Talented from Birth

Last week’s column, A Star Isn’t Born, produced a slew of emails about talent. Most of the respondents accepted that stars (high “performers”) aren’t born but they were adamant that people are born with talent, or not. Several wrote that if talents are properly developed, the person has a very high potential of becoming a star.

The implication it seems is that we should be sure to develop the talented so as not to deprive ourselves of stars. This reminds me of the “high po” programs popular at some organizations. These generally small groups are given extraordinary opportunities and support in the expectation that they will quickly become super stars. Our own research indicates that such is rarely the case and that most hi po programs deliver a poor ROI and often alienate other staff.

We also know that often there isn’t a direct link between talent and performance and that the Pygmalion effect is very real and very powerful. If you ask any coach about the most talented athletes they have ever known and you’re likely to hear heart wrenching stories. The Pygmalion effect has proven time and time again that if a respected authority tells someone they are good at one thing and bad at another such will be their performance, even if testing, experience and talents document otherwise. It’s an incredibly effective performance driver, and morale builder, if used properly.

I’m all for giving our children the opportunity to discover and develop their talents. But at work I suggest we ignore talent and focus on performance. The best indication of future performance is past performance, not talent. Let’s work together, coaching and helping each other, to take on the mission and objectives at hand and use metrics to measure our performance. There’s no reason everyone can’t be a star.