Talent versus Performance and More

Sections of this topic
    Talent and performance can be enhanced by luck, attitude and determination.

    Truly commentary. In a recent comment, I promised that my next blog would focus on talent and performance. Some see talent as something you have or you don’t. I don’t see it quite so black and white. I believe someone can have inherent talent (or a natural ability) and others have to work hard at “feeling” it. For some it comes easy–for others not without dedication and much education and training. Which “talent” is better to have? Not so fast. Either can be great. It depends on luck, attitude and determination. The same would go for consistent performance.

    Both topics (talent and performance) seem natural for someone like me with experience in worlds that may seem totally different and yet when I’m through re-visiting these definitions, I think you’ll agree talent and performance used as they are used this mysterious other world can offer insight in the business world. While I have a masters in performance criticism that was intended for live theatrical performance, I examine organizational performance in much the same way. Believe it or not, those worlds aren’t that far apart.

    When we say someone in the theatre is talented we mean they present us with evidence immediately that they should be able to do a professional job for us, whether it is through a resume, a past or recent experience (a performance) we have seen. No matter if the talent is acting, directing, dancing, singing, etc. As the late, great actor, Robert Shaw might say as he did in The Sting, “Ya follow me?”

    So it goes. Talent is immediately demonstrable in some way. And that goes for business as well. “Right, boyo.” In theatre, one performance is done, that one is over. If your error was horrific enough to cast bad light on the rest of the show, you could be be fired and an understudy or new actor steps in. Sound familiar in business? It happens all the time. In both worlds.

    In business or other organizations what may bother the “cast” is unknown, unnoticed or unimportant to onlookers. Unfortunately, some employers will take that opportunity to make sure that the employee who errs stays put (with a scowl and fear of losing his or her job) or ensures that one mistake or misstep affects this employee’s potential for future promotion in favor of someone who has not had a “bad day.”

    I think a bad day is worth learning from, don’t you? If anything, standing behind your employee at a time like this without malice will have a positive effect. Or you have the two scenarios mentioned above.

    While talent is immediate and meant as a badge of credibility, performance is another matter entirely. One can have the talent and have a bad day, and leaders could wonder about the talent human resources saw at first, but usually both good bosses and HR will attribute it to a bad day. At least I hope they do. No one is perfect or consistent all the time. In theatre, no one show is exactly as the last especially to the cast. The audience rarely notices.

    If anything, standing behind your employee on his or her “bad” day will most likely have a positive effect.

    There is another instance: he or she may not have displayed a certain talent before but suddenly found the inspiration and unique situation that brought it to the surface (now) during the performance of regular duties. The employee is not displaying the talent he or she was hired for, but more than he or she was hired for, too. This complicates things, too, for employers with a less than positive leadership style. The employer can ignore, make sure it doesn’t happen again. Obviously this employer wants to keep this person at this level. The excuse is that “this person is needed at this level; after all, someone has to do the work.” What it really means is that the employer doesn’t want to do the work to promote, reassign and re-hire.

    In the government ranks, I found this practice deplorable and a detriment to morale. It certainly had nothing to do with leading by example, but everything to do with power and the worse kind of character traits I can imagine. I was once ordered not to give my assistant work that would allow her the ability to show on her resume she was doing more than she was hired to do because we might have to promote her then. As a supervisor myself at another time, I was notorious for promoting people out of my office often to my own disadvantage, but those people deserved it. Even though I had fewer people to do my job, my employees were loyal and hard-working without asking.

    Now, what does this mean to trainers? We add still another element to the party. Knowledge, and sometimes skills, if what we are training is skill-based. What category do we put it in? Talent or performance? Hopefully, the added knowledge will help both. With added skills, we are mostly likely to see improvement in performance.

    A lot can be said as to the benefits of good company morale and loyalty; the lack of high morale and loyalty can make a potentially great company a mediocre one.

    So it goes. Talent is essentially immediate demonstrable talent, performance is one positive such demonstration, and extra knowledge plus training skills enhances both when applied appropriately. However, behind all of this the employer and employee relationship affects it all. In fact, that relationship can destroy, not only good employees, but poison others’ morale and loyalty. A lot can be said for company morale and loyalty; I doubt I’m the first to say the lack of high morale and loyalty can make a potentially great company a mediocre one.

    My basic philosophy: growth in all areas of our life is important. We all don’t need promotions when we demonstrate new talents. In life, all we need is affirmation. On the job, sometimes it’s the same. Just remember it is a part of our lives and so positive reinforcement and encouragement when we have a bad day makes work harder than fearing for our jobs. Let’s not forget (and I say this with head bowed) those employees who have gone “postal” so much so it is a part of our vernacular. Perhaps we don’t have all the talent needed for a promotion, or maybe we would rather be a specialist. Maybe recognition and encouragement here and now is enough.

    My point here is simply pay attention and actively encourage supervisors to observe and reward positive behavior while ignoring the occasional misstep. I have never found that observation to be solely the job of human resources (it literally can’t be in most cases), but also of company and organizational leaders in general. By encouraging the creative growth of your employees, you encourage the creative growth of your company. You inspire free thinking and enthusiastic support. All of these factors singly and together affect the talents and abilities the individual believes he or she has and performance he or she is capable.

    As a trainer, by making your presentation, however canned a part of it may be, by keeping it personal to the trainees, by understanding their needs, you aid in their performance. Isn’t that what we’re there for?

    Remember Maslov’s Heirarchy of Needs!

    Something to think about.

    For more resources about training, see the Training library.

    A final reminder: I do have a website where you can find other items I have written, including coupons for my best selling, The Cave Man Guide To Training and Development and my novel about the near future, Harry’s Reality! Happy Training.

    Happy training.