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A multidisciplinary review into the definition,


operationalization, and measurement of talent

ARTICLE in JOURNAL OF WORLD BUSINESS JANUARY 2013


Impact Factor: 2.62 DOI: 10.1016/j.jwb.2013.11.002

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Sanne Nijs Nicky Dries


University of Leuven University of Leuven
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Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Journal of World Business


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jwb

A multidisciplinary review into the denition, operationalization, and


measurement of talent
Sanne Nijs a,*, Eva Gallardo-Gallardo b,1, Nicky Dries a,2, Luc Sels a,3
a
Research Centre for Organization Studies, Faculty of Economics and Business, KU Leuven, Naamsestraat 69, 3000 Leuven, Belgium
b
Department of Economics and Business Organization, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 690, 08034 Barcelona, Spain

A R T I C L E I N F O A B S T R A C T

Keywords: Organizations report great difculty in measuring talent accurately, reecting the lack of theoretical
Talent denition foundations for talent-identication in the HRM literature. This multidisciplinary review aims to
Talent operationalization contribute to the establishment of a stronger theoretical basis for talent-management by presenting a
Talent measurement conceptual framework of talent in which the denition, operationalization and measurement of talent
Multidisciplinary review
and its relation to excellent performance is claried. We systematically introduce 11 propositions into
Theoretical propositions
the framework, building on fragmented insights from the literaturefrom the elds of HRM, gifted
education, positive psychology, and vocational psychology respectivelythat will guide readers in
understanding and applying the proposed framework.
2013 Published by Elsevier Inc.

Over the course of the last decade, organizations seem to have talent-management by integrating insights fragmented across
become increasingly convinced that the deliberate identication of different disciplines. With the help of our search strategy, three
talent is crucial for maximizing organizational performance literature streams were identied in addition to the HRM
(Collings & Mellahi, 2009; Lewis & Heckman, 2006). Interestingly, literature as being of particular relevance for this purpose: the
however, human resource management (HRM) practitioners giftedness literature; the vocational psychology literature, and
report great difculty dening what talent is, let alone measuring the positive psychology literature.
it accurately for identication purposes (Tansley, 2011). Theoreti- Starting from the HRM perspective on talent, we systematically
cal foundations for talent-management based on a clear oper- incorporate insights from the divergent literature streams, which
ationalization of talent appear largely absent in the academic counteract some of the limitations inherent to the HRM literature
literature (Silzer & Church, 2009a). Given that robust theory and therefore can help establish better conceptual foundations for
building and accurate interpretation of empirical data cannot take talent-management. The relationship between talent and excellent
place before formal denitions are established, we claim that performance functions as a general framework within which issues
operationalizing and measuring talent is one of the major of predictive and construct validity are addressed, across 11
challenges the talent-management eld currently has ahead of research propositions. With the future research directions, we shed
it (Wacker, 2004). light on how talent-management scholars might further capitalize
Although HRM scholars appear to be convinced that very few on the cross-fertilization between insights from different dis-
theoretical frameworks for talent-management are currently ciplines so as to gradually establish the theoretical foundations
available, our systematic review shows that in fact a whole needed to transform talent-management into a legitimate eld of
body of literature exists outside of the HRM domain with the academic study. By discussing managerial implications in the
potential of offering interesting insights into the operationaliza- concluding part, we provide practical guidelines for designing
tion and measurement of talent. The present paper aims to talent-identication practices grounded in sound theory.
contribute to the establishment of a stronger theoretical basis for
1. Search strategy

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +32 016 32 68 18. To achieve a comprehensive multidisciplinary review of the
E-mail addresses: Sanne.Nijs@kuleuven.be (S. Nijs), eva.gallardo@ub.edu literature on talentwhich could account for the evolutions within
(E. Gallardo-Gallardo), Nicky.Dries@kuleuven.be (N. Dries), Luc.Sels@kuleuven.be the eldwe used 1993 as the starting point of our literature
(L. Sels).
1
Tel.: +34 93 402 90 40.
search, thus covering insights developed over the last twenty
2
Tel.: +32 016 37 37 19. years. We took four different steps to establish the nal body of
3
Tel.: +32 016 32 66 09. peer-reviewed, academic articles considered in this review.

1090-9516/$ see front matter 2013 Published by Elsevier Inc.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2013.11.002

Please cite this article in press as: Nijs, S., et al. A multidisciplinary review into the denition, operationalization, and measurement of
talent. Journal of World Business (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2013.11.002
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1.1. Step 1: clarifying the talent construct 2. Talent through an HRM Lens

