Hinweis: Der deutsche Artikel „Neue Wege wagen im Talentmanagement“ ist zu finden unter:

German article: HR4good

Have you ever addressed the issue of talent management within your company? Were your talents recognised and promoted? Or did you have to do it yourself? In this article we deal with the term „talent“. We present a project that is unique in this form. And we introduce a company that dares to break new ground in talent management.

What actually is a talent? Is or does everyone have a talent? Do talents automatically belong to the elite? In her guest article, Silke Wöhrmann deals with the question of how we actually define talent and what is necessary in talent management to leave the beaten track and venture down new paths. A positive example of this is her TalentRoom project, which brings students and teachers in STEM+ subjects closer together.

How do we get hold of talent?

German companies invest a lot to answer this question: in trade fairs. Or company days. In large events. In the hope of finding students, trainees or pupils who match their own image of talent. But it is seldom clear what a talent actually is. Someone who is „good“. Someone who has good grades, for example. I believe that this idea is absolutely outdated and inaccurate. Grades say as much and as little about a person as job references. They serve as a superficial orientation, at best.

Do away with the tiresome war for talent

Real talents cannot be found via an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). They probably even fall through this digital grid, because their CVs are often „different from others“. Algorithms don’t find them because they are very, very rare. Maybe, if it comes down to it, there is one talent among 1,000 students. But that is just a very personal statistic from many years of teaching.

Talents are in short supply, and not just since this tiresome phrase „war for talents“ was created. There is no such thing as a „war“ (in my opinion, one should clearly distance oneself from the word „war“ in this context). There is not even a competition or a „bidding against each other“ between companies when it comes to talent. Most companies have not clearly defined what talent means to them. How can you find something if you don’t know what you are looking for? This results in – sometimes somewhat embarrassing and desperate – attempts by companies to distinguish themselves from potential candidates in the race for applicants. And these attempts completely miss the mark when it comes to real talent. That doesn’t appeal to them at all.

But what are talents really?

They are people who are enthusiastic. There is something in their eyes when they talk about a topic that interests them. Neither credits nor money nor time decide when they commit themselves to something. It’s their emotional, social, professional, methodical intelligence and their commitment, their inner willingness and motivation to do something – in the long term, not just on a whim. Okay, you say. But that’s not all. Because up to this point we are talking about high performers in a very specific environment, a small professional segment, in a defined environment.

Up to this point, we are still not talking about talent. Up to this point, we are talking, positively speaking, at most about nerds. Real talents go far beyond that. Talents are not credit or grade collectors, they don’t fight for one point more or less. They have good grades anyway. They also always have enough to do.

Talents are people who move beyond their own apex circle. They perceive their environment, see other people or living beings, do something for others, give something away. And not only when they are rich and full, but already at a time when they themselves, as students, pupils or trainees, do not yet have very much (in terms of financial basics).

They get involved, found companies on the basis of their own ideas, initiate projects, they take care of others without making a big fuss about it in the sense of self-PR. But simply because it is a matter of course for them.

They get involved, found companies based on their own ideas, initiate projects, they take care of others without making a big fuss about it in the sense of self-PR. They do it simply because it comes naturally to them.

By the way, this is called social competence. When you show behaviour that takes others along, encourages and supports others. Even in small things, in everyday life. Sounds great? It is! It’s just (unfortunately) still too rarely used in the search for talent. A student with an A+ is still more likely to be hired than a student with a 3, but who has actively engaged in voluntary work at the same time.

Exchange of ideas between HR and talents

Recruiters and HR departments are now calling for a way to scale these skills, preferably digitally. And, folks, I can tell you: that’s not going to happen. You really have to search. You have to want real talent. Talk to them (when you find them) and not bypass them just to satisfy corporate self-interest. These talents I am talking about are not on intelligence tests or personality tests either. Since I always give this article to people to read before I publish it, I may include a sentence by student Annika Herzog:

Keyword social competence and personality test: I agree with you completely, I hate such tests! I’m not for the pigeonholes and smart people know how to fill out these tests „correctly“. Autenticity and sincerity can only be judged in person.

You are already a personality, always have been, and are always interested in building it further – but not at the expense of others. And here, too, there is an interesting view of a student in relation to this thesis:

I had to falter at this sentence. I feel like I’ve only had a personality for a few years, and it’s far from stable. I think many young people can display a personality to the extent demanded by society, but it often only really develops continuously in those who really go about it consciously! And that is work! An achievement that is often not seen as such because it cannot be monetised. I guess people with really good knowledge of human nature can recognise potential and then it is important to give this potential its time!

