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What do we mean by the term “talent” in talent management?

Carole Tansley (Professor of HR Innovation at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Article publication date: 12 July 2011




The purpose of this article is to consider the ways the notion of “talent” has developed over many years, both historically and linguistically, in a number of European and non‐European languages and in use in organisations, and its use in talent management.


The information was gained from a literature review of key reports on talent management and a major review of ten organisations across sectors and by interviewing over 100 individuals involved in talent management programmes in the UK and abroad. Holden and Tansley also conducted a philological analysis of the word “talent” from both an historical and a linguistic‐comparative perspective analysing publications by consultancies and articles in the management press considering both literal (denotative) definitions and metaphoric (connotative) associations of the term talent in English, noting contrasting usages of the word in other languages.


There is no single or universal contemporary definition of “talent” in any one language; there are different organisational perspectives of talent. Current meanings of talent tend to be specific to an organisation and highly influenced by the nature of the work undertaken. A shared organisational language for talent is important. There is high level of influence of management consultants in the development of the term in managing people with unique knowledge and skills.

Practical implications

Organisational talent, in order that it can be identified and developed, must be visible, stimulated and nurtured, and the first step to this is to have an agreed organisational definition of talent.

Social implications

Talent management that only recognises a narrow definition of talent negatively impacts on the full utilisation of a nation's talents.


There are no other articles currently published which attempt to define talent from such a historical, linguistic, organisational and individual perspective.



Tansley, C. (2011), "What do we mean by the term “talent” in talent management?", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 43 No. 5, pp. 266-274.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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