In order to nd those articles that would be most informative From the late nineties onwards, the HRM literature has
for achieving conceptual clarity about talent, we rst developed a extensively discussed the topic of talent-management motivated
general working denition of talent based on the meaning mainly by the war for talent, a term introduced by a group of
contemporary English dictionaries ascribe to the term (Gallardo- McKinsey consultants (Michaels, Handeld-Jones, & Axelrod,
Gallardo, Dries, & Gonzalez-Cruz, 2013). In the English language, 2001). The HRM literature, within which the talent-management
talent is commonly understood as corresponding to an above- literature is situated, is mainly concerned with strategic invest-
average ability that makes the individuals who possess, detect, ments in terms of talent-identication, selection, development,
develop, and deploy it, perform excellently in a given performance planning and retention. These are subsumed under the umbrella
domain (Gagne, 2004; Tansley, 2011). term talent-management. Talent is typically operationalized as
human capital, a term used to denote the stock of competencies,
1.2. Step 2: selecting search terms knowledge, social and personality attributes which is embodied in
the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value
We started our search by tracking articles that had talent in (Farndale, Scullion, & Sparrow, 2010). According to the HR
their titles. As we were interested in talent and talent-identica- architecture model developed by Lepak and Snell (1999), human
tion in the context of the business world, specically, we selected capital can be assessed in terms of value and uniqueness. Value
Business Source Premier as the database of departure. The use of refers to the potential to contribute to an organizations core
talent as a search term resulted in a large number of hits across a competencies and advance its competitive position. Uniqueness
wide range of journals. A preliminary analysis of these articles refers to the extent to which human capital is difcult to replace
showed that talent was sometimes associated with gifts and due to unique job or organization requirements and labor market
strengths. Because both strengths and gifts refer to attributes that scarcities. Employees who possess human capital that is rated high
predict excellent performance, like talentwhile these concepts, in both on value and on uniqueness are identied as the talent of an
contrast to talent have received ample conceptual attention in the organization (Lepak & Snell, 2002). Becker and Huselid (2006)
academic literaturewe deliberately selected strengths and gifts argue that the value of talented employees depends on the specic
as two additional search terms. Given the focus of the present positions they occupy. Specically, those positions for which small
review, each of our main search terms (i.e., talents, gifts, and increments in improvement in quality or quantity result in an
strengths) was used in conjunction with search terms like above-average return on strategic measures are seen as pivotal
identication and measurement (see Appendix A). (Boudreau & Ramstad, 2005) and should therefore be allocated to
high value, high uniqueness employees called A players (Becker,
1.3. Step 3: establishing exclusion criteria Huselid, & Beatty, 2009), making them the most pivotal talent of
the organization (Boudreau & Ramstad, 2007; Cascio & Boudreau,
Our search in Business Source Premier resulted in a large 2011).
number of hits. From a rst analysis, we concluded that the In general, scholars adhering to the human capital approach to
majority of articles corresponding to our 3 main search terms were talent-management believe that the relative contribution of
not relevant to our topic of interest. Therefore, we chose to work people or positions to their organizations legitimizes dispropor-
with explicit exclusion criteria with the goal of selecting only those tionate investment in certain employees or jobs (Becker & Huselid,
articles that would be truly informative to our systematic literature 2006; Lepak & Snell, 1999). This is reected in the principle of
review. In accordance with our working denition of talent, we workforce differentiation that refers to the investment of
withheld articles based on three exclusion criteria: (a) articles that disproportionate resources where one expects disproportionate
do not refer to human attributes4; (b) articles using talent as returns, resulting in segmentation of the workforce on the basis of
interchangeable with (a euphemism for) people or employees5; the strategic contribution a specic job or a specic employee can
and (c) articles that do not mention their vision on, or denition of produce (Huselid & Becker, 2011). To this end, employees are
the concept of talent6 (or gifts, or strengths). frequently differentiated between based on their past and current
performance in terms of predened competencies. These compe-
1.4. Step 4: expanding the database tencies are associated with the capacity to take on senior jobs, so as
to detect the leaders of the future (Sharma & Bhatnagar, 2009;
Because our aim was to contribute to better theoretical Silzer & Church, 2009a).
foundations for talent-management by also considering academic The human capital perspective on talent described typically
domains outside the HRM eld, we expanded our search to the draws inspiration from a resource-based view on humans, in
PychInfo database. The same criteria for exclusion were applied. which employees are directed toward creating added value for
The searches conducted across both databases resulted in a nal their organizations (Dries, 2013). Inkson (2008) warns us for the
set of 161 articles withheld for this review (see Appendix A). The potential pitfalls of labeling employees as human capital that is
selected articles were situated in the HRM literature, the giftedness manageable toward certain outcomes in the same way other
literature, vocational psychology and positive psychology. resources are. By characterizing humans as capital, the changing
In order to ensure adequate interpretation of our ndings, and highly unpredictable nature of individual attitudes and
articles were added to the list of 161 using the backtracking behaviors is not taken into consideration adequately (De Vos &
method (i.e., review of the reference lists of the selected articles). Dries, 2013). Consequently, investigating talent and talent-
Although the obtained article list may not be exhaustive, we are management purely from a resource-based view seems insuf-
condent it is at least representative of the work published within cient to capture the psychological mechanisms that come into play
the talent domain. when managing individuals. In general, we positin line with
Lewis and Heckman (2006)that the talent-management litera-
ture is characterized by a disturbing lack of lucidity regarding its
4
We for example excluded: Florano (2003).
denitions, scope and aims. This is partly driven by the limited
5
We for example excluded: Milton (2003). clarity the human capital perspective offers about the precise
6
We for example excluded: Ng and Burke (2005). meaning of the underlying construct talent (Gallardo-Gallardo

Please cite this article in press as: Nijs, S., et al. A multidisciplinary review into the denition, operationalization, and measurement of
talent. Journal of World Business (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2013.11.002
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Fig. 1. Conceptual model of the denition, operationalization and measurement of talent.

