manifests itself from an early age in the interest of a person. Talent is natural, diverse and offers creativity. When a person can use his talents, he gets inspired and bursts with energy and positivity, which has an infectious effect on the environment. Inspiration is an infinite energy source, one that is independent of results achieved and ensures above average performance.

Now that we know what talent is, and how it manifests itself, we also understand that talent (or inspiration) cannot simply be recognized in a grade list or CV. In some cases people themselves don’t even know where their talents lie. This may sound weird, but anyone who in his life has never been challenged to develop it or inhibited in the development of this will not be so easy to achieve here. Yet it is possible, even for those who find it difficult to find their inspiration, can touch this source of energy and transfer it into a good conversation. This itself can be a good first introduction to a job application. This however means that we should be focused on the person and forget about the vacancy at that moment. When we keep a vacancy in mind, we automatically try to fit that person into a particular picture.

As soon as we omit the vacancies and are completely free to achieve the ambitions together and talents of the person, you will notice that the person flourishes towards you and starts communicating from their natural motives. Not only will you have a much more positive conversation, but you also really get to know someone (and his talents). An outcome more valuable than if you were seated across a puppet who has been working extremely hard to comply to some random requirements. How can you ever know for sure what kind of talent you have in house?

Would you like to spar with me about your talents or discovering them? Contact me.

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