Talent, competence and the need for vision, simplicity and action

In a difficult economic context, it is even more important to focus on competence development and even more important to identify the right people to retain. But how? During the HR Day of SD Worx, Jief Van Humbeeck offered a few ideas…


First things first: What do we mean by “competence”? My own definition is “the knowledge, skills and attitude required to deliver the required business results”. Secondly: What is “talent”? A simple definition is “a human asset we have today that can be transformed into future business results”. Now, what should we be doing to develop them…?

Many companies have a dictionary of competences: A list of what the worker needs to know, be able to do and be in order to create real business value. Listening to JF, I have the idea that the first rule of any effective talent or competence system is to keep things simple. If things are simple, people will be able to work with them. Too many companies have complicated competence system management systems that look good and complete on paper, but when it’s time to put them into practice people are lost and the system doesn’t perform.


The second rule for competence or talent management is that you have to actually do something with the system! Despite all good intentions and the wonderful processes we have for recognising talent and developing business competence, many companies focus short-sightedly on assuring business results today. HR cannot afford to forget to measure and develop competences and talent for the future. When reviewing people’s performance results, it is important to think about which competences led to those results and which competences need developing in the future. When working day-to-day, we need to look for talent. We need to think more about the future.


Ok, nice intro. Simple. I agree. But why are we talking about developing competences and talent today?

According to JF, today’s work market can be seen as a “war of talent”: Organisations are changing, downsizing and restructuring; employees are looking for new ways of working, real development and opportunities to grow; we live in a VUCA world. In this talent war, the questions of who has talent, who to keep and who to grow are key to success.


In our workshop, 24 HR professionals were asked: What do you think of all this? Does this talk to you? What are you doing to retain and develop talent?

What was surprising to me was the amount of cynicism toward organised and structured talent or competence management systems. I myself shared the story of my last employer’s over-defined and carefully controlled competence management system, complete with a competence grid, online meritocratic performance evaluation system and yearly benefits/bonus adjustments. Others talked about how HR professionals spend months creating a system only to abandon it as soon as a real question comes up about how to develop someone. Someone else added that many managers are not themselves competent for managing the competences of others.

…and we are certainly not missing a choice of tools! MBTI, 9 boxes, yearly evaluations, competence frameworks, succession management, 360-degree evaluations, assessment centres…


What struck me as important during the workshop conversation was the need for a clear business vision, the need to keep things simple and the need for HR professionals to “sell the system well” internally:

  • Having all these tools, whatever they may be, isn’t worth anything if they are not clearly linked to a clear business vision. What are we trying to achieve, what do we value, what do we want and who are we? Without a good idea of our answers to these questions, there is no point thinking about the measurement and development of talent or competence.
  • As things change, people move and different elements of the NWoW like flexibility, mobility, consumerisation, etc take root, we will need to keep things simple. This will allow us to really move, change and grow rather than get lost in details and time, ultimately doing nothing and going nowhere.
  • And HR professionals will need more-and-more to show the value of the system, the need to focus on other things than only today’s performance, the vision we have of development. If they can’t do this, managers will not be interested in helping. They will not see the value and won’t get involved, HR needs to learn marketing skills and how to brand their work.


In closing the workshop, we discussed the question: What are competences of the future that are always required? Even when tomorrow looks different to today, what knowledge, skills, attitude and behaviour will always come back? My own answer was the competence of open-mindedness, which I argue is not only an attitude, but the foundation competence for many many others, including some on this list. (More on this when my book on the topic is published…) But, hey, who am I? Here’s what the other participants had to say about core competences that will always be in demand:


Whatever is on your list, be clear on this: We cannot afford to put aside the identification of talent and competence development for a quick buck and focus only on short-term results. Certainly not in today’s economic climate and not in tomorrow’s either. Have a vision, keep it simple and make it happen.


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Published by Dan Steer

Wandering corporate trainer, learning and development consultant, conference speaker and professional El-Magico. I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating Infinite Learning © opportunities. The world would be a better place if everyone was doing what he loved and doing it well. I am working to bring out the "El Magico" in everybody. Training in presentation and communication skills, leadership, social media for learning and marketing, learning and development management + personal effectiveness.

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