et al., 2013; Tansley, 2011). This leaves organizations with only excellent performance, which is adequately illustrated by the
minimal theoretical foundations for their talent-management federal denition widely used in educational settings in the United
decisions (Thunnissen, Boselie, & Fruytier, 2013). Statesi.e., Talented individuals are those identied by profes-
In what follows we also build on insights from outside the sionally qualied persons who by virtue of outstanding abilities are
broader HRM domain to address this research gap, since they were capable of high performance (Periathiruvadi & Rinn, 2013, p. 153).
detected as having the potential to counter the specic limitations Insights into this component are mainly found in the giftedness
inherent to the talent-management eld. By integrating insights literature, situated in the eld of education (Brown et al., 2005;
originating from the giftedness literature, vocational psychology, Mayer, 2005), but are also frequently applied by HR practitioners.
and positive psychology, we explicitly address different views on Primarily based on the work of Gagne (1998a, 2004), we propose
talent within which psychological aspects are incorporated and the following denition of the ability component of talent, within
conceptualization issues are explicitly addressed. which two distinct predictors can be identiedinnate abilities,
and systematic development:
3. Dening talent
Talent refers to systematically developed innate abilities that
drive excellent performance in one or more domains of human
Based on our conceptual framework of talent, visualized in
functioning.
Fig. 1, we posit that talent can be operationalized as an ability and
an affective component which function as necessary preconditions First predictor: innate abilities in a specic domain of
for achieving excellence which, in turn, can be operationalized as human functioning. At the onset of the giftedness literature in
performing better than others (i.e., interpersonal excellence) or 1920, talented children were dened as children who achieved
performing consistently at ones personal best (i.e., intrapersonal high IQ scores due to a xed innate trait. This was reected in
excellence). Our working denition of talent is the following: psychometric denitions of talent that focused on achieving a
certain score, typically on an IQ test tapping into intellectual
Talent refers to systematically developed innate abilities of
giftedness (Preckel & Thiemann, 2003; Robinson & Clinkenbeard,
individuals that are deployed in activities they like, nd important,
1998).
and in which they want to invest energy. It enables individuals to
It turned out, however, that the correlation between a single IQ
perform excellently in one or more domains of human functioning,
score and exceptional performance later in life was rather weak
operationalized as performing better than other individuals of the
(Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993; Ruban & Reis, 2005).
same age or experience, or as performing consistently at their
Informed by this nding, scholars in the giftedness literature
personal best.
currently tend to advocate a multidimensional conception of talent
building on domain-specic theories of multiple intelligences
3.1. Operationalization of talent into two components referring to different areas of human functioning (Bailey & Morley,
2006; Major, Johnson, & Deary, 2012; Robinson & Clinkenbeard,
Within our working denition of talent we distinguish between 1998; Robinson, Zigler, & Gallagher, 2000). Within this perspective,
two components that predict excellence: an ability and an affective the conceptualization of talent that Gagne (2004) developed in his
component. Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMTG) is frequent-
The ability component. Across all relevant literature streams, ly cited. Based on Gardners theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983,
talent is frequently associated with, and sometimes equated to in Bailey & Morley, 2006; Baldwin, 2005), in which nine forms of

Please cite this article in press as: Nijs, S., et al. A multidisciplinary review into the denition, operationalization, and measurement of
talent. Journal of World Business (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2013.11.002
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intelligence were incorporated (i.e., linguistic intelligence, logical- and motivation. Numerous other authors argue that motivation
mathematical intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic plays a central role in achieving excellence in that it exerts a
intelligence, musical intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, nat- positive inuence on the willingness, capacity and preference to
uralistic intelligence, existential intelligence, and spiritual intelli- engage in deliberate practice (Bailey & Morley, 2006; Ericsson
gence), Gagne distinguished between four ability domains (i.e., et al., 1993; Feldhusen, 1994). Deliberate practice refers to
intellectual, creative, socio-affective, and sensori-motor) that can activities that are structured, goal-orientated, require effort and
lead to extraordinary performances in seven domains of human are not always inherently enjoyable, with an average of ten years
functioning (i.e., academics, arts, business, leisure, social action, elapsing between rst work and best work.
sports, and technology). Other conceptualizations of talent closely In the positive psychology literature the term strengths, instead
resemble that of Gagne, but differ slightly in terms of categoriza- of talents, is used to denote positive characteristics that allow
tion and specicity of the ability domains, and the human individuals to thrive and prosper (Cascio & Luthans, in press;
functioning domains considered (Feldhusen, 1994). Luthans, 2002). The key is to detect ones unique strengths in order
Second predictor: systematic development. Scholars situated to deploy them in activities one is passionate about. The
in the giftedness literature are generally convinced that the assumption is that only in activities that are conducted with
