Operationalization of the Concept of Talent Management (TM)


Summary. Talent can be framed as either something that people possess (object approach) or something that people are (subject approach). Human capital may come from the historical meaning of a ‘talent’ in Latin and Greek of measuring the weight of a significant amount of gold or silver. Talent in the form of intrinsic learning motivation only realizes when sufficient encouragement and support exists. Inclusiveness is a feature of strength-based TM and related to egalitarian investments into the potential of all employees. Also, to foster the empowerment of all, a more holistic definition of talent that is complementary to ability measures and functions as a complex interactive process between innate and developed abilities, interests and motivations should be advised.

Object and subject approach to talent

There is a lack of a general definition of talent in the world of work [1], a term that seems to describe a phenomenon understood differently by academia and management consulting [2]. Although a lot of talent management (TM) research bases on anecdotes, literature review reveals some insight into how the meaning of talent emerged over time and what the difficulties in a clear conceptualization and operationalization are [3]. Gallardo-Gallard et al. (2013) contributed significantly to the clarification of the approaches to talent by framing talent as either something that people possess (object approach) or something that people are (subject approach).

Human capital (literally)

Historically, a talent in Latin and Greek was a measure of weight for a significant amount of gold and silver. This background might explain why the earlier approach to TM assumes an object approach [3] in which talent is popularized as an innate characteristic that one possesses or not [4]. It may also explain why ‘human capital’ is used synonymously with ‘talent’ [5].

Talent as a learning capacity determined by context

Unlike the fixed influence of genes on body size [6], elite achievement is rather the result of differences in experiences, training [4], (elite) education, and networks [7]. Nowadays, economic and social innovation needs drive the demand for talents. While talent itself may still be considered a non-learnable capacity [8], excellence and mastery can be achieved quite independently from such a notion of talent given the availability of suitable learning strategies and accessible knowledge [6]. Similarly, talent in the form of intrinsic learning motivation only realizes when sufficient encouragement and support exists [6]. This is consistent with the AMO (ability-motivation-opportunity) framework that stresses the importance of opportunities [3].

Inclusive subject approach to talent

Talent seen as people rather than attributes [5] comprises the inclusive subject approach, which includes all personnel of an organization in its scope and values different employee groups as contributors to the company [9]. Inclusiveness is a feature of strength-based TM and related to egalitarian investments into the potential of all employees. Critics of the inclusive subject approach refer to the increasing overlap of TM with strategic human resource management (SHRM). TM tends to be defined as more exclusive than SHRM by targeting top talents, and it legitimates the concentration of rewards to so-called A players through their high potential [3]. However, subjective appraisals favoring certain individual performances over the interests of customers and shareholders have presented another challenge to this approach of TM [10].

A more holistic definition of talent

Talent differs according to the field of application and the combination of cognitive resources. The traditional IQ measure does not say a lot about talent, why more complex profiles blending analytical, practical, and creative talent are suggested [11]. While academia focuses on theoretical descriptors of talent, the broader society is interested in the practical function of talent [12]. A definition of talent complementary to ability measures as a complex interactive process between innate and developed abilities, interests and motivations would provide for a more holistic concept of talent that meets different needs and allows the empowerment all [13].


[1] Tansley, C. (2011). What do we mean by the term “talent” in talent management?. Industrial & Commercial Training, 43(5), 266. doi:10.1108/00197851111145853

[2] Dries, N. (2013). The psychology of talent management: A review and research agenda. Human Resource Management Review, 23272-285. doi:10.1016/j.hrmr.2013.05.001

[3] Gallardo-Gallard, E., Dries, N., & Cruz, T. (2013). What is the meaning of talent in the world of work? Human Resource Management Review, 23(4), 290-300.

[4] Irvine, S. H. (1998). Innate talents: A psychological tautology?. BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES, (3). 419.

[5] Adamsen, B. (2016). Demystifying talent management. [electronic book] : a critical approach to the realities of talent. Houndmills, Basingstoke Hampshire ;: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

[6] Ericsson, K. A., Roring, R. W., & Nandagopal, K. (2007). Giftedness and Evidence for Reproducibly Superior Performance: An Account Based on the Expert Performance Framework. High Ability Studies, 18(1), 3-56.

[7] Wai, J., & Rindermann, H. (2017). What goes into high educational and occupational achievement? Education, brains, hard work, networks, and other factors. High Ability Studies, 28(1), 127-145.

[8] The few, the proud and the brave: Finding, hiring and managing gifted employees in a time of talent wars. (2017).

[9] Stahl, G., Björkman, I., Farndale, E., Morris, S., Paauwe, J., & Stiles, P. (2012). Six principles of effective global talent management. MIT Sloan Management Review, 53(2), 25-32.

[10] Scullion, H., & Collings, D. G. (Eds.). (2011). Global talent management. Abington, UK: Routledge.

[11] Ferrando, M., Ferrándiz, C., Llor, L., & Sainz, M. (2016). Successful intelligence and giftedness: an empirical study. Anales De Psicología, 32(3), 672-682. doi:10.6018/analesps.32.3.259431

[12] Who decides what giftedness is?: On the dilemma of researching and educating the gifted mind in the light of culture, political ambition, and scientific dogma. (2013).

[13] Nijs, S., Gallardo-Gallardo, E., Dries, N., & Sels, L. (2014). A Multidisciplinary Review into the Definition, Operationalization, and Measurement of Talent. Journal Of World Business, 49(2), 180-191. doi:http://dx.doi.org.liverpool.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2013.11.002

  • Hi Mathias. Your last post must have been inspired – so un-business. This article I read carefully for understanding. Your readers may be very specialized large company specialists, based on the topics you choose. Do companies have separate “Talent Managers?” Is this part of HR? I ask because I have never seen this topic before. I like it. I thought of a few advantages of looking at talent in profiles. There are so many “talents” that get overlooked and underdeveloped due to narrow HR parameters. Have you thought of creating a holistic talent profile that might capture the various types of talent on a 1-10 scale with notes. I guess there are aptitude tests, but how are they used. Suppose a company has an acute need or problem that overloads its normal capacities. Would it be helpful to choose from employees with the right talents for a “rescue” of temporary team to quell the crisis?

    Anyway, you got my curiosity, but the writing was challenging, especially the passive voice sentences. Have you tried the MSWord review feature yet? I am using it all the time now. I have cut my passive sentences to under 10% and my average grade level to 11. Still having challenges with reading ease.

    • Hi, and thank you very much for your feedback.

      With your mentioning of the risk of overlooking and underdeveloping talent, you point to a central aspect. There is no universal definition of Talent Management Whether people believe it concerns only a select elite (measured by what abilities?) or all human potential, critically impacts the distribution of resources (i.e., investments into learning & development). For me, it is, therefore, not only an organizational but societal topic that needs a further debate to ensure equity, diversity, and inclusiveness. over the next weeks, I will post a series of additional articles around Global Talent Managment from different angles. So, I’m confident to elaborate on most of your questions, and I’m looking forward to discussing more.

      Also, appreciate your feedback regarding writing style. Indeed, I’m still posting a bit “raw material,” which I will use soon to compile into a book or so as well. I’m using Grammarly for checks such as passive sentences. I don’t forget you as an expert in that area when it comes to further work on this. Thanks a lot!

      By the way, in WordPress, your name does still not link properly to your website and making it, therefore, more difficult to find you.
      All the best!