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Can we delete talent from the HR lexicon?

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Through the language of talent, HR is reinforcing imposter syndrome, and a growth mindset is needed instead.

In his book The Talent Code, journalist Daniel Coyle argues that greatness isn’t born, it’s grown.

Through hard hitting examples of extreme ability, Coyle reveals that far from being an abstract mystical power fixed at birth, ability is the product of a neurological mechanism in which certain patterns of targeted practice build skill.


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Valerie Young’s powerful research on imposter syndrome found that feelings of being an imposter largely result from unrealistic, internalised rules about what constitutes competence.

One of these is the idea of the ‘natural genius’ – that our success should be effortless. We wonder why we have to work so hard or struggle to master a subject or skill. If we can’t bang out a masterpiece on the first try, we feel failure and shame. 

Studies have found that 70-84% of people experience impostor syndrome.

If imposter syndrome is not managed it can have negative consequences for both individuals and organisations.

This includes burnout, procrastination, and unnecessary psychological stress. 

Through the language of talent, we are reinforcing the falsehood of the natural genius and airbrushing the effort and sustained practice that lies behind anyone who is any good at doing anything. 

Carol Dweck has written extensively on motivation and growth mindset. The concept of growth mindset reminds us that performance is not fixed but something that can be refined and improved through effort and embracing challenge.

In short, the extent to which we believe it’s possible to change and improve largely determines our ability to do so. 

Talent is the opposite of growth mindset. Surely, we want people in our organisations to embrace a growth mindset and to understand that getting good is the product of effort, learning, practice, and reflection.

After all, are any of us really born with a natural talent for project management, strategic advising or ‘insert job title’ here?

So, can we please delete the word talent from the HR lexicon?

Talent management can be termed career support or career planning. Talent development can be people development. Talent programmes can be career development programmes. Language matters so let’s do better. 

Isobelle Grace Keith is learning, development and talent partner at the Food Standards Agency

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