aptitudes necessary to develop talent in a specic domain are only passion, peak performances (i.e., episodes of superior functioning;
present in a small proportion of the population because they are Privette, 1983) can be achieved (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi,
genetically inherited. Although many people believe that genius is 2000). With the concept of passion, described as the inclination
created purely through geneticsknown as the Amadeus Myth toward an activity one likes, nds important and in which one
innate dispositions are, although necessary, not sufcient to wants to invest energy (Vallerand et al., 2003), the essential role of
ensure high-level achievement (Robinson et al., 2000). Innate motivation and interests in attaining excellence is highlighted
abilities, referred to by Gagne (1998a) as gifts, must be nurtured (Rea, 2000).
into talents in order to deliver excellent performance in at least one Second predictor: interest. Next to motivation to invest,
domain of human functioning (Baldwin, 2005). Extended and interests are widely discussed in the giftedness literature and the
deliberate practice is a necessary condition for the manifestation of vocational psychology literature and assumed to have a positive
talent into excellence. It can be attained by engaging in formal, inuence on excellent performance (Bailey & Morley, 2006). Gagne
non-formal, or informal learning activities inside or outside of the (2004) traditionally addressed this factor in his Differentiated
school- or workplace (Ericsson et al., 1993; Gagne, 2004; Pfeiffer, Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMGT) as an interpersonal
2009). catalyst that inuenced the development of gifts into talents. In
The affective component. Since the eighties, a wide range of 2009, Gagne revised his Differentiated Model of Giftedness and
studies have discussed what we label affective factors as vital to Talent (DMGT) and replaced the seven domains of human
excellent performance (Bailey & Morley, 2006; Gagne, 2010; functioning he initially distinguished by six major occupational
Robinson & Clinkenbeard, 1998). Kane (1986, in Bailey & Morley, groups (i.e., technical, science and technology, arts, social service,
2006, p. 222) summarizes the main point of these studies administration and sales, and business operations) based on
adequately by stating that the factors ultimately accounting for Hollands work on vocational interests. This shift reects the
achievement are likely to be the unique personal and behavioral increasing attention given to interest areas when investigating
dispositions that the individual brings to the actual performance. talented children, adolescents and adultsalso referred to as
Attention for the affective component of talent resonates through preferences and orientations (Milgram & Hong, 1999). Identi-
the giftedness literature, the positive psychology literature, and cation of interest areas is believed to be crucial in order to locate
the vocational psychology literature. The multiple insights we activities in which interests can be reinforced and actualized,
collected from these different streams are summarized in the leading ideally to the delivery of excellent performance (Lubinski &
following denition of talent, in which the ability component and Benbow, 2000). Accordingly, vocational psychologists assess
the affective component of talent are integrated: interests as a key component of talent with the goal of supporting
individuals in nding a t between the person they are and the
Talent refers to systematically developed innate abilities of
job or career they aspire to so that extraordinary performance
individuals that are deployed in activities they like, nd important,
might be achieved (Arnold & Cohen, 2008; Greenhaus & Callanan,
and in which they want to invest energy. It enables individuals to
2006).
perform excellently in one or more domains of human functioning.
From the 1990s onwards, several authors in the giftedness
While the denition of the ability component of talent focused literature, as well, have addressed this issue by advocating that
primarily on multiple intellectual abilities, the affective compo- personenvironment t is crucial for obtaining optimal achieve-
nent considers non-intellectual attributes and how these differen- ment. This is predicted by a match between personal abilities and
tially affect the performance of individuals: To predict which ability requirements of the environment on the one hand, and a
environments an individual is likely to enter, work in, and thrive in, match between personal preferences and reinforces available from
you must not only know what they can do (their abilities, the environment on the other (Achter, Lubinski, Benbow, &
capabilities), you must also know what they want (their interests, Eftekhari-Sajani, 1999).
needs, or motives) (Lubinski & Benbow, 2000, p. 146). As By dissecting both the ability and affective component of talent
illustrated by this fragment and by the above denition of talent, into distinct elements we shed light on what the construct of talent
the affective component is made up of two main elements: entails exactlya topic underexamined within the HRM literature
motivation to invest (i.e., activities in which one wants to invest to date.
energy) and interest areas (i.e., activities one likes and nds
Proposition 1. The measurement of talent can only be valid if the
important).
construct is operationalized as encompassing both an ability and
First predictor: motivation to invest. In the giftedness
an affective component (construct validity).
literature mainly the concept of motivation, in relation to
investments, has received attention. The frequently applied Proposition 2. The measurement of the ability component of
three-band talent denition of Renzulli (1986) forms an adequate talent can only be valid if this component is operationalized as
illustration. It states that talent is the combination of three encompassing both innate domain-specic abilities and amount of
clusters, namely general or specic high ability, task commitment, systematic development (construct validity).

