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We Don’t Have Talent

As a fan of positive language, I am intrigued by a positive word that has not caught on with ordinary business people. That word is talent, used to describe employees.

Talent management, talent acquisition, and talent retention are phrases popping up constantly in my email inbox. Consultants, recruiters, training companies, professional organizations–they are all using the word talent. At the ASTD International Conference and Expo in San Diego, which I attended last week, the word appeared everywhere on banners, booths, and brochures.

Here’s the problem: "Normal" people (the people those consultants, recruiters, and others want to communicate with)–do not use the word talent. They talk about their employees, supervisors, managers, executives, associates, partners, interns, and staff–not their talent. They mention their sales people, engineers, programmers, nurses, customer service representatives, scientists, and other specific employee groups–not their talent.

Our web designer visited the ASTD Expo and stopped by our booth. She asked, "So what’s with all the talent at this convention?" She didn’t understand it.

One of our longtime clients visited our booth, and I asked him whether he used the word talent. He said no, explaining "If anyone used that word in our company, they would sound like an outsider, not like one of us."

So for those of us who are tempted to get on the talent bus, let’s ask ourselves first: Do we want to sound like outsiders? Do we want people to wonder what we are talking about? Of course not. So let’s find out which words our customers and readers use, and follow their lead.

Syntax Training 

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

5 comments on “We Don’t Have Talent”

  • Maybe it takes an outsider to start using new language.

    My boss came in to our organization last October, and he started talking about talent right away. Now everyone in the organization is used to him using the word, and the senior administrators are starting to use it, too. It’s part of our six guiding goals for the organization.

    The new requires leadership.

  • Amy, very interesting! I wonder whether the word would stick if your boss were to leave. Has the organization adopted it? Or have they adapted to it?

    Thanks for your views.

  • Since the boss has been here just 9 months, it is entirely possible that the word would not stick if he left so soon. But, if he can stick around for at least five years, I believe the talent he himself has put into place will be able to fill the gap and keep us moving toward the same goals–even the goal of “recruiting, retaining, and rewarding talent.”

  • I believe that every person has talent. Most are talented in several ways. I would love to see corporate America tap the /extra/ skills their employees bring to the workforce (in addition to the ones for which they were hired).

    I also think that the use of the word talent is a greater compliment to current and potential employees. While it may be a buzzword for the corporate muckety-mucks, it can also be a genuine and sincere compliment for those working to better our work environments.

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