Back to you, dear personnel decision-makers: You need to have a lot of patience and be willing to show real interest. You have to get out of your home office, into the buildings, schools, universities, training places of this world, show yourselves. You have to be attentive. Observe. Do not give up. Spend money and spend time. You have to qualify your recruiters with aptitude diagnostics and also look for talents out of them who have the feeling that you cannot teach. The fanciest and most expensive flyers, Instagram posts etc. will and can never replace this.

Venturing new paths: The HYSK TalentRoom

A few companies have already realised that it’s not the masses that count in the search for talent, but each individual person. For example, UTILITY PARTNERS GmbH, who met with the team of the HYSK TalentRoom to talk honestly, openly, authentically and on one level with each other.

HYSK TalentRoom meeting with Utility Partners. (from top left to bottom right: Annika Herzog, Silke Wöhrmann. Hanna Göppert, Prof. Ulrike Herster, Moritz Hüsken, Janina Speckmann, Gisa Biber, Lisa Marie Sager. Marcus Hermes.

The TalentRoom is a project that in turn emerged from the HYSK project at HAW Hamburg and the HOOU Hamburg Open Online University. HYSK stands for Hybrid Loop Concept and has the goal of bringing students and teachers in MINT+ subjects closer together on a human and professional level through the analogue and digital training of social skills.

This creates a hybrid working level for students and teachers who want to continuously professionalise themselves – in their studies and also for themselves as people. So in the HYSK TalentRoom, talents meet who fit the profile described above.

Elite thinking? That’s nonsense.

Now you might have these thoughts about elites etc. again. That’s nonsense. I don’t know one talent who has somehow felt „something better“ at some point. They simply differ in that they bring certain competencies with them that are not so pronounced in others. In return, other students have other potentials and competences that they train.

On the contrary and hard to believe: talents have a really hard time in a standardised world. They are not understood by a very large environment, sometimes not even noticed. If they are noticed, they are often quickly labelled. Admired, but labelled. Their desire to know and understand, their desire to question is often dismissed as annoying, nerdy or sometimes even arrogant. Because you can’t satisfy them with easy answers. They ask questions and instinctively feel whether it is just marketing-driven „drivel“ or whether they are getting real answers, away from the headlines of click-driven news.

And this is where a massive contradiction inevitably arises and exists: on the one hand, the (understandable) desire of companies for talent. On the other hand, their desire to get many applicants and, through the use of digital tools, to process the quantity with as little administrative (personnel) effort as possible. Thirdly, the astonishment that applicants are still being found – but no talent. This is what I call the „Death Valley of talent management“.

Graphic Editor: Silke Wöhrmann

What to do?

How do you get into the „Happy Valley“ of talent management now? Quite simply. You have to want it: Create structures, mentalities and formats for precisely these talents. Make personnel capacities and financial resources available and don’t ask for the ROI after three weeks but know that it will only come around the corner after years.


Create organisational conditions and structures – with permission to think freely, without obstructive hierarchies or chains of command.

For example, a 50:50 working time model: 50% working within the defined position, 50% within the framework of a „think tank“ – or whatever it should be called.

A clearly defined scouting, which is geared to the needs of this target group and has been allowed to enjoy aptitude diagnostic qualification.

Combined with mental-human, socially open structures that allow these people to be „themselves“ in order to bring companies forward.

In addition to the rethinking of key figures, there has also been a change in the indicators of potential. These are, among others:

  • Awards, prizes
  • Voluntary work
  • Publications (also school newspaper etc.)
  • Continuous increase in responsibility or specialisation
  • Lectures and presentations
  • Membership in professional bodies
  • Own inventions, foundations, patents and product developments
  • Tasks, offices, memberships
  • Assumption of responsibility and activities in groups
  • Assumption of roles in the dissemination of knowledge
  • Nominations
  • Networking
  • Indicators of action competencies include
  • Changing and familiarising oneself with different subject areas
  • Participation also in longer-term, multi-year complex projects
  • Use of self-management methods
  • Successful parallel work in several subject areas
  • A high level of commitment, accepting private limitations
  • Attention to physical and mental health.
  • Acting in a level-headed manner under pressure and stressful situations.

I am very happy that there are companies that have not only recognised this, but also put it into practice. And I am happy that „my“ HYSK TalentRoomers are growing into this world and will certainly shape it. If I may end with a quote from a student:

„I believe people who invest in their personality are the more reliable team members in the long run. It may be frowned upon nowadays to work for one company all your life, but why really? Talent should not be let go so easily, I guess.


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