Please cite this article in press as: Nijs, S., et al. A multidisciplinary review into the denition, operationalization, and measurement of
talent. Journal of World Business (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2013.11.002
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S. Nijs et al. / Journal of World Business xxx (2013) xxxxxx 5

Proposition 3. The measurement of the affective component of Proposition 5. Organizational decision makers who operationa-
talent can only be valid if this component is operationalized lize excellence as performing better than other individuals of the
as encompassing both motivation and interest areas (construct same age or experience in a specic domain of human functioning
validity). are more likely to adopt talent-management practices in which
there is differential investmenti.e., orientation of a select group of
high performers toward activities they like, nd important and in
3.2. Operationalization of excellence as the main criterion for talent
which they want to invest energy.

In addition to talent encompassing an ability and an affective Intrapersonal excellence. Although the operationalization of
component, we adopt as a basic assumption that talent is excellence as performing better than othersresulting in a focus
evidenced by excellenceor put otherwise, that excellence should on A players (Becker et al., 2009)remains to a large extent
be the main criterion for talent. Given that organizations today dominant today, Renzulli advocated a more inclusive conception
operate within a continuously evolving knowledge economy in of talent already in 2005. He stated that everyone has a role to play
which the war for talent runs rampant, they are more than ever in societal improvement and, as a result, we should provide all
concerned with making accurate predictions regarding excellent people with the opportunities, resources, and encouragement
individual performances that could advance the attainment of necessary to achieve their full potential through maximization of
their strategic goals (Lepak & Snell, 1999). Accordingly, talent- their involvement and motivation.
identication practices are often installed with the aim of Renzullis (2005) approach to talent, which is uncommon in the
detecting those individuals who are capable of delivering excellent giftedness literature, is closely related to the approach typically
performances, so as to subsequently deploy their talents in a way adopted by authors situated in the positive psychology as well as
that could enhance the organizations performance and competi- the vocational psychology literature due to the non-selective
tive position (Collings & Mellahi, 2009; Lewis & Heckman, 2006). stance it takes. Positive psychologists Buckingham and Clifton
Unfortunately however, theoretical papers explaining what (2001), for instance, assert that each individual possesses a certain
talent entails exactly and how it relates to excellent performance set of strengths (e.g., adaptability, discipline) and that it is the
a main concern of HR practitionershave remained largely absent specic constellation of strengths that makes everyone unique.
in the literature. With the present review, we aim to address this According to these authors, innate factors determine merely which
research gap by proposing a conceptual framework of talent in set of strengths can be developed and not whether or not you can
which the relationship between talent and excellence is made develop talent at all, as is assumed in the giftedness literature. It is
explicit, by systematically elaborating on issues of construct and essential to detect ones unique strengths in order to deploy them
predictive validity. in activities one is passionate about (Vallerand et al., 2003). This
In the previous section we introduced our denition of talent, will result in performing consistently at ones personal best (i.e.,
in which both an ability and an affective component are the maximum of ones capacity) (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi,
integrated. In line with this denition, we posited that motivation 2000). Adherents of the strengths-based approach argue that
and interests operate, together with innate abilities and system- utilizing everyones strengths is crucial. This generates positive
atic development, as necessary preconditions to excellent physical and psychological health outcomes such as individual
performance within a specic domain. In what follows, we fulllment, which is believed to substantially increase the
discuss interpersonal (i.e., performing better than others) and productivity of employees and in turn positively affect organiza-
intrapersonal (i.e., performing consistently at ones personal best) tional performance (Wood, Linley, Maltby, Kashdan, & Hurling,
excellence as two distinct operationalizations of excellence as the 2011).
main criterion for talent, thus completing the in-depth discussion
of our talent denition. Proposition 6. Organizational decision makers who operationa-
lize excellence as performing consistently at ones personal best,
Proposition 4. The operationalization of talent in either an ability are more likely to adopt talent-management practices in which
or an affective component is less valid for predicting interpersonal there is egalitarian investmenti.e., orientation of all employees
and intrapersonal excellence than the operationalization of talent toward activities they like, nd important and in which they want
in both an ability and affective component (predictive validity). to invest energy.
Interpersonal excellence. Scholars in the giftedness literature
hold the belief that not all individuals can be talented. This is due to 4. Measuring talent
their assumption of a genetic basis for talent (Gagne, 1998a,
1998b). According to Ericsson et al. (1993)and in line with the In this next section we build on our previous discussion of
majority of scholars in the giftedness literaturethe motivation to denitions and operationalizations of talent by addressing the
engage in lifelong deliberate practice differs among individuals as measurement layer of our proposed framework (Fig. 1). By
well. Only a few individualsso-called outliersshow the connecting denition, operationalization, and measurement
motivation to invest 10,000 hours in perfecting certain talents, we want to offer support to HR practitioners in designing
which is demonstrated to be crucial for achieving top perfor- theoretically sound talent-identication practices. In what
mances (Gladwell, 2009). follows we discuss the specic talent measures and methods
Therefore, these authors argue that high-level performances that can be applied to measure the ability and affective
are not feasible for everyone (Milgram & Hong, 1999). The component of talent as well as interpersonal and intrapersonal
emphasis thus lies on the identication of those individuals who excellence.
perform signicantly better than others of the same age or Although talent manifests in observable excellence, and one
experience due to the presence of rare talents (Brown et al., 2005; could argue that excellent performance would thus be the best
Heller, 2004; Mayer, 2005; Sternberg & Davidson, 2005). In the measure of talenta view frequently subscribed to by HR
HRM literature, it is typically argued that these employees practitionerswe posit that it is crucial to measure the two
deserve disproportionate investments because they are capable of underlying components of talent, as well. Only by assessing both
enhancing organizational performance by their capacity to the ability and the affective component, employees who are
achieve excellence (Lepak & Snell, 1999). currently not performing excellently, but possess the ability to do

Please cite this article in press as: Nijs, S., et al. A multidisciplinary review into the denition, operationalization, and measurement of
talent. Journal of World Business (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jwb.2013.11.002
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so in the future, can be managed toward excellence by stimulating 4.2. Affective component
them to discover and undertake activities that (better) match their
motivation and interest areas. As for motivations and interests two large groups of measures
We argue, in accordance with Silzer and Church (2009a), that can be identied: standardized self-assessment tools and reec-
talent-identication practices should not only aim to detect the tion exercises (see Table 1).
talent already manifested in a given organizational setting, but Motivation.
also those employees who have the potential to be excellent in Standardized self-assessment tools. In the positive psycholo-
different (larger) roles or activities in the future. Thus, we advise gy literature, a number of self-report questionnaires are proposed
against basing talent-identication decisions solely on perfor- to identify strengths as drivers of excellence. The StrengthsFinder
mance scoreswhich only reect currently deployed abilities (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001), the Values in Action Inventory of
because they only evidence what is manifest at the present time. Strengths (VIA-IS) (Brdar & Kashdan, 2010; Furnham & Lester,
Such decisions lack the power for predicting the sustained 2012; Linley et al., 2007; Littman-Ovadia & Lavy, 2012; Money,
interpersonal and intrapersonal excellence in which organiza- Hillenbrand, & da Camara, 2009; Peterson, 2006; Rust, Diessner, &
tions are interested. Reade, 2009; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005) and the
Inventory of Interpersonal Strengths (IIS) (Hatcher & Rogers, 2009)
4.1. Ability component are extensively validated tools capable of capturing a wide variety
of characteristics that enable human ourishing in particular
Innate ability. Informed by the theories about multiple performance domains.
intelligences we previously discussed (Bailey & Morley, 2006; Interests.
Major et al., 2012), we identify a wide range of multifaceted and Standardized self-assessment tools. Vocational psychologists
domain-specic ability tests designed to capture specic innate have long developed and validated self-assessment instruments to
abilities, that can be applied in talent-identication procedures (re-)orient individuals toward an occupation or career that
(see Table 1) such as WISC-R, the Wechsler Individual Achieve- corresponds to their vocational interests. Examples of self-report
ment Test, and the Self-Regulation and Concentration Test (Bianco, questionnaires that are believed to be of particular value for
2010; Periathiruvadi & Rinn, 2013; Preckel & Thiemann, 2003; detecting interests are the Strong Interest Inventory (Betz &
Saccuzzo & Johnson, 1995; Sanders, Lubinski, & Benbow, 1995). Borgen, 2000; Gasser, Larson, & Borgen, 2007; Larson & Borgen,
These tests are frequently combined with subjective judgments 2002), the Study of Values (1928, in Schmidt, Lubinski, & Benbow,
collected through supervisor, peer, and self-evaluation (Bailey & 1998) and the Career Anchors Inventory developed by Schein
Morley, 2006; Baldwin, 2005). To this end, rating scales and (1996).
nomination forms that focus on particular domains of human Reection exercises. From the eighties onwards, both
functioning are frequently applied. In the HRM eld specic IQ- vocational psychologists and positive psychologists have been
tests, typically utilized to evaluate verbal and/or analytic reason- developing more open-ended methods that support individuals
ing, are often introduced in selection procedures. The integration of in eliciting the unique and continually evolving meanings they
these ability tests is driven by the fact that IQ demonstrated to be a ascribe to talent by reecting on meaningful life and work
superior predictor of job performance after recruitment (Schmidt & experiences and how talent plays a role in them. To this end,
Hunter, 1998). moments of successful talent deployment, as experienced over
Systematic development. Although innate abilities have the course of life, can be probed using certain interview
shown to be a necessary predictor of excellence, they need to be techniquesfor instance, the biographical interview technique
combined with a particular skills and knowledge set in order to (Kelchtermans, 1993)or evoked by providing individuals with
perform excellently (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001). In the HRM eld specic reection tasks as is the case in the Intelligent Career
a number of methods are applied to assess the (amount of) Card Sort exercise (Amundson, Parker, & Arthur, 2002; Parker,
knowledge and skills (i.e., experience) employees have systemati- 2002), exercises on possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986;
cally developed throughout the life span and are capable of Whitty, 2002) and so-called reected best selfs-exercises
improving further. (Meyers, van Woerkom, & Bakker, 2012; Roberts, Dutton,
Within this regard, HR practitioners frequently use so-called Spreitzer, Heaphy, & Quinn, 2005). Depending on the specic
performance-potential matrices for talent-identicationalso questions asked or tasks given, these exercises can be applied to
referred to as the nine-box methodology, at least when there detect both motivations and interests. Regardless of the specic
are nine possible combinations of performance and potential focus on motivation or interests, these exercises should result in
ratings (Silzer & Church, 2009b). Only employees who demonstrate the formation of ideas of what one might become in the future, on
a high level of performance and simultaneously show high the basis of which individuals can make more effective career
potential within a given functioning domain are considered decisions.
talented according to this methodology. Performance can be Organizations can choose to adopt a talent denition in which
assessed with the help of assessment centers in which the either the ability and/or affective component isto a greater or
knowledge and skills base of employees is evaluated. Potential is lesser extentemphasized, thereby inuencing not only the
typically operationalized as the possibility to perform well in a specic measures and methods they will use for identication
higher or different role and is mostly assessed using development purposes, but also the validity of the identication process. The
centers and stretch assignments (Silzer & Church, 2009a). The latter should be an important concern for organizations engaging
time aspect is the main differentiator between talent and potential. in talent-identication, in order to avoid false hits and false
While potential refers to the future possibility of excellent misses.
performance, excellence is the main criterion by which talent
can be currently detected (Robinson, Fetters, Riester, & Bracco, Proposition 7. Organizational decision makers who operationa-
2009). lize talent mainly by the ability component are more likely to
In addition, assessing (the amount of) previously acquired prefer achievement tests, supervisor, peer and self-ratings of per-
knowledge and skills by investigating an individuals resume and formance within particular domains of human functioning, and
educational background is a frequently conducted practice (Silzer assessments of knowledge and skills as measures in their talent-
& Church, 2009a). identication practices.

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Table 1
Talent measures and methods.

Literature stream Measures and methods Characteristics of the measures and methods

What? Who? How?

Ability Systematic Motivation Interests Tests Self Peer Supervisor Standardized Open-ended
development

Giftedness literature WISC-R X X X


Wechsler Individual Achievement Test X X X
Standard Ravens Progressive Matrices X X X
Advanced Ravens Progressive Matrices X X X
Torrance Test of Creativity X X X
SAGES X X X
Scholastic Aptitude Test X X X
Dening Issue Test X X X

S. Nijs et al. / Journal of World Business xxx (2013) xxxxxx


Self-Regulations and Concentration Test X X X
Gifted Rating Scales-School form X X X X
Scales for Rating Behavioral Characteristics X X X
of Superior Students
Markers DISCOVER model X X X
Iowa Acceleration Scale X X X
Adjusted Gifted Rating Scales-School form X X X X
Adjusted Scales for Rating Behavioral X X X X
Characteristics of Superior Students
Teacher nomination scales X X X
Self-nomination scales X X X
Peer nomination scales X X X
Tel-Aviv Activities and Accomplishment X X X X
Inventory

HRM literature Verbal reasoning tests X X X


Analytic reasoning tests X X X
Assessment centers X X X X
Development centers X X X X
Stretch assignments X X X X X X X
Resume X X X

Vocational psychology Strong Interest Inventory X X X


The Study of Values X X X
Careers Anchors Inventory X X X
The Intelligent Career Card sort X X X X X X X
The biographical method X X X X X

Positive psychology StrengthsFinder X X X


The Values in Action Inventory of Strengths X X X
The Inventory of Interpersonal Strengths X X X
Possible selves exercise X X X X X
Reected best self-exercise X X X X X X X

7
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Proposition 8. Organizational decision makers who operationa- at ones personal best can be reached (Buckingham & Clifton,
lize talent mainly by the affective component are more likely to 2001). In order to detect those talents that lead to intrapersonal
prefer standardized self-assessment tools and open-ended reec- excellence, methods and measures designed to benchmark
tion exercises as measures in their talent-identication practices. individuals against their own (perceptions of) performance, so
as to determine the gap between past, current and (expected)
Scholars operating within the discussed literature streams maximum performance, are most suited. Within this perspective,
argue that instruments capable of measuring the affective progression over time is an important variable, which can be
component of talent form a necessary extension to ability captured through follow-up measurementsee, for instance, the
measures, because talent is believed to be a complex constellation literature on personal development plans (PDPs) (Taylor & Edge,
of innate and systematically developed abilities, motivations and 1997).
interests, all interacting in determining excellence (Parker, 2002).
This makes a combination of various instruments, tapping into Proposition 11. Organizational decision makers who operationa-
both the ability and the affective component of talent, essential to lize excellence as performing consistently at ones personal best
obtain a holistic view of the talents of employees (Ericsson et al., are more likely to prefer methods and measures benchmarked
1993). Only this way the identied talents can be accurately against an individuals own (past) performances and capabilities
deployed in a manner that benets both the individual and the reected by a focus on subjective experiences of excellence in their
organization. talent-identication practices.
Proposition 9. Organizational decision makers who operationa-
lize talent both by the ability and the affective component of talent 5. Directions for future research
are more likely to combine achievement tests, supervisor, peer and
self-ratings of performance within particular domains of human Through our multidisciplinary review we aimed to offer more
functioning, and assessments of knowledge and skills with self- insight into the denition, operationalization and measurement of
assessment tools and reection exercises as measures in their talent, on the basis of which empirical studies could be designed.
talent-identication practices, leading to identication with We offer some suggestions for future research.
higher predictive power for interpersonal and intrapersonal excel-
lence. 5.1. Contextualizing talent

4.3. Interpersonal excellence The (organizational) context (Bailey & Morley, 2006) will exert
an inuence on the talent denition an organization subscribes to
Measures reecting an underlying focus on interpersonal and subsequently the talent-identication practices it will install,
excellence are predominantly used to determine which individuals making it more likely for some individuals to be detected as
are capable of outperforming others. To this end, cut-off points, talented than others.
either with a relative (e.g., the top 10 percent of performers of a Therefore research that could help clarify if and how organiza-
certain group) or an absolute norm (e.g., those individuals that tional characteristics (e.g., size, sector, culture) relate to a certain
perform above a certain score) are frequently appliedboth in the denition and operationalization of talent seems useful. Especially
educational as in the HRM eldto distinguish between the haves valuable within this respect are research endeavors that could help
and the have nots (Belanger & Gagne, 2006; Pfeiffer, 2009). assess for which types of organizations operationalizing excellence
The issue of cut-off points is closely related to discussions about as interpersonal versus intrapersonal excellence is most benecial.
prevalence, widely held in the giftedness literature. Prevalence To date, however, the way in which interpersonal and intraper-
expresses the percentage of individuals within a given population sonal excellence affect organizational excellencea relation often
that can be considered talented (Gagne, 1998b, 2004). Typically, assumed but difcult to research (Paauwe & Boselie, 2005)
cut-offs range from the top 0.001 to 10 percent of performers, remains unknown and therefore is in urgent need of further
representing extremely to mildly talented individuals in compari- scrutiny.
son to their peers (Gagne, 1998b; Pfeiffer, 2009). The assumption
underlying the principle of cut-off points is that individuals who 5.2. Inserting assessors and assessees into the equation
exceed a predened relative or absolute threshold are in the
possession of a particular rare ability that enables them to deliver The personnel selection literature and the social psychology
performances impossible to achieve by the majority of the literaturebeyond the scope of the present article, but neverthe-
population. Consequently, these cut-off points are implemented less usefulshow that talent denitions and measurements are
to detect the A players who perform better than others (Becker subjective by nature due to the inuence of assessor and assessee
et al., 2009). personal characteristics (Tormala, Jia, & Norton, 2012; Tsay &
Banaji, 2011; Vaughan & Hogg, 2005).
Proposition 10. Organizational decision makers who operationa-
Informed by the insights in the present paper, we posit that
lize excellence as performing better than other individuals of the
organizational decision makers who operationalize talent both by
same age or experience in a specic domain of human functioning
the ability and the affective component are the most suitable
are more likely to prefer methods and measures benchmarked
assessors, because they will engage in the most valid measurement
against a specic norm populationreected by a focus on relative
approach to talent. By empirically investigating the characteristics
and absolute cut-off points in their talent-identication practices.
of those individuals (e.g., implicit person theory, personality), we
could gain more insight into the prole of the most suitable
4.4. Intrapersonal excellence identiers of talent.
Furthermore, little attention has been paid so far to how specic
According to the majority of vocational and positive psychol- talent denitions, operationalizations, and measures are experi-
ogists, measures of talent should be applied to gain insight into the enced by assessees. In this regard, research that explicitly
unique constellation of talents that everyone possesses, so as to investigates attitudinal and behavioral reactions to (not) being
adequately deploy them in environments in which performances identied as talent and links this to specic talent operationalization

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and measurements, forms a valuable contribution to the eld (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001). Since the amount of received
(Gelens, Dries, Hofmans, & Pepermans, 2013; Sonnenberg, van practice can differ considerably between employees equally
Zijderveld, & van Gorp, 2012; Van Zijderveld & Sonnenberg, 2012). capable of achieving excellence, differential investment in their
learning and development (customized to each talented employ-
5.3. From an individual to a relational perspective ees need for further development) seems desirable. Informed by
these ndings, it might be advisable for organizations to not only
Throughout this review, we focused on talent as something differentiate between talented and less talented individualsoften
that is individually held, detected, developed and deployed in designated, in the HR literature, with the term workforce
order to achieve excellence, mainly adopting an individual differentiation (Huselid & Becker, 2011)but to also differentiate
perspective on talent. Given the widespread use of teams in within the group of talented individuals and this on the basis of the
organizations (Guzzo & Dickson, 1996), it would be relevant to level of practice they have had to date.
examine how talent can be manifested and identied in team In addition to developmental support, organizations need to
settings (Edwards & Sproull, 1985). By focusing on this more support individuals in orienting them toward activities that draw
aggregated level, opportunities arise for studying effects of group upon their motivations and interests areas. As motivation and
climate and social beliefs on denitions and assessments of talent interests are not entirely visible to other parties, it is crucial that
(Oltra & Vivas-Lopez, 2013). Related to this, one might investigate individuals take a certain responsibility in articulating these to
how the talents of individuals, as described throughout this paper, organizational decision makers (Arnold & Cohen, 2008; Dries,
can strengthen or hinder each other in achieving individual, team, 2011).
or organizational excellence. This relational aspect of talent fell We conclude that a valid assessment of talent requires striking
outside the scope of our review, butgiven the importance of a balance between organizational responsibility (i.e., detecting
social networks (i.e., social capital) and teamwork in todays relevant areas of human functioning and providing employees
business environmentis certainly valuable to address in further with opportunities for systematic development) and self-respon-
research (Al Ariss & Syed, 2011; Jokinen, Brewster, & Suutari, sibility (i.e., articulating invisible motivations and interest areas).
2008). Interpersonal and intrapersonal excellence. HRM scholars,
typically adopting a human capital perspective to talent, seem to
6. Managerial relevance be convinced that workforce differentiationcorresponding to a
focus on interpersonal excellenceis the way to go about
By discussing managerial implications in terms of dening and managing talent. However, some organizations voice concern
measuring talent, we provide practical guidelines for designing about applying workforce differentiation for two main reasons.
talent-identication practices grounded in sound theory. Firstly, not all organizations are convinced that workforce
differentiation will positively affect the attainment of strategic
6.1. Dening talent goals, due to the potentially negative impact unequal treatment
can exert on the motivation and performance levels of employees
Ability and affective component. Regardless of the specic not identied as talented (Gelens et al., 2013). Secondly, certain
opinion organizational decision makers hold about the scarcity of organizations hold a reluctant attitude toward differentiation
talent, we posit that not all talents can be equally valuable to an because such an exclusive interpretation of talent clashes with
organization. Since abilities are always linked to a specic domain their culture (Iles, Chuai, & Preece, 2010). With the help of our
of human functioning, which may or may not be related to the core conceptual model (see Fig. 1), we demonstrate that talent can also
activities of an organization, the value of particular abilities varies be operationalized as leading to intrapersonal excellence, which
depending on the organization at hand. Nevertheless, in the HRM reects a more inclusive view on talent, and implying more
literature, it is often assumed that organizations, regardless of egalitarian investment.
their strategic direction, implement talent-identication with the Throughout the literaturealbeit in different literature
main goal of detecting those individuals that are capable of taking streamsit is argued that both the exclusive and the inclusive
on senior jobs with broad responsibilities and are therefore seen view of talent, referring to interpersonal and intrapersonal
as future leaders (Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2010; Guo, excellence as criterion for talent respectively, can generate positive
2003; Roberts, Kossek, & Ozeki, 1998; Smith & Victorson, 2012). In organizational outcomes. We state that organizational character-
accordance with Gagne (2009) and Buckingham and Clifton istics will determine which operationalization of excellence is the
(2001), we argue that exceptional ability can occur in a multitude most suitable and will therefore benet the organization the most.
of domains, of which leadership is only one. Therefore, we advise What seems to be certain is that the specic talent denition
organizational decision makers to carefully assess which specic organizations adhere to (i.e., emphasizing interpersonal versus
talent domains are most valuable for their organizations, given intrapersonal excellence) should be aligned with the strategic aims
their strategic direction, before implementing specic talent- of the organization (De Vos & Dries, 2013; Zhao & Du, 2011). We
identication tools and procedures. Boudreau and Ramstad (2005, posit that an organizations talent denition serves strategic
2007), in their seminal work on pivotal positions, assert that all purposes because, as demonstrated in this paper, it directly affects
kind of employees, not only the ones holding leadership the concrete identication practices preferred by organizational
positionsas is often assumed in the HRM literaturecan in fact decision makers which are subsequently interpreted and enacted
be pivotal for guaranteeing the long-term success of an upon by employees (Wright & Nishii, 2007).
organization.
As the expression of talent into excellent performance depends 6.2. Measuring talent
on the fruitful mixture of specic innate and developed abilities,
providing employees with opportunities for practice is essential As summarized in Proposition 9, combining instruments that
(Capaldo, Iandoli, & Zollo, 2006; Thunnissen et al., 2013). Since measure innate abilities, systematic development, motivation, and
practice is installed to optimize the skills and knowledge sets of interests is advisable in order to obtain a holistic view of the talents
employeeswhich are by denition trainableemployees who of employees so as to accurately predict excellence (Parker, 2002).
possess the necessary innate abilities, but have not yet developed The measures and methods presented in Table 1 emphasize these
them in a systematic way thus can be trained toward excellence different components of the talent construct and vary in terms of

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the measurement approach taken (i.e., standardized versus open- Appendix A (Continued )
ended).
Keyword Selected articles Nature of selected articles
Each measurement approach has its own specic benets and
limitations, therefore we advise practitioners to combine different Empirical Theoretical

sorts of approaches. Standardized measures are extensively Talent* AND Method* 15 9 6


validated and easy to use within an organizational context because Gift* AND Method* 1 1 0
Strength* AND Method* 1 1 0
they can be applied to a large number of people in a standardized
way. Due to the standardization, it is not possible to